Khaira Arby, Singer from Timbuktu, Mali, the “Nightingale of the North”
Democracy Now, april 9, 2012
As we recently reported, Tuareg rebels in the West African nation of Mali have declared the independent state of Azawad after seizing Timbuktu and other major cities in the north. Renowned Malian musician Khaira Arby was was born and raised in Timbuktu, where she studied under the legendary guitarist and singer Ali Farka Touré. Her 2010 album Timbuktu Tarab received international acclaim for her strong vocals and lyrics exploring spiritual and sociopolitical issues in Mali. In September of 2010, Arby performed live in the Democracy Now! studio, where she spoke with Amy Goodman about the struggles of female musicians in Mali and the potential impact of music in times of conflict. Arby, often called the “Nightingale of the North,” begins a tour in the United States later this month.
KHAIRA ARBY: [translated] For me, all my life has been about struggle. I have struggled to be an artist, and I have struggled because I am both father and mother to my family. I was born in Timbuktu, grew up in Timbuktu, I went to school in Timbuktu, I made music in Timbuktu. Timbuktu is not far, and it’s not the end of the world. There are those who don’t know Timbuktu is a real place in Mali. Timbuktu had the first university in the world.
I started to become a singer because I loved singing. And I continue to sing. I am a slave to my work. A woman needs to do something, if she wants to have something. I loved music, and so I chose music. I did face obstacles, beginning with my parents, who did not approve of my singing. When I hear of war, I sing so that the war may cease, because in the case of war it is women who suffer. Therefore, it is better for us women to sing against war and conflict between men and between countries.
One of the living legends of Malian music, Khaira Arby is widely hailed as the queen of Malian desert soul, and with good reason. Shrouded in regal colors, she presides over a small army of brilliant African musicians, who create a hypnotic backdrop for her gloriously swooping vocals. It feels a little silly to think of her as a frontwoman — the mere lead singer of some band — on the live stage, she’s all showmanship and command.
Recorded live from The Parish in Austin, Texas on March 17, 2011. Follow NPR Music’s SXSW 2011 coverage at http://www.npr.org/sxsw.