Documentary Review: ‘They Have To Kill Us First’

Greetings again from the darkness. Where there is oppression, there is often courage. Director Johanna Schwartz and her film crew have produced a remarkably informative and well-made documentary. The film hits the target in putting on display the effects of the 2012 Islamic Jihadists invasion of northern Mali (Geo, Timbuktu) and the institution of Sharia Law.

Malian culture is steeped in music, which is used for education, entertainment and history. Radio stations were shuttered and musical instruments were burned. Many famous musicians escaped to Bamako and other areas rather than risk torture and execution. Director Schwartz interviews many of these musicians and we get defiant quotes such as “Our way of resisting is our instruments”, and “We think of ourselves as ambassadors of our country.”

In other words, these musicians understand the cultural and political impact of continuing to make music. Their goal is to spread the message widely. We also see film of a refugee camp where women are staying strong in the face of adversity – hopeful of better days ahead.

2014 peace talks in Algeria led to an official cease fire in 2015, but most locals remain cautious. With the help of globally known performers such as Brian Eno and Nick Zimmer, a Gig for Exiled Musicians was organized for Timbuktu, and it allowed for re-visiting the village and the city – now mostly a bombed out shell. Many homes and historical sites in the ancient cities were destroyed by the terrorists.

These atrocities give that much more strength to the musicians, and we are especially taken by female singers Khaira and Disco, and the local band Songhoy Blues. The perspective of those most affected proves quite powerful, and is a reminder of just how strong the human spirit can be. It’s a film that should be seen by many, and one director Schwartz should be quite proud.

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