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Review: They Will Have To Kill Us First


Life without Music? They Will Have to Kill us First. Johanna Schwartz notes the importance of music as she documents the brave musicians of Mali.

They Will have to Kill us First is a documentary which tunes into the lives of several brave men and women who will not remain silent. It is a tribute to the unbroken human spirit and the persistence of courage in the face of severe intimidation.

Award winning director Johanna Schwartz (Mysterious Science: Rebuilding Stonehenge, 2005) (Katie Chats, 2011) follows several musicians as they grapple with the harshly enforced Sharia law which inhibits them from playing music. Following the infiltration of Jihadist militants in 2012, all music was banned in northern Mali. In a series of interviews, intercut with observational footage and archival scenes from various news broadcasters, audiences piece together the musician’s story.

Of the musicians who fled south after the ban, we see Malian band, the Songhoy Blues as they receive a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tour the UK. They make it to the big time, but on the tubes they sit solemnly, saying, ‘we hope to go back and do amazing things’. Back in Timbuktu, celebrity singer, Khaira Arby is organizing a music concert despite Sharia bans on music. This bold manoeuvre is no surprise because for Khaira, ‘music is oxygen’. Another brave woman who performs with Khaira is Fatidima, affectionately nick-named ‘Disco’ for her love of dancing as a youth. ‘If I can’t sing, I don’t exist,’ says Disco. We also see Moussa, grappling with a life without music. The film ends on a defiant note as our musicians find a resolution… Will they learn to be silent or risk everything for their music?

Though the narrative is somewhat disjointed and lags a bit at some points, the film is bold, energetic and authentic. Schwartz has produced another thought provoking documentary which considers the harsh interpretation of Sharia law against real people. The terror of the militant extremists slowly becomes redundant to musicians who are dead without music.

The 36th Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) is organised by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (a special project of the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Humanities, Cheryl Potgieter) with support from the National Film and Video Foundation, , KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission, City of Durban, German Embassy, Goethe Institut, Industrial Development Corporation, Gauteng Film Commission, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture and a range of other valued partners.


Sharlene Versfeld / Ayanda Mabanga

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