This is a tragic twist for a people whose faith revolves around the more tolerant strands of Sufism. For all its poverty, Mali has traditionally been open to outsiders. It is a nation where women are prominent and musicians more closely entwined with everyday life than perhaps any other place on earth. Music has long been part of the social and political fabric, from praise singers who, for centuries, passed on the oral history to the state-funded bands used to bond the nation after independence.
When I first went there almost a decade ago, it was for the famous Festival in the Desert, some 50 miles from Timbuktu and a symbol of reconciliation after a previous Tuareg uprising. It took three days to get there; Westerners reaching the event were treated like old friends. Days were spent sheltering from fierce sun in tents, chatting over cups of sweet tea and biscuits. At night, those amazing musicians who have taken Malian music around the globe performed in front of turbaned tribesmen on camels while burning braziers lit up the desert. An unforgettable experience.
Where once there was music and dancing, today there is misery and deprivationMore here.