We focus on Malian and Sahelian musicians, and those living in exile or identifying with the diaspora. We also work with non-African musicians supporting Sahelian musicians or music!
See our “Music” page for more info.
Anne Löper – Sand Artist
Viola Schöpe – Painter
Elgin Hertel – Photographer, Audio/Sound Artist, Artist Campaigner
Pedro Lopez – Photographer
From the very start, we asked several agencies of the United Nations and a few NGOs and academics to be “official”* advisors to the Sahel Calling Project. After the release of Sahel Calling in 2013, we have not followed up with them, though assume that door is open!
Below is a list of these advisors, who were instrumental in guiding us through political context, refugee camp access and humanitarian situation updates and making connections and calls on our behalf. Likewise, they invited us to provide them with pertinent information, images, video, etc.
UNHCR – West and Central Africa Regional Office
OCHA – West and Central Africa Regional Office
Andy Morgan – Writer & Research
*official meaning: we asked them in writing, they agreed in writing. we never signed official MOUs. we just trusted one another. in hindsight, MOUs would have been smart. 😉
We networked with different kinds of partners, from United Nations agencies to international and local NGOs, universities, media outlets, independent journalists, musicians, artists, music producers and labels, and funders.
Below is a list of major “official”* partners:
Goethe Institut – Dakar, Senegal
UNHCR – Burkina Faso Country Office
Media – see our “Media & Advocacy” page for more.
*official meaning: we asked them in writing, they agreed in writing. we never signed official MOUs. we just trusted one another. in hindsight, MOUs would have been smart. 😉
SAHEL CALLING – main film production team
Producer & Story – Kathryn M. Werntz
Director – John Bosch
Director of Photography – Peter Buntaine
Sound – Toby Cameron
Field Producer – Arouna Coulibaly (Ben Zabo)
Fixer & Driver – Boss
Remote Field Producer Assistant: Anne Ristorcelli
Translation for subtitles: see Project translation team below
THE SAHEL CALLING PROJECT – team (project & some film support)
Though we never were able to complete the paperwork, we did form the committee needed to found an official “Sahel Calling Association” in Senegal.
The members were:
President – Kathryn M. Werntz
Vice-President – Mapathé Gaye (Hampaté)
Treasurer – Marie Ly
Secretary – Didier Eric Fonseca
FRIENDS OF THE SAHEL CALLING PROJECT
So, so, so many friends, family members, cats, people, groups and institutions have been and continue to be our “friends”. Financial backers, morale-boosters, connectors, social media amplifiers, you name it.
A personalized Thank You list here would take up WAY too much room, so unfortunately, I just hope you know who you are (!)…and at least the financial backers who donated at the higher levels received the perk of having their names listed at the end of the Sahel Calling film – so check there!…among some other special thank you’s.
Of course, the biggest “friend” to the project and film was the German celebrity who called me up one month before we flew to Mali,. He called completely out of the blue (I thought it was a prank!).
He chatted with me about my background in environmental justice before suddenly offering a nice sum of money to cover plane tickets and renting good video and audio equipment.
Without his financial backing, his trust in me, his time and resources spent providing my way to converse with him in person (including meetings in Morocco and Germany), well, the film and project would not have had the reach, credibility, finesse or impact it has had.
So, if you are reading this, I know who you are, and am still deeply grateful.
Thank you, too, on behalf of all the musicians and ordinary peoples’ lives you have touched in Mali and beyond.
Let my (very abbreviated) below personal story be an inspiration … to anyone who wants to make the world a better place!
Especially let my story be an inspiration to you whose first steps to try to do something get ignored or put down, or to you who are told you are crazy or your efforts useless in the face of such crisis.
Find your cheerleaders and your critics, but make sure the former far outnumber and outpower the latter!
How it began…
Imagine getting emails from friends, full of stories of raped and stolen wives and daughters, pillaged and plundered offices, men waving black flags and speaking of strict Sharia law and at the same time handing out bread and other much sought-after food and other goods.
