Mali Blues, a slick documentary about the variety and abundance of music in Mali, celebrates the cultural idiosyncrasies of various ethnic groups, whilst exploring hot-button topics like feminism and religion in a country mired by radicalism.
Although rooted in a conventional narrative style, the film mixes fly-on-the-wall camera work and interview footage to great effect, allowing its subjects not only to recount their experience as musicians, but also providing them with the opportunity to perform their music. The camera is rigorous enough to never stray from its subjects, and this provides both a strong narrative arc and sparks of true emotion.
Yet, the essence of the film lies in the music, and its ability to contextualise the relationship between artistry and political strife. At one point we see Fatoumata Diawara travel back to her home town signing songs drenched in feminist idealism. The all-female audience quietly listens, and thoughtfully dissects the lyrics once the show is over.
The final scene is of a packed concert as music blares through the speakers into the dark, hot night. On the stage are the musicians smiling at each other in recognition not only of their own virtuosity, but the engagement of the people. If anything, Mali Blues should further this connection by bringing the compelling work of these artists to a wider audience.
Mali Blues | Directed by Gregor Lutz (Germany, 2016) with Fatoumata Diawara, Ahmed Ag Kaedi, Bassékou Kouyaté. Starts September 29.