Amkoullel, a 33-year-old Malian rapper, sings about self-image, immigration and respect. He’s among a new generation of young rappers in Mali, West Africa, mixing traditional instruments with new themes. He has played in many countries around the world, performing with Malian legends Salif Keita, Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate.
Even before Mali’s political upheavals in 2012, he had attracted the attention of the government.
He created an association called Plus Jamais Ça — “never again” — and released the song “SOS.” It was a cry for help to the government, or anyone, to stop upheavals in the turbulent north of his country, where radical Islamists took control last year and banned all music except Quranic verses.
In the song, you can hear the words “C’est un SOS, SOS” — “This is an SOS, SOS” — declaring that Mali is in a state of emergency.
The music video shows footage of men with guns, women displaced from their homes, people marching — events that were happening long before the military ousted the government in the capital city of Bamako last March.
“Everybody could feel that something would happen,” Amkoullel says, “because people were, like, hopeless, waiting after change.”
Militants linked to al-Qaida have long been a threat in the north. After the coup in the capital, the militants took advantage of the country’s chaos and took control in all of the north.
Amkoullel wrote the song to grab attention — to keep this from happening — but the song has been banned by the government in the capital, presumably out of fear that the lyrics could incite people to take action against the government.
“They just ask me to do a video with flowers and butterflies, but we are not living with butterflies,” he says. “We are living with guns, with al-Qaida, with Sharia — all those kind of things that are not Malian.”
Read more: NPR