Peace-Building Through Culture

Timbuktu Renaissance's efforts to rebuild the city's heritage and longstanding cultural events

Days after the end of the 2012 edition of the Festival au Désert, armed groups boosted by weapons and fighters fleeing Libya launched a rebellion against the Malian government. By April, Northern Mali including the legendary city of Timbuktu was occupied by extremists and music banned.

Peace (2015-02) by Molly Knight RaskinTimbuktu Renaissance

20 years after the signature of the National Pact between the Malian government and Tuareg separatists in 1992, war broke once again. Exacerbated by the involvement of al-Qaeda linked groups, government forces suffered heavy losses resulting in increased ethnic tensions between communities and a military coup in March 2012.

Live from the Festival au Desert (2011) by Festival au DésertTimbuktu Renaissance

As he fled Mali, escaping invading al-Qaeda linked militants, Manny Ansar, one of Mali’s premier music impresarios, wondered, what will become of the music?

Timbuktu Renaissance Action Group (2014) by Timbuktu RenaissanceTimbuktu Renaissance

In June 2014 at the Brookings Institution’s US-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar, artists, cultural leaders, government officials convened to map out a strategy to rebuild Timbuktu's cultural heritage.

TR 2014 to 2017 Photos - 6 of 32Timbuktu Renaissance

Together with festival producer Chris Shields, Malian social entrepreneur Salif Romano Niang, and Professor and former Ambassador Cynthia Schneider, Manny Ansar formed the Timbuktu Renaissance initiative with the mission of supporting peace and reconciliation through music.

TR co-directors returned to Timbuktu in 2015 to share a short film and their plans to organize free concerts with Imam Essayouti and other respected town leaders. After watching the film, the Imam endorsed the idea.

The Nightingale for Peace and Justice (2015-02) by Molly Knight RaskinTimbuktu Renaissance

In December 2017, as she stepped out of the plane, the “nightingale of Timbuktu,” Khaira Arby, stooped to kiss the ground at the Timbuktu airport. Timbuktu’s most famous musician was returning to her home for her first public concert since the occupation.

Khaira Arby performs in Timbuktu (2017) by Timbuktu RenaissanceTimbuktu Renaissance

People of all ages and ethnic backgrounds from Timbuktu and surrounding areas, flocked to the Auberge du Désert for the first public concert, where they listened and danced together to Arby’s infectious rhythms. Leaders of the three main youth groups--usually rivals-- were so inspired by the spirit of unity they took to the stage to pledge to work together.

Dr. Abdel Kader Haidara of SAVAMA-DCI (2016) by Timbuktu RenaissanceTimbuktu Renaissance

In Bamako, the Timbuktu Renaissance co-directors also visited Dr. Abdel Kader Haidara, the "bad-ass librarian of Timbuktu,” who masterminded the plan to smuggle hundreds of thousands of manuscripts out of the city right under the noses of the occupying extremists.

A Timbuktu Renaissance Concert Night (2019) by Timbuktu RenaissanceTimbuktu Renaissance

The TR concerts regularly feature Tuareg musicians from the refugee camps in Mauritania. Their presence serves as a reminder of the unfinished business of re-integrating Malians displaced by conflict, a message underscored by their lyrics about peace, harmony, and social cohesion.

Enjoying a Night Out in Timbuktu (2019) by Timbuktu RenaissanceTimbuktu Renaissance

"I see that there is music everywhere, so there should also be music in my house. We sing about love, kinship, peace, and social cohesion. We make a musical genre that is typically Tuareg but modernized and intended for all communities." - Mohamed Ag Imbéïry.

Young music lovers watch a hip hop performance in Timbuktu (2019) by Timbuktu RenaissanceTimbuktu Renaissance

"Many people think music is made for dancing. Music is not just for making people dance, but rather to awaken, comfort, educate, and mobilize. Music is about cohesion, reunion, and cultural diversity. Music goes where you haven’t set foot yet. Music is a catalyst for civic building.” - Lodia, a rapper from Timbuktu

Kader and Vieux Farka Touré Jam at Hambe (2020)Timbuktu Renaissance

During the annual Ségou Festival in February 2020, Kader Tarhanine--the latest Tuareg musical sensation--jammed with Vieux Farka Touré. Both artists represent Timbuktu’s two main ethnic groups, the nomadic Tuaregs and the sedentary Songhoys.

Super 11 in Studio (2019) by Timbuktu RenaissanceTimbuktu Renaissance

Supporting Music Production

In October 2020, premiered two albums that the TR helped produce. One album captures Takamba, the traditional  music  that celebrates key events in daily life in northern Mali while the other featured a group of talented up and coming musicians from different ethnic groups in northern and central Mali.

Super 11 records their album in Bamako (2019) by Timbuktu RenaissanceTimbuktu Renaissance

Takamba, of which the group Super 11 from Gao has been the absolute master for the past 30 years, is the dominant genre of music in northern Mali. It is the only music that serves as a cultural bridge between the nomadic (Tuareg) and the sedentary (Songhoy) populations of these regions, creating communion and often even trance during social events.

The Collectif pour La Paix rehearses at Club Africa in Bamako (2020) by Timbuktu RenaissanceTimbuktu Renaissance

The Collectif Pour la Paix (Collective for Peace), a coming together of talented artists to create and record songs about peace and social cohesion amongst communities from north and central Mali.

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