Imagine reading how several (very pregnant) wives went running to the hills to hide, at 7- or 8-months-pregnant. With no more word on their existence.
Imagine getting photographs depicting the physical, financial and emotional damage and horror outlined in these emails.
Imagine you get so disgusted, so outraged, so upset, that you (you! who is a noone!) decides to ring up several major news outlets. You share your story and offer these media folks the names and phone numbers of your friends (who happen to be well-respected, international professors and religious leaders). You offer their stories and their photographs (since your friends gave you permission to do so!).
Imagine all but one major news source says,
“Mali just is not sexy enough to report on”.
Can you imagine? Maybe you can, but I was not prepared for this kind of response at all.
Btw: Thank you, Al Jazeera, for actually caring in the early days and making daily reports, if only 1-2 liners. And, thank you for taking me seriously, taking the stories of my friends seriously, and upping your coverage when no one else was yet even on it! For the other news industries out there, well…
Imagine you are not discouraged, you are determined to let the world know what is happening!
So, I thought about what else I could do…?
I could, WRITE, I suppose. I had done some writing and editing for different museums and NGOs, some travel blogging. So, why not WRITE and let people know what was happening?
So, I reached out to Songlines.
Though I had never published a single journalistic piece in my life, they took a chance on me. Their care and concern, and trust in me, catapulted me into action which ultimately led to the founding of the Sahel Calling Project!
I knew from the start, I wanted the Sahel Calling Project to produce films, social media, music, words that would be FREE for everyone to learn from, enjoy, celebrate.
The Project took shape with the idea to write some more news articles, and then organize a film crew to follow the “Caravan”.
Sidenote: I had never made a film, nor studied film, nor knew any filmmakers. It was, just an idea. My first step was to reach out to some famous documentary filmmakers I loved and ask them: how do I make a film? 🙂 So, I did! And once I explained who I was (a nobody) who wanted to distribute a film (for free), several of them actually talked to and educated me (!). They asked to remain anonymous, but I am eternally grateful — and you know who you are!
A few other lesser-known but equally-as-awesome filmmakers also became close guides and colleagues of mine throughout the project, and I am also eternally grateful to them, Andrea Papitto and Vanessa Gildea to be exact!
And, a very, very, very famous German filmmaker happened to catch wind of what I was planning to do early on — and became our first and most generous donor who made it all possible! He also insists on always remaining anonymous in his philanthropy, but you know who you are (!). I am grateful to him and his assistant and for our insightful meetings in Germany and Africa.
Getting back to The Story…
The “Caravan” was a rebellious, brave idea of the staff of Festival au Desert.
Since armed terrorist and other groups in northern Mali banned music and threatened violence if the festival went on, the idea was to literally caravan through the desert in a show of musical bravado.
We were invited by the Festival to come along, and I had already met with them and organized a small film crew and project volunteers (by way of cold- and warm-emails and phone calls, looking for similar souls).
But, the Caravan was not to be! 🙁
As the death threats began looking more serious, all of the international and then slowly the national music stars pulled out. Many of them went silent across social media in the face of the seemingly legitimate threats. Even most international stars just went silent. About the festival, about the situation.
I was, lightly put, OUTRAGED by the way…
OUTRAGED that all of these extremely famous, extremely rich, extremely well-connected international (and some national) music stars…who had made it big, made records (and money) performing with so many Malian musicians…would be so silent … even once the media started pointing their cameras and directing their words about what was going on. Mostly, silence. From some of the loudest, most bravado musicians of our times…
I took that outrage and transformed into deep appreciation for the musicians who were woke, who were brave, who were authentic, who realized they had a moral role to play, who were speaking up and out… both the international and national music stars.
And, Caravan or no Caravan,
I was determined to still do “something”.
So, I moved ahead organizing a film and project crew – ALL of whom were volunteers (outside some petty cash I eventually was able to pay the film crew on-site from private donors). Friends and new friends, some who worked remotely whom I still have not met to this day (!) toiled for months and months and months. Other friends and family probably got tired of us talking about Mali all of the time. But we would not stop!
