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Festival in the Desert DVD
US release date: 10/12/04
Back in 2001 when I interviewed Denis Pèan, co-founder of the French world music group, Lo'Jo he reflected on an adventure that involved a music festival in the middle of the Sahara Desert of Mali. Not only did a festival in the middle of an African desert seemed far out at the time, but a story about thieves stealing a PA system that was later retrieved by nomadic warriors was certainly the kind of story one wants to get on tape. While the interview with Denis appears on CCWM, the story doesn't end with that interview. The first Festival of the Desert was held in January 2001 and subsequent festivals have followed since that inaugural event which took place during an eclipse, nonetheless.
The 2003 festival has been chronicled on a compilation CD, Festival in the Desert and now on DVD. It's more than a souvenir for folks that attended the festival and more than an invitation to other adventurers that love African music and the diverse culture of Mali in particular. You might feel while watching the DVD that you are hanging out in the desert sand catching some of the hottest African music talent around as well as, hearing some new sounds you might not hear anywhere else. While the focus of the festival gazes at the nomadic Tuareg people of the Sahara Desert, there are several subplots that feature a reigning queen of Malian music, Oumou Sangare singing in a true diva fashion, desert blues legend Ali Farka Toure showing off his sense of humor, the Tuareg ensemble, Tartit's vocalists dancing in a sinuous fashion to syncopated hand claps and vocals.
Other highlights include Lo'Jo's performance with the adorable Django who hops about on stage and engages in a battle of vocals with Lo'Jo's Nadia Nid-el-Mourid and later a duo performance with Django on guitar and another musician playing a traditional lute-type instrument as well as, Tinariwen's performance that crackled and excited the audience mostly consisting of Tuareg people, musicians and adventurers. Watching this DVD could leave the impression that peace in the world is a real possibility considering that ten years ago, the nomadic people and sendentary Malians were at war with one another and a war that ravaged the lives of the Tuareg nomads, left many families murdered, sent many to refugee camps set up in Algeria, Libya and Mauritania and others became rebel fighters as in the case of musicians from the group, Tinariwen. Their weapons today are poetry and electric guitars which is portrayed in this concert documentary.
According to press notes, "Only a decade ago civil war prevailed in this region and forced many of the desert's nomadic tribes to find refuge away from fighting. This gathering (Festival in the Desert) manifests what was envisioned in the 1996 "Flame of Peace," which 3000 guns were publicly burned to signify the beginning of reconciliation between nomadic and sedentary communities of the southern Sahara." But even this festival didn't happen overnight. After the war ended and peace was possible, both the sendentary and nomadic communities needed to rebuild their lives. The Tamashek association, EFES came up with the idea of hosting an annual festival in the desert. While the idea for the festival came from EFES, Europeans such Lo'Jo were instrumental in manifesting this peace mission.
In the documentary Denis Pèan describes how the Malian musicians and Lo'Jo conceived of the festival while sharing poetry and music in the desert. Then a strong will and divine intervention proceeded to give birth to the Festival of the Desert. Numerous visible and invisible hands came together and produced the festival. These individuals volunteered their time and resources to bring this annual event to fruition. Today, the festival is attracting international attention as well as, some of the world's brightest musical talent and even those musicians forego their usual fee so that they can partake in this unique event 40 miles from Timbuktu. (By the way it takes 4 to 5 hours to drive those 40 miles).
The DVD provides plenty of gorgeous footage of musicians jamming in the sand, Tuareg people participating in what looks like sand hockey (as a friend described it) as well as, some striking concert footage. A gallery is included that features black and white photographs as well as, an interview with Issa Dicko, one of the founders of the festival in conjunction with Lo'Jo. The DVD is both educational and entertaining even though it runs on the short side. I would have liked to have seen a longer documentary that showed some of the hardships of putting a festival of this scope together in the middle of a desert where there is no running water or electricity. (Also it might amaze viewers how clean everyone looks despite spending three plus days in the Sahara Desert). Instead, the DVD focuses on concert footage and the do-it-yourself musicians that made it happen. 09/22/04 >> go there