The Sahel Calling Project

The Project
The Sahel Situation
The Musicians
How does The Sahel Calling Project help?
Film Synopses
Project Timeline
Maps & Photo Gallery


The Sahel Calling Project is an independent initiative which supports musicians who are working to nurture reconciliation and protect human rights in Mali and the Sahel. Musicians in Mali and across West Africa are key to a healthy and happy society – as in this region of the world, there is an ancient tradition of using music to communicate, educate, celebrate and resolve conflict.

Watch the brand new trailer for our upcoming second film, Malian Pieces.

The Sahel Calling Project believes in the power of music to create peace, democracy and joy. The Project supports musicians in their role as peacemakers, human rights activists and merrymakers across the Sahel in West Africa by focusing on four activities:

1. Filmmaking and distribution
2. Peace-through-Music projects
3. Advocacy with media and other awareness-raising initiatives
4. Musician support & liaison

Launched in August 2012, the project and its first series of short films worked under the guidance of UNHCR, OCHA and Oxfam, and included collaborations with NGOs and individuals. Sahel Calling was originally based on the making of the documentary film, but then expanded to also included events at refugee camps, press conferences, forums for musicians, and the production of a CD and short story collection. It has since developed to support other types of music-based projects for peace. On-going projects include film production, exchange programs, media and musician advocacy, and the production of music and story compilations, and screenings and music evenings. Updates can be found on our blog.

As since its inception, The Sahel Calling Project invites a global audience to get involved in all of its initiatives, including the free distribution of a our short documentary film, as well as in projects, media outreach and musician response.

We welcome new volunteers, new supporters and new ideas! Email us at: or find us at

Click here help fund our activities and for more information on how to Get Involved.

If you would like to donate money to a certain musician in our film, please email us - we would be more than happy to put you in direct contact!.

Otherwise, we suggest donating to:
Oxfam - West African Emergency Program
UNHCR - Refugee Programs
Instruments4Africa - Aide 2 Northern Artists Program

How did The Sahel Calling Project start?

The Sahel Calling short documentary and project were founded an interactive, musical project to raise awareness about the refugees, internally-displaced persons and the people living in the conflict-affected areas of Mali and the Sahel.The Project´s original tagline was: Not just a film, a call to action – and it has been that.

The founder, Kathryn M. Werntz, was driven to create the Project due to frustration at the world´s lack of attention to the area when after the original Islamic militant insurgence, there were was the imposition of human rights violations. Among more atrocious violations was the outlawing of the creation of or enjoyment of music. As music in Mali, is synonymous with life.

The project was inspired by the musicians in the region who were risking their lives by singing and speaking about the political situation and the violation of human rights during a Touareg and „Islamic militant“, Al-Qaeda backed insurgence in 2012 and continuing through today.

More on the background of the project can be read in an interview with the project´s founder.

The Sahel Situation - UPDATED November 2015

Despite an on-going French-led military intervention which started in February 2013 to root out the Al-Qaeda „Islamic militants“, encourage peace deals between Touareg groups and the government and restore general peace, the situation is a mess, to put it frankly.

The security situation is tenuous, though the USA and Europe now have a military presence in the region, and a very international U.N. Peacekeeping mission is also on the ground.

Militants continue attacks on civilians and UN peacekeepers including suicide bombings, roadside ambushes and kidnappings. These attacks have spread to other areas of Mali.

Tensions are high between some long-standing and some newly formed Touareg groups who are demanding sovereignty from Mali to claim their own land territory in what is now currently northern Mali. Several peace deals have fallen through.

Long-term drought and food insecurity has only added to tensions between some of the Touaregs and other ethnic groups.

And of course, the general security situation has brought tourism to a halt, cutting off income for many. The general economic suffering has brought many musicians' careers to a halt, as people don't have money to spend on hiring them for weddings and other celebrations.

