They Will Have To Kill Us First

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Fans of director Abderrahmane Sissako’s award-winning Timbuktu, a 2014 film about the violent clampdown on cultural activities (including musical performances) in Mali after the rise to power of Islamic extremists, will find much to appreciate in Johanna Schwartz’s provocatively titled debut They Will Have to Kill Us First. Likewise concerned with the jihadist takeover of that war-ravaged West African country in 2012, this frenetically paced documentary focuses on singers and instrumentalists like Khaira Arby, Fadimata Walett Oumar, Moussa Sidi, and Songhoy Blues, who live in exile after a ban on music forces them from their homes in the north. Having left Gao and Timbuktu behind for refugee camps in the southern part of the country (and in neighboring Burkina Faso), these “rebels with a cause” become even more committed to the idea that art is a necessary response to oppressive rule. Beginning with an introductory rap that provides contextualizing information about this recent, now-overturned ban on Malian music-making, the film launches into a series of snapshots of these artists, who lend a hand and help other refugees while performing small concerts for appreciative crowds. Few documentaries make such a compelling case that music — or artistic practice more generally — really is a life and death matter for some of the world’s most rights-deprived people.

– By David Scott Diffrient


Johanna Schwartz
105 minutes


Tuesday, April 18
7 p.m.
Lincoln Center Magnolia Theatre

Q&A Guest:
Johanna Schwartz (director)

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