NOWHERE does music have a greater social and political importance than in the vast desert state of Mali.
It is shocking, therefore, that it has been banned across much of the two-thirds of Mali now controlled by Islamist rebel groups.
As ''Manny'' Ansar, the director of the country's celebrated Festival in the Desert, which has now been forced out of the country, explained: ''It's through our music that we know history and our own identity. Our elders gave us lessons through music. It's through music that we declare love and get married - and we criticise and make comments on the people around us.''
Malian musicians have become household names in the West, from the late Ali Farka Toure to the bravely experimental Rokia Traore, currently appearing at the Sydney Festival. The band Tinariwen has performed alongside the Rolling Stones. There is the passionate social commentary of Oumou Sangare and the rousing, commercially successful African pop of Amadou & Mariam.