Since January 2012, many people have fled their homes in northern Mali – sometimes becoming „internally displaced persons“ elsewhere in the country, others refugees in neighboring countries. Their struggle to survive continues, and even those who return home often return to nothing: houses, belongings and animals stolen or destroyed – and general infrastructure still being repaired (many hospitals, banks and schools were raided during the period of insurgence).

After a brief ban on music in the north by Islamic terrorists and then a short-lived government gag on music everywhere for security reasons, musicians are „allowed“ to play again – however, their livelihood depends on the economic status of other citizens – who hire them to play at events such as weddings, baptisms, etc. And many ordinary people, simply do not have the money for such celebrations right now. In addition, many of them struggle since they were unable to play for almost a year – first, the Islamic militants banned music in the north of the country (and many musicians elsewhere stopped playing due to fear), and then second, an official „State of Emergency“ enforced by the government banned any large gathering or loud music. Still further tragic, some musicians from the north had their instruments destroyed by the Islamic militants.

The Musicians

The musicians in The Sahel Calling Project are many, with varied backgrounds, stories, styles and roles. There are those West African musicians who are featured in the Sahel Calling documentary film, there are those who help the film crew while on the ground, and there are others (plus many, non-African musicians) who support the Project in various ways.

Though the immediate threat to Malian and Sahelian musicians is less than it was, many musicians continue to sing in a controversial atmosphere – as lyrics about the national reconciliation of Mali or the faults of the strict Islamic shariah law (whose tenets the militants skewed in order to ban music) is not always the general public opinion. Many of the musicians in our project are refugees or internally displaced persons themselves – learn more about them here: Sahel Calling Musician Gallery - updated Mar. 2013
(A fully updated Musician Gallery coming soon...).

Naba TT & Virginiel, courtesy of J. Bosch

Amkoullel, courtesy of Msia Kibona Clark.

How does the Sahel Calling Project help?

The Project has a dual mission to:
1) raise awareness about the humanitarian situation in Mali and the Sahel
2) support musicians in their work to nurture reconciliation, promote peace, and educate on rights and democratic processes.

We do this by focusing on four main activities (listed below with short explanations).

1. Filmmaking and distribution

The Sahel Calling Project has produced two short films, and is in the process of seeking funding to complete the editing of a feature-length documentary. The 40-minute „Sahel Calling“ documentary is free to stream or download (with four language subtitle versions). The Project also organizes (and supports others in their organization of) live screenings – often accompanied by live music and discussion.

2. Peace-through-Music projects

The Project has been scheming to launch several music-based cultural and peace projects in the Sahel region. The two main projects which we are focusing on (looking for funding for!) are a „Senegal Music+Peace Workshop Tour“ and the „UK-Timbuktu Choir Exchange.“ The former is designed as a traveling music workshop through Senegal, especially along the border areas with Mali and Mauritania, as well as in the Dakar suburbs. The aim is to travel with a diverse group of Senegambian musicians to small villages where jam concerts and interactive music workshops would be given, based around the themes of tolerance and peace. The Choir Exchange program is designed to collaboratively record and then perform ancient songs of both the UK and Mali as a way to preserve musical heritage as well as achieve cultural exchange and thereby raise awareness on the situation on the Sahel.

3. Advocacy with media and other awareness-raising initiatives

Before the Project was officially formed in August 2012, the founder and other members were already busy advocating to media outlets to cover the story of Mali. So it is without pause since March 2012, that we continue to lobby to media outlets, as well as produce our own articles and interviews, in order to keep Mali and the world´s mind. Further, through our social media presence and distribution of Sahel Calling, we hope to reach a broad, global audience. Watch, read and pass on our media and press links.

4. Musician support & liaison

The Sahel Calling Project works to support musicians in a myriad of ways. Firstly, we support their work to nurture reconciliation, promote peace, and educate on rights and democratic processes by amplifying their voices, so to say. That is, we feature these musicians in our films, on our interview, articles and social media presence. We also hire some of them as field producers, and certainly spread their music (!). Any musicians who appeared in our „Sahel Calling“ documentary were also compensated for the time they gave.

