The Human Rights Arts & Film Festival (HRAFF) was recently in town, sharing human rights and social justice based stories through film, art, music and forums. Movies wouldn’t normally get any attention here, but when music is the basis of the story it seems appropriate.
Initially, the documentary that stood out was They Will Have to Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile. At first glance it seems pretty confrontational and in your face. But it was the mention of Malian music that stuck, particularly after seeing Songhoy Blues at WOMADelaide. It turns out they were one of the acts featured in the movie – so of course this was a must watch.
Without being versed in anything to do with the political or cultural environment in Mali, this film was an eye opener to the conflict and oppression in the country but also the incredible talents and determination of the musicians. Their resilience to create and share music as part of their community and culture with such defiant spirits was exceptional. Of course, there was a considerable amount of dark, intense content to provide context but the music still shines through. It certainly instilled a greater appreciation for the music Songhoy Blues creates, and the work of their Malian counterparts.
Then another music-related documentary came by way of Beats of the Antonov, this time sharing insight into life in the Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains of Sudan. While bomb attacks are a regular occurrence in a conflict fuelled by cultural identity issues, music is being used as a means of cultural longevity. The sounds and beats are as unique as the number of different cultural groups that exist and struggle against the forced Arabic-Islamic national identity. But the true testament of these people comes in their ability to still embrace music and how it actually helps them in the face of adversity.
Equally provocative, the two films provide some unique perspectives on culture, values and expression through music. Well worth viewing should the opportunity arise.