We networked with celebrities, musical stars, visual artists, record labels, government offices, NGOs, the United Nations, academics and academia.
We got invited to media and advocacy press coverage, UN meetings, film and music festivals.
We threw up a crowdfunding campaign and came up with fun perks. (We are, still admittedly, getting the last perk out!).
We harnessed the energy of others, giving people a place to express their worry and love for Mali and Malian music.
We worked what felt like around the clock. On top of our normal jobs, families, lives. My living room became my bedroom and Sahel Calling Project HQ. My new roommate became Assistant Director of the project and fed me bowls of soup during endless nights of work. My boyfriend at the time who had nothing to do with Mali nor Africa designed our first website, kicked off our kickstarter, and acted as a sounding board and all-around moral support. Emails poured in from friends and strangers asking how to help. Including, Malian musicians wanting to do more for less fortunate other Malian musicians and their fellow country men, women and children.
And before I knew it, other filmmakers, media outlets, musicians, academic were calling US (!).
All we had to do to get there, was to have taken a step forward.
So we continued to reach out to ANYONE who would listen to us and who would or could be convinced care about the violence and humanitarian disaster occurring in northern Mali…which was slowly seeping southwards into the country and over its borders to Burkina Faso and Mauritania.
There may not have been as many people caring as we would have liked, nor as many people coming through on their promises to advocate, but the ones who did care, CARED A LOT, and the ones who stepped forward, DID A LOT … as one social media post, one connection, one photo, went such a long way.
And of course, we stood and stand in awe and admiration of those musicians who were brave enough to SPEAK OUT and CONTINUE TO SPEAK OUT. Nods, and gratitudes to you and you know who you are.
The Sahel Calling Project has only been successful because of the bravery, compassion and generosity of many ordinary and extraordinary people.
After publishing a few articles and building our volunteer team and networks (and plastering my bedroom walls with To Do Lists and Plans and Funding Campaign ideas and “Advocate” musicians, media staff, UN and NGO staff, etc.), we began publishing written and video interviews with famous Malian musicians in Germany and in the USA.
And, we rallied on social media to raise awareness, in at our four main languages, and then some!
We eventually raised the money to fly the film crew to Mali.
We landed in Bamako in February 2013, right after the French government’s “intervention” (which was not supposed to happen, yet).
Amidst fresh chaos and torn sentiments in the country, and tanks and a heavy militarized city, we kept our heads low and crisscrossed Mali and Burkina Faso. All with the help of our field producer, Ben Zabo, and one heck of a fixer and driver, Boss.
We interviewed musicians, producers, politicians, artists and regular every day people. We met with NGO and UN staff. With TV, print and photo journalists. We attended illegal weddings (with music!), we traveled to refugee camps. We, quite honestly, feared for our lives.
And in the midst of all this, we got commissioned by a caring staff member at Oxfam GB who had a special place in her heart for Mali and those suffering from the crisis! Thank you, Oxfam GB, for caring, and for driving a major donor appeal for Malians! Our donor appeal video for them is available on Youtube.
Our Sahel Calling film was released on World Refugee Day 2013, 20 June. It had its international premiere at the Goethe Institut in Dakar, Senegal, was screened by the UNHCR’s big event in Dakar, and the day after had its second premiere in Berlin, Germany.
Sidenote: the sand art in the film and our print materials was also an in-kind donation from Anne Löper. We also partnered with the visual artist Viola Schöpe in a joint screening-art opening in Berlin, Germany. Both lovely artists responded to our typical cold-email/cold-call that basically went: “shit is happening in Mali, it’s terrible, musicians and artists are trying to raise awareness and maintain peace and freedom. we have no budget. can you work with us?”
Since the Sahel Calling film was released, it has been screened at music and human rights festivals across the world and online. We also encouraged people to organize their own screenings. And, they did (!). Universities, youth groups, religious groups, libraries, private families. You can still do this, and we welcome it!
While we have been fairly silent, working behind the scenes since 2014 (while dealing with an onslaught of our own personal emergencies within the team), we have been chugging along…our hearts pounding in anticipation of peace and sinking at every new headline of violence, death and destruction of physical and emotional threads and social fabric of Mali.
