BAMAKO, Mali, Dec. 1 (UPI) -- Islamic extremists destroyed instruments and threatened to cut out the tongues of singers as creative expression is stamped out across Mali, musicians said.
Foreign rebel groups and militants associated with al-Qaida seized control of northern Mali this year following a series of political upheavals.
Human rights groups have accused rebels of war crimes, and now some musicians are saying the rebels are banning all music that isn't set to Koranic verses, The Washington Post reported Friday.
Khaira Arby, one of the country's most celebrated musicians, told the Post religious extremists broke into her house and destroyed her instruments because her voice was a threat to Islam.
"They told my neighbors that if they ever caught me, they would cut my tongue out," she said.
In Malian society, music is integral to important milestones in life -- from births, circumcisions and weddings, to prayers for rain, the Post reported.
"In northern Mali, music is like oxygen," said Baba Salah, one of northern Mali's most-respected musicians. "Now, we cannot breathe."