Musical Resistance in Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu


  • Katy Stewart



African cinema, FESPACO, Timbuktu, Intermediality, Abderrahmane Sissako


When Abderrahmane Sissako’s film Timbuktu was released in 2014, it attracted a great deal of controversy – as well as an Oscar nomination. Was lauded as an exceptionally artistic, poetic film which brought the world’s attention to the plight of Timbuktu under jihadi rule, but the way in which Sissako chose to humanise jihadists, and the elliptical way in which he constructs the film – missing many of the finer details of the political and military situation – was criticised by some, and it was almost withdrawn from competition at FESPACO, the world’s largest African film festival. This article argues that much is missed in such readings of the film, and proposes that an intermedial approach to analysing the film offers a new understanding of it. By exploring the intermedial and intercultural borders and connections in Timbuktu, it will be shown how Sissako combines diverse influences, including Italian Westerns and the Wassoulou music of southern Mali, to create a film that does not merely represent resistance, but is itself an act of resistance against extremism, in Mali. Intermedial borders between film, music and social media are of particular significance in this regard. With a focus on the diegetic and extra-diegetic performances of Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara, the article demonstrates how such intermediality can engage the spectator’s “symbolic participation” (Manthia Diawara, 2015) and contributes to a movement of artistic resistance against extremism in Mali.




How to Cite

Stewart, K. (2020). Musical Resistance in Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu. Observatorio (OBS*).