Despite the security and access concerns, friends and family have provided money to send our film team back the past few years to catch up with some musicians. I was also back in Mali on other work and caught up with lots of the musicians, music producers and regular people in our story.
Our second film, Malian Pieces, is probably only a few months and one more trip back to Mali away before we can finish it.
All along though, we have been working. If only to keep talking about Mali, keep sharing and promoting and celebrating its music.
Have we been successful?
If creating a documentary film based on musicians to raise their voices about the humanitarian crisis in Mali was our goal, then, we did it! From zero to release in under ten months.
Can we ever measure our impact – both positive and negative? Not sure.
Though, based on the global reach our of our film and social media, being invited to speak at the UN HQ in NYC on the role musicians do and can play in peacebuilding in West African, being able to connect the dots for some of “our” musicians, putting Mali on the map for many friends and families, providing a space for people across the world to harness their worry and care, being called by bigshot filmmakers and media outlets asking for contacts and information — and even having our website text even plagiarized by one of them — well that ALL definitely seems like success to me!
What have I learned? Would I do it again? Those are the two questions that I get asked the most often, including by me!
Would I do it again? Well, first of all, I never really stopped “doing” it. I launched this baby of a film and energy out into the world, and have been chugging along on its little brother or sister.
Would I drop everything in my life for it all over again? Well, at the time, it literally felt like “a calling”. Like this divine calling that deeply religious people speak of. I would ask myself then, and now, how could I NOT do it? It really did not seem like a choice. There were these personal emails of horror, there was my love for the music and the land, there was the silence by so many rich and powerful people, there was the somewhat typical ignoring of West African nations in mainstream media, there was the fact that Senegal was already and continues to be my home as much as Germany or the US – if not more by now…Senegal, being right next door, and the difference in culture, ethnicities and religious beliefs and life values and family ties and rhythms and languages extending beyond these randomly-placed country borders by Europeans.
Then, there was my nebulous feeling and drive to do “something”. And my sharing of that, and the snowball of energy of worry and care that slowly (or, not so slowly as I would have liked, actually) which became a life of its own. Exactly what I hoped for.
What have I learned?
A thing or two about filmmaking (!), and deadlines, and figuring out how to do those things when everyone on staff is so deeply entrenched on an emotional level to “do something”.
I should have found at least one person who didn’t care so much who could somehow babysit the rest of us and make sure we slept, ate well, maintained reasonable deadlines and would feel satisfied with quality work, not always perfectionism and not always so much quantity, and, well, who could have helped us keep our sanity.
I also learned how many people often do care, and want to help, but do not know HOW to help or WHOM to help or WHERE to help. So, all you need to do is provide a welcoming, easy way for people to join in and help a cause!
Finally, I learned that in a sea of honest, authentic, well-meaning people, there will be some dishonest, lying, cheating, ill-intentioned people trying to profit from do-gooders and from a horrific humanitarian crisis. People whose egos and bank accounts are more important than human lives. Those have been the hardest lessons of all. Especially, when some of those less savory, less compassionate folk are already among the privileged of us in the world, and/or come from among the very people in crisis.
So, let my lesson be yours: watch your back, use keen discretion from the start on who you trust, with what. And, get ready for the heartbreak of bumping into those ill-intentioned people, and make sure to counter the shock and let-down with the comfort and rejoicing of all the well-intentioned outnumbering them!
Because, the greatest gift in what has been an incredibly difficult and incredibly blessed journey, has been the ability to authentically connect to others in pain, grief, worry, love and celebration of Mali.
So, if ever you are outraged about violence, about humanitarian disasters, about any kind of suppression or trampling of human rights, you CAN do something. (of course, try to ask the people suffering what THEY think they need first 😉 ).
Then, begin by reaching out to find others who share your feelings and thoughts, to begin to harness the energy of all the others out there, most likely feeling like you two, you three, you ten, you fifty, you hundred, you you you ….