I jolted as I read the article title my friend had just forwarded to me, “Timbuktu Encircled As Mali Coup Intensifies.” I checked my clock. It was 8 AM—much too early for such distressing news. Plus, I had decided to actively spend more time reading positive developments from the continent. As expected, this is not an easy task given the heavy dose of negative media produced for global consumption when it comes to Africa. The British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) segment, African Dream, is currently on top of my list for regular positive reads about Africa. The segment’s goal is to highlight an individual from Africa who is making significant contribution and impacting their community positively.
I first met her at the Madison, Wisconsin, Willy Street Festival. It was her first U.S. tour and Madison was her first stop. We were excited to hear her live. She had graciously accepted to do an interview with us on the “Pan African Radio Show” and spontaneously sang a song for our listeners. Oh how the phone lines blew up after that! Questions rained our way. Where is the festival?! When is it?! Where can we get her CD?!
Upon arriving at the festival site we met a hungry and tired group of musicians. In no time, the rice, maffé (peanut stew), roasted chicken and fried plantains we brought was gone. With a satiated appetite, the group detailed their long voyage to my co-host and I--describing the journey from Mali to Madison, Wisconsin. It involved several airports, and alternating car and long bus rides; all without substantial food their stomachs. Without a doubt, the crowd thoroughly enjoyed the band’s music that evening. The following morning we brought them breakfast--au style Africaine. Upon departure, Khaira told us, in French, “you come to Timbuktu, I cook for you.”
My second encounter with this beautiful voice from Mali was in Morocco—she was in transit to Europe and I to Guinea. She quickly recognized me as the African girl who fed her band “real African food” on their first U.S. tour. The conversation at the airport quickly veered towards visiting her in Timbuktu. I had to reiterate my promise to visit her city.
My jolt that morning was a response to the thought of her engulfed in that turmoil, along with thousands of innocent other people about to be caught up in another terrible conflict. However, as it turned out, the Malian blues diva is back in the U.S. for a tour that runs from April through May. She will be mesmerizing audiences with her great sonic sound that constitutes a combination of her powerful voice, full of Timbuktu’s cultural richness and several traditional and modern instrumentation While we hope for a return of stability in Mali and I envisage a trip to the queen’s land, I plan on catching her sounds while she is here visiting. It was a consoling thought, even if I still couldn’t wrench myself from imagining the worst for the many others not as lucky.