Many Malian students go to India for higher studies under ITEC and ICCR scholarships and as self-financed scholars.
The people of Bamako, Mali’s lively capital on the banks of a calm Niger River have great admiration and love for various aspects of Indian culture. They are fascinated with Bollywood films, music and dance as well the TV serials. Mali, a large civilizational country in West Africa, is known for its rich history, diverse linguistic and cultural traditions and unity in diversity. The famous city of Timbuktu has served as a great centre of Islamic learning, trade and cultural exchanges for centuries.
“Mali is widely recognized as a musical powerhouse in view of its rich musical traditions and great musicians who have contributed to enriching both African and global music,” says Anjani Kumar, Ambassador of India, Bamako, Mali.
The Indian envoy to that country shares his experiences with Huma Siddiqui. Following are excerpts from an interaction with him:
When did you realize they love Bollywood?
There is a big fan base here in Mali for the Bollywood cinema, song and dance. My meeting with singer Mofas Khan was truly enriching. An ardent Indophile who has never been to India but his love for our country and culture is admirable. He is a passionate singer who has learnt Hindi without a teacher. He presents a weekly radio programme called India Gaana dedicated to Bollywood in which he painstakingly interprets Hindi songs in Bambara, the lingua franca of Mali and West Africa and also gives information about the film personalities. His programme of about one hour every Tuesday is keenly followed by Bollywood fans in Mali and West Africa and reflects his unique love for India.
What is so special about this radio programme?
Mofas Khan, begins every episode of his radio programme with India’s National Anthem. Each programme is dedicated to a contemporary theme in which he liberally uses Indian contexts and examples. For instance, in his recent programmes on Corona Virus and Ramadan, he explained how Prime Minister Modi’s call to use Namaste is an effective way of maintaining social distance during the current pandemic. He also shared ICCR’s special song United We Fight and paid musical tributes to actors Rishi Kapoor and Irfan Kahn who recently passed away.
Are there other programmes or groups which promote Indian music and culture?
Yes. There are numerous cultural groups across Mali which promote Indian music and dance. Yaarana Hindustani, Bollywood Fans International and Dostiare three prominent cultural groups in capital Bamako. Important cultural groups outside Bamako are Dostana in Mopti, Sathiya and Maharaja in Segou. These groups periodically organize cultural events that bring together Malian artists, singers and dancers who have dedicated themselves to different aspects of Indian culture. They also give opportunities to new talents interested in Indian music and dance.
Such events, which start in the evening, continue till late hours and witness enthusiastic participation by Malian artists, their fans and followers of Indian culture. What is noteworthy about these programmes is that they are conceived, organized and supported by Malians themselves. Apart from live Bollywood songs, they also include both solo and synchronized group dances for which artistes are known to go through numerous rehearsals. There is also a Gandhi Studio which makes videos, music and news clips.
What has been experience as India’s envoy to Mali?
The journey of discovering Indophiles in Mali is continuing. The family of Sedou Dembele from the western city of Kita is interesting. Every Sunday afternoon since 1997, he presents a one-hour radio programme called Indian Frequency on Bollywood songs. What is remarkable is that he has also started a two-hour programme from 9-11 pm every Sunday in which he interprets an entire Bollywood movie in French and Bambara. He says that Indian movies stand out for their message of good over evil. Sometimes he and his listeners cry together while interpreting an emotional scene. The movies he presented recently are Mother India, Junoon and Noorie.
His friends know him by his nicknames Hindustan ka Babu and Mr. India. They also lovingly call him Pagal Babu because of his passion for India. He is proud to be born on 15 August, India’s Independence Day. He gets emotional when he listens to Hindi songs and is keen to learn Hindi further. He was introduced to Indian culture by his father who used to screen Indian films in Bamako many years ago. And he is doing the same with his children who, among other things, can sing India’s National Anthem which was recently shared by ICCR. He represented Mali in 2019 Kumb Mela and proudly displays a group photo with Prime Minister Modi.
Why are people of Mali interested in India?
Many Malian students go to India for higher studies under ITEC and ICCR scholarships and as self-financed scholars. They come back fascinated by India’s cultural richness and unity and diversity.
I met an elderly couple who was going to India for business. They told me how they have been watching Indian movies since their childhood. I thought they were saying it out of courtesy. But they sang some lines of the song Bholi Surat Dil Ke Khote from the film Albela (1951). Curious to know how they would have seen Indian movies in olden times without modern technologies and connectivity, they said that Indian films have been popular in Mali and West Africa for decades preceding the internet age. Likewise, Habib Koite, internationally-known singer and musician of Mali who participated in Udaipur World Music Festival in February this year, hummed the beautiful song Barbad Mohabbat Ki Dua Saath Liye Ja by Mohammad Rafi in film Laila Majnu.
Indian Soap Operas are also very popular in Mali. They are keenly watched and discussed across the country. Main Teri Parchhain Hoon, Gangaa, Kasam Tere Pyar Ki, Zindagi Ki Mehek, Antara, Kitni Mohabbat Hai, Vaidehi, Jodha Akbar are some of the popular Indian serials which are loved by Malians.
Yoga is yet to be practised widely but its popularity is growing. Among the Yoga teachers who are working hard to popularize it in Mali are Sabine Koné-Hirsiger and Oumar Coulibaly.
The tenure in Mali has just begun. The early signs point to an enriching and exciting journey!