They Will Have To Kill Us First at South by Southwest Film Festival, Austin

They Will Have To Kill Us First, is the debut feature from Johanna Schwartz and Andre Singer (The Act of Killing). The documentary film follows the story of Mali’s musicians as they fight for their right to express themselves through music, living in a place where singing and playing has been banned by Islamic extremists. The film’s soundtrack has poignantly been specially commissioned from some of Mali’s most innovative artists – Vieux Farka Touré, Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni, Afel Boucom, Toumani Diabate, Ali Farke Toure, Songhoy Blues and newcomer Kankou Kouyate – who narrate their story through their songs.

Music was once a passionate, soulful force within Malian culture, however in 2012 Islamic hardliners took control of the north of the country and enforced Sharia Law – including a ban on all forms of music. Consequently, all radio stations were shut down, instruments were banned, and musicians were punished, tortured and even killed. Many musicians, who had once been well respected and famous figures were forced into hiding – or to leave the country.

Although they remain on the run, rather than give up the fight Mali’s musicians are now standing up for their cultural heritage, using music as a peaceful weapon against the on-going violence that has left Mali ravaged. This incredibly important and revealing film documents musicians as they fear for their lives simply for creating art; it tells the story of the 2012 uprising of Touareg separatists, gives rare and shocking footage of jihadists, depicts harsh and poverty-stricken life within refugee camps and follows Malian people on dangerous journeys back to their war-ravaged homes. Finally, the documentary follows our main characters – a series of brave Malian musicians – as they put together and perform the first public concert in Timbuktu since the music ban was first established.

This stark, hard-hitting and yet joyful portrayal of a hopeful fight for basic human rights was written by Johanna Schwartz and Andy Morgan, renowned journalist and former manager of Grammy award winning Malian band Tinariwen.

They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music In Exile, 13-21 March, SXSW Film Festival, 500 E Cesar Chavez St, Austin, TX 78701.

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1. Still from They Will Have To Kill Us First.