Timbuktu is a city fabled to exist at the edge of the world, where the southern stretches of the Sahara desert end and a world of rich scholarly tradition, architectural wonder and abundant artistic creativity begins. In reality, it’s located in the West African country of Mali, a place filled to the brim with the kind of unmatched cultural richness that comes from traditions and influences from across the Sahara and Sahel melding together in harmony for centuries – all of which “Mali Magic” on Google Arts & Culture will share with you today.
Though popularly known as the historic home of Mansa Musa (the richest man in the world), the true magic of Mali doesn’t stem from these fractured fables so much as from the pillars that define its culture — its manuscripts, music, monuments and modern art — and their unbelievable resilience to human and environmental threats, thanks to the people’s quest to preserve their heritage.
M is for Mali
Mali’s story has often been told with attention to the violence and political unrest the nation has experienced, namely the 2012 coup and subsequent ten-month Jihadist occupation, which resulted in the destruction of many mausoleums, mosques and monuments, the burning of ancient manuscripts, and the breaking of instruments and cancelling of festivals to silence the music traditions that defined its culture. But the Malian people did not let their culture become a victim of destruction. From saving the ancient manuscripts that families protected for years from total destruction, to the contemporary artistic movements that are rising from times of turmoil, the resilience of Mali’s people and culture has been proven. Read more about their effort to preserve and digitize their libraries here.
Mali Magic on Google Arts & Culture shines a light on these heroic stories of resilience and presents Mali’s monuments, manuscripts, music and modern arts in a digital collection of sound and story like no other.
M is for Manuscripts
Long before the European Renaissance, the Malian city of Timbuktu — which at one point was home to a community of scholars that made up a quarter of its whole population — gave birth to an abundance of learning in the fields of morality, politics, astronomy, literature and more surprising topics like black magic and sex advice. This work was captured in thousands of precious manuscripts. These pages have redefined our understanding of African history; Dr. Abdel Kader Haidara, the ‘badass librarian’ known for smuggling the manuscripts out of Timbuktu when their safety was at risk, has said that "they have said that in Africa there is no written history. It’s been said that all the history of Africa is oral. We have more than 400,000 manuscripts here written uniquely by the hands of the hands of Africans. They will see this and say the opposite. It’s a true Renaissance."
Finally, the manuscripts have made their way from family libraries to the world stage: a spectacular collection of 40,000 decorated folios and beautifully scripted Timbuktu manuscripts have been brought to Google Arts & Culture for the world to explore online, and is at the heart of discussions and celebrations to be held in Bamako on March 12th and at the Brooklyn Public Library on March 17th.
M is for Music
From tribal song and dance accompanied by unique traditional instruments, captured on video by Instruments4Africa, to the Festival in the Desert that has hosted the likes of U2 and Mali’s own Fatoumata Diawara, Mali is a place infused with rhythm courtesy of a widespread passion for music. It’s even said that rock ‘n roll and the American blues are deeply rooted in Malian musical and myth-telling traditions.
Today, Mali’s music scene remains strong — musicians from all over Mali have united to cover the iconic Malian artist Ali Farka Touré’s beloved song Houwkuna, Grammy-award nominee Fatoumata Diawara ushers Mali to the front of the world music scene with her brand new EP, Maliba (‘The Great Mali’), and festivals and live concerts are held by the Timbuktu Renaissance and Instruments4Africa to keep soulful sounds and social cohesion alive.
M is for Monuments
A third layer of Mali’s unique cultural landscape is made up of its mosques, mausoleums and monuments. These structures are not just iterations of historic mud architectural styles and commemorations of past events; they are kept alive by the communities who have maintained them for centuries and the efforts to restore them after their recent destruction by those attempting to shake the foundations of Malian culture and identity.
From political unrest and the end of tourism to globalization and pollution, several factors threaten Mali’s monuments and its culture at large. Exploring the Great Mosque of Djenne in 3D, or the first ever Street View of Mali’s mosques and monuments, it’s clear that this built heritage is worth protecting and preserving for generations to come.
M is for Modern Art
Carrying out Mali’s lasting legacy of creativity and vibrant culture are the country’s incoming generation of contemporary artists. Painters, sculptors, and mixed-media creators reflect the color and chaos that they see in the world around them, entwining Mali’s expressive culture with their own unique perspectives, ambitions and explorations.
Addressing the difficulties and destruction that Mali has endured throughout both recent and colonial history, the country’s art scene might represent a space in which Mali’s past can be processed and, through culture and creativity, a future can be rebuilt.
“The day we admit that we lost everything for the profit of others; that day we can truly begin to rediscover ourselves,” says Malian contemporary artist Amadou Sanogo.