‘They Will Have to Kill Us First’ Malian Music Documentary Set for U.S. Release

BBC Worldwide North America will release the documentary “They Will Have to Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile” in March and April in the U.S., Variety has learned exclusively.

The release coincides with Music Freedom Day on March 3. The feature-length documentary premiered at last year’s SXSW Film Festival.

“They Will Have to Kill Us First” is directed by Johanna Schwartz and features an original score by Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It will open at New York City’s Village East Cinema on March 4 along with the release of the soundtrack, followed by a launch in Los Angeles and other markets on April 1.

The documentary was filmed in the aftermath of Islamic jihadists taking control of northern Mali in 2012 and enforcing a harsh interpretation of Sharia law by banning all forms of music as radio stations were destroyed, instruments burned and musicians tortured. Malian musicians were forced into hiding or exile, where most remain — even now.

“They Will Have to Kill Us First” follows the group Songhoy Blues and musicians Khaira Arby, Fadimata “Disco” Walet Oumar and Moussa Sidi as they each deal with the situation in different ways. Footage includes the uprising of Tuareg separatists and jihadists and captures life at refugee camps and war-ravaged cities, as some of Mali’s most talented musicians set up and perform at the first public concert in Timbuktu since the music ban.

The film is co-written by Schwartz and Andy Morgan, former manager of the band Tinariwen.

“They Will Have to Kill Us First” is produced by Sarah Mosses of Together Films and executive produced by Andre Singer (“The Act of Killing”), alongside Stephen Hendel, Victoria Steventon, OKAY Africa and Knitting Factory Entertainment.

“I am so proud to bring these musicians’ stories to the world,” Schwartz said. “They’ve been through hell, and survived to sing about it. Though the conflict in Mali is still far from over, with extremist attacks continuing in the north and south to this day, I have no doubt that these musicians will continue to stand up and fight for their right to sing.”

Soumya Sriraman of BBC said, “It is hard to imagine life without music, but for the people of Mali, whose culture is so deeply rooted in music, this is a reality they had to face every day. It is a privilege to be able to bring this incredible tale of perseverance in the face of terrible adversity to the U.S.”

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