There are many other West African and non-African musicians who contact us to join the project, whether as way to support their work or as a way to contribute to us – usually, it is both. We do our best to incorporate them into the project, sometimes taking on roles such as the live musical act by live screenings or appearing as the performers for other types of events. Lastly, we often have the opportunity to network musicians to one another, as well as to journalists, etc., further promoting their cause and hopefully livelihoods. Most recently, for example, we were able to secure Abdoulaye Alhassane Touré the honor of guest musician at the UNHCR event in New York, and Hampaté as guest musician at a joint UN-NGO launch of the new Sahel Appeal Program in Dakar.

To join the project, email: or visit: or read how to get involved

Film Synopses

"Malian Pieces: Stories from the Richest Country" is a feature-length documentary film that follows charismatic musician Ben Zabo through career struggles amidst a background of political upheaval and economic stagnation in Mali.

"Malian Pieces" -- Indiegogo promo trailer from john bosch on Vimeo.

In this land-locked West African country, poverty is omnipresent and music is the coping mechanism, the lubricant of life. A music-driven, boldly experimental film that unfolds in chapters, Malian Pieces offers a dynamic glimpse of a vibrant, kaleidoscopic, rhythmic society of abundant cultural wealth whose traditionally peace-loving citizens grapple daily with immense poverty, an increase in terror attacks, and ineffective leadership.

The film presents a contemporary, idiosyncratic, and above all musical Mali as a country whose largely untapped material resources and proximity to North African instability creates a geopolitical dilemma for both Malian and Western governments.

In Malian Pieces, Ben Zabo and an enigmatic cast of musicians -- including Tiken Jah Fakoly, MC Jazz, and Bassekou Kouyate -- serve as thoughtful tour guides through the twists and turns, tragedies and triumphs of their beloved Mali.

"Sahel Calling" is a 40-minute documentary film about the motivational power of music and musicians to confront a radical political agenda such as the type which occurred in the north of Mali. Here, various opposing armed groups exploited regional tensions to assume control, displacing hundreds of thousands of residents, exacerbating an existing humanitarian crisis, and breaking the international decree of human rights by offering a bleak interpretation of Shariah law.

Among other oppressive extremities and violations, they outlawed the playing and enjoyment of music, a particularly egregious act, as this region is the birthplace and spiritual center of some of the world's greatest, most enduring and influential musical forms and traditions.

"Sahel Calling" follows certain musicians -- many of whom are displaced themselves -- and travel through the cities and villages filming their experiences, recording their songs and stories, interviewing refugees, and exploring the transformative power of solidarity and music against those that would attempt to silence us.

This is a story of the motivational force of music and the impact it can have on moving others to awareness and action, and possibly affecting a complex, socio-political, violent crisis. A true real-time documentary, "Sahel Calling" researched and planned as much as possible, but like the musicians themselves, no one knew what would transpire during the weeks following the French military intervention in mid-January 2013. The post production was done with an extremely quick turnaround (three months) in order to launch the film for World Refugee Day, 20 June 2013.

Project Timeline o o o o o o o
August 2012Concept
August - December 2012Fundraising and preparation
September 2012Shooting of "teaser" in Bamako, Mali
November 2012Release of teaser via youtube/vimeo
February 2013Filming (Mali, Burkina Faso)
March - April 2013Post-production
20 June 2013Global launch of short film
February 2014Filming (Mali/NYC&Berlin)
November 2014Filming (MaliNYC&Berlin)
February 2015Filming (MaliNYC&Berlin)
November 2015Fundraising for Malian Pieces, final edit
Winter 2016Planned fundraiser for Tahanint Choir
Spring 2016Planned release of Malian Pieces

Maps & Photo Gallery
Coming soon...