01/27/2013 05:48 EST | Updated 03/29/2013 05:12 EDT

Mali musicians forced out by Islamic rebels

As Islamic radicals clamp down on much of Mali, the rich musical culture of the country is threatened.

There are reports of instruments being broken and music being banned in the north, except the singing of verses of the Qur'an.

Canada is weighing whether to extend its mission in Mali, as French and African troops move into the nation to push back Islamic rebels who have taken the north of the country.

Many musicians have fled the country and are in refugee camps in bordering Burkino Faso.

In any case, the conflict has robbed most of them of their livelihood, as they can no longer play at weddings and festivals.

Ibrahima Diabaté, a Malian musician now living in Montreal, says he’s afraid his homeland’s vibrant musical culture is being destroyed.

"Seeing my country in this situation is really hard for me. It's unbelievable," he told CBC News.

A group of 40 of the Mali’s top artists, led by singer Fatoumata Diawara, have recorded a song and video, title Mali-Ko, that is a plea for peace.

"People are looking up to musicians for a sense of direction," Diawara said, highlighting the importance of music to the people of Mali.

Even the acclaimed Festival in the Desert, an annual celebration of Tuareg culture that usually is held outside of Bamiko, is going into exile this year.

Last year, U2's Bono played at the festival alongside the well-known band Tinariwen and Indo-Canadian singer Kiran Ahluwalia also had a spot.

"I immediately felt the warmth of the audience,” she said. “It was a very very hospitable crowd. The arts are a major life nourishment. And that part of life is no longer being nourished."

Instead the festival is in exile, with caravans of performers heading to a spot in Burkino Faso to catch up with fellow musicians forced out of the country.