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Damon Albarn unplugged in Mali for Oxfam

Damon Albarn and Afel Bocoum perform together in Bamako. Photo: Simon Phipps/Oxfam

Damon Albarn performs with Malian singer/guitarist Afel Bofoum to raise awareness about the food crisis in West Africa

Last week, Malian singer and guitarist Afel Bocoum was joined in Mali by British muso Damon Albarn (Gorillaz, Blur) for a unique music project aimed at drawing international attention to the growing humanitarian crisis in Mali and to the food crisis across the Sahel region of West and Central Africa.

Damon Albarn and Afel Bocoum in Bamako. Photo: Simon Rawles/Oxfam
Damon Albarn and Afel Bocoum in Bamako. Photo: Simon Rawles/Oxfam

As readers of this blog would already know, more than 18 million people in nine countries are threatened by food shortages, including 1 million children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. With the next harvests not due until September and October, the region is now entering the worst of the crisis.

In Mali itself, 4.6 million people are affected — 1.6 million of them in northern Mali, where insecurity and violence are making access for humanitarian organisations extremely difficult. This conflict has forced around 370,000 people to flee their homes in the north. Around 200,000 are seeking refuge in neighbouring countries – that are also experiencing serious food shortages – and 170,000 are displaced within Mali.

Says Bocoum: “The situation here is critical. Last year there was not enough rain, so this year’s harvest was terrible, there hasn’t been enough pasture for the animals and they are dying. People are just trying to get enough food to eat. As a result of the conflict in the north, thousands of people have left their homes, like me, and there is no-one to take care of them.
“Music makes miracles happen and brings people together, and I hope that by taking this opportunity to speak, people will listen and hear our message. This is a message of peace.”

Some new songs by Bocoum and Albarn were recorded at an acoustic performance in Afel’s home in Mali’s capital — check them out on YouTube.

“There’s a very precious deeply rooted musical tradition in this country and that’s part of the lifeblood of this place,” explains Albarn. “I first came to Mali over 10 years ago and met some incredible musicians, and it is always a very special experience to come back and play with hugely respected and renowned artists such as Afel.”

Oxfam is aiming to reach 1.8 million people across West and Central Africa with emergency assistance. In Mali we work in the southern Kayes region and in the northern Gao region.

Find out more

Watch more videos of Damon and Afel performing their new songs.
Read about how we’re working to support vulnerable communities in West and Central Africa