Mali musicians persevere despite militant unrest

A Malian soldier takes position in Konna
Moussa Mega and his band weren't allowed to play music by the Islamic militants, so they fled to safety south of Mali.
CBS News

(CBS News) SEGU, Mali - French troops were on the move Friday night in Mali recapturing towns from Islamic terrorists. The North African country has become a new center for terrorism. Fighters linked to al Qaeda have overrun much of the north, including Gao. Thousands have fled south to escape.

Against all odds the beat goes on -- 600 miles from home.

But if Moussa Mega and his band had carried on playing their music in their native city of Gao, they'd have been arrested -- or worse -- by the Islamic militants who took over 10 months ago. So they fled to safety in the south.

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Mega acknowledged that he was not allowed to play by the extremist rebels. "They said it was un-Islamic," he explained. As for how they would stop him, Mega said: "They would break our instruments and whip us bitterly in public."

The militants who control large parts of northern Mali rule by terror. A cell phone video shows them in Gao flogging a man found guilty of adultery and drinking alcohol.

Watch a YouTube video below featuring Voices United for Mali, a collective of more than 40 musicians from Mali, performing "Mali-ko" (Peace/La Paix):

Tata Waletanna, the band's star dancer, is also a teacher. Gao, she told us, was dangerous for women too. Riding with a man on a motorcycle, or even going out alone, can mean arrest and rape.

The local consensus is that as few as 400 extremists ruled the town of a hundred thousand with violence. One video showed a thief about to have his hand amputated after sentencing in an Islamic court.

But intimidation and cruelty like that are not part of northern Mali's tradition. Dance, humor and joyful rhythms are. Moussa Mega's band is making music -- even in exile -- but every one of them is counting the days until they can head for home.

  • Elizabeth Palmer
    Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."