Festival Review: They Will Have To Kill Us First (2015)

They Will Have To Kill Us First

Malian music in exile, Johanna Schwartz’s documentary They Will Have To Kill Us First is a celebration of music and its invincible power.

From Timbuktu To Here

by Alexa Dalby

They Will Have To Kill Us First

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

In 2012, Islamic extremist groups invaded Timbuktu in the north of Mali, in West Africa, imposed sharia law, banned music, destroyed any musical instruments they found and threatened the life of anyone they suspected of being a musician or a singer. For a country whose culture is infused with music and where music so vital to everyday life – and instrumental in the popularity of world music in the West – no action could have been more fundamentally abhorrent. When she heard the news, director Johanna Schwartz felt impelled to go there and bring the story to the world. This intelligent and sensitive documentary, infused with music, is the result. Starting with an explanation of the history given in rap, it follows the lives of two renowned female singing stars who fled Timbuktu for the capital Bamako in the south and disparate male musicians from other northern Malian towns who got together in Bamako and formed a band – Songhoy Blues. The band was talent spotted by Damon Albarn for his multicultural Africa Express tour and to their unaffected joy and amazement found themselves playing at the Royal Albert Hall in London. A celebration of music and the human spirit, They Will Have To Kill Us First gives an intimate and personal insight into lives of these displaced musicians, to whom music is as essential to live as oxygen, and their insiders’ insights on the political situation in Mali. It ends with an uplifting demonstration of courage and defiance when the two women singers return to a devasted Timbuktu, liberated by the French army, to stage a concert of unity and regeneration.

They Will Have To Kill Us First is now playing at the London Film Festival

Join the discussion