Dear Oh Dear, BBC

At its best, the BBC World Service’s From Our Own Correspondent offers interesting insights into countries that radio listeners may never visit.

On other occasions, the program gets things rather spectacularly wrong. Such as when Celeste Hicks, in her own tale, wanders into the dressing room of Nahawa Doumbia, one of Mali’s most celebrated jelis and gushes ‘I’m from the BBC!’ To which this national icon, tired of an evening-long performance, will probably have thought: et alors (so what)? Mercifully, there are still plenty of places in the world were someone who waltzes in with the three magical letters “B-B-C” on her lips does not find red carpets immediately being rolled out. Bless.

Anyway, Hicks gets her interview in the end and then proceeds to pontificate about how and why Mali’s musicians, renowned the world over, are not using their voices to comment on the situation in the North of their country. To which I, an order of magnitude less polite than Nahawa Doumbia, can only respond with:

W—-T—-F?????

Well, alright, she has probably missed Salif Keita in this week’s Jeune Afrique stating: “Anyone who bans music is not a Muslim.” Amin to that, by the way. But really: how long does the list have to be of Malian singers, musicians, performers who had plenty and then some to say about what is going on in their country. Let’s say, off the top of my head:

♪Singer/instrumentalist Fatoumata Diawara

♪Mali’s premier diva Oumou Sangaré

♪Singer/guitarst Samba Touré, whom I interviewed in Amsterdam this summer

♪Fadimata Walett Oumar of the band Tartit

♪Amkoullel, Mali’s very outspoken rapper

…and that’s just one cull of a few months trawling the Radio Netherlands Africa website. (Here’s a radio show I did on Mali just a few months ago, if you have a little time.)

You can add the likes of Cheikh Tidiane Seck, Bassékou Kouyaté, Toumani Diabaté and many more. And then you can add the story of the radio presenter in Gao who was beaten up by the Salafist invaders as he refused to obey their orders. And the youth protests because the Salafist invaders have taken their music away. Or indeed my own interview with Manny Ansar, director of the Festival Au Désert, which will become a caravan for peace this year (and I’m joining, yes!). 

And, incidentally, if by any chance you cannot make it to this festival – you have two things in Amsterdam to look forward to…

Manny Ansar told me that the (mostly foreign) Salafist vandals who are destroying North Mali ransacked his festival property and emptied a Kalashnikov on the sign of his festival. ‘The message was clear,’ he added drily. But never one to give up, he then told me about his audacious plan. His festival was going to travel, in a wide, elegant double arc around Salafist-occupied North Mali. One through Mauritania and South Mali; the other through Algeria and Niger. The gesture is very clearly designed to say this: you cannot stop us.

Hicks has at least four years of experience in the Sahel. How could she have missed this plethora of Malian music commentary? It’s genuinely puzzling. I guess that in her defense one may say that she works in and for a bubble. The BBC, like its newspaper cousin The Guardian, recruits from a limited pool of white, middle class, uni graduates – or, in the name of diversity, from a slightly larger pool of people who don’t look like white, middle-class uni graduates but who think like them. But is that really the explanation?

So, for those of you who were as genuinely flabbergasted as I was by this episode of From Our Own Correspondent, apparently done in Bamako, it’s not you. It’s the BBC. Again.

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4 Responses to “Dear Oh Dear, BBC”

  1. Jon Says:

    it isn’t that they haven’t said anything at all, just that they haven’t said anything before to her or the BBC…

  2. erik wormhoudt Says:

    and for all of you in the Netherlands, do not miss this one: Bassekou Kouyate and Tamikrest at RASA, Utrecht on the 31st of january 2013

  3. Purity | Bram Posthumus - Yoff Tales Says:

    […] this simple fact, Diversity was invented, which incorporates (and I use this word deliberately) an in-crowd of people who all look different but who mostly and basically think the same thoughts. Progressive it is not: this movement has attached itself eagerly to the globalisation agenda. And […]

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