Mali music unplugged: Damon Albarn and Afel Bocoum perform together in Bamako

Published: 22nd July 2012

Last week, Malian singer and guitarist Afel Bocoum was joined in Mali by British musician Damon Albarn for a unique music project aimed at drawing international attention to the growing humanitarian crisis in Mali and to the regional food crisis in West and Central Africa.

More than 18 million people in nine countries across the region 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, 4.6 million people are affected, including 1.6 million people in northern Mali where insecurity and violence means that access for humanitarian organizations is limited at a time when people are in desperate need of help. In addition, conflict has forced around 370,000 people to flee their homes in the north. Around 200,000 are seeking refuge in neighboring countries – that are already struggling to deal with food shortages – and 170,000 are displaced within Mali.

Bocoum said: “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.”

A new song Bamako by Bocoum and Albarn was recorded at an acoustic performance in Afel’s home in Mali’s capital, and will be available to view today on You Tube.

Albarn said: “There’s a very precious deeply rooted musical tradition in this country and that’s part of the lifeblood of this place. 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 aims to reach 1.8 million people across West and Central Africa with emergency assistance. In Mali Oxfam works in the southern Kayes region and in the northern Gao region.

Related links

Download photos from the recording session

Download audio recorded in Mali (215MB soundfile via

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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.
Afel Bocoum
Malian singer and guitarist

Notes to editors

In 2000, Oxfam worked on a project with Damon Albarn in Mali. Damon worked alongside other Malian musicians, including Afel Boucoum and Toumani Diabite, and produced the “Mali Music” album, launched in 2002. In 2011, Damon led a collective of music producers on a visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and worked with contemporary Congolese musicians to produce an album, DRC Music, for Oxfam in just five days. Proceeds from both albums go towards Oxfam’s work to help thousands of people living in poverty.

The UN estimates that across the Sahel:

  • More than 18 million people are in need of assistance
  • Over 1 million children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition
  • $1.64 billion is needed to tackle the crisis 2012 Sahel crisis. So far $792 million has been committed, according to the UN's Financial Tracking Service.
  • The two biggest donors to the Sahel Food Crisis to date have been the European Commission and United States.

Contact information

Christina Corbett, Oxfam Humanitarian Press Officer
+44 (0) 7557 48 37 58