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"Lo'Jo Memoire d'homme" from Au Cabaret Sauvage
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"Justin Adams, Wallahee" from Desert Road
Sample Track 3:
"Tinariwen" from The Radio Tisdas Sessions
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Festival in the Desert 2003 View Additional Info

Electric Guitars, Camels, and the World's Stage in the Sahara

The Festival in the Desert

: Lo'Jo founder Denis Pean performing at the 2003 Festival
(c) by Nadia Nid El Mourid

[Click here for: Festival in the Desert CD to be released
by World Village/Harmonia Mundi October 2003.]

January 6-8 2003
Essakane, Mali, Africa

What is the Festival In The Desert?

An annual festival called Le Festival au Désert or The Festival In the Desert has been taking place deep in the sandy vastness of the African Sahara since January 2001. The Festival is a unique celebration of the music and culture of the Tuareg people of the Sahara desert. The event also welcomes artists from other parts of Mali, Africa and the world to the most remote music festival on the globe.

The first Festival of the Desert took place in a small settlement in Mali’s Sahara called In-Amadjel—a two-day drive from the small town airport in Gao. There are no roads to this outpost and the region is populated by the Tuareg, fiercely independent and nomadic people who resisted efforts by French colonizers and, more recently, the Malian government to control the desert. The festival is the outcome of French band Lo’Jo members and British guitarist Justin Adams meeting Tuareg musicians in Bamako—sister city of Lo'Jo hometown Angers.

Organizing a festival in the middle of the desert is no easy task. The well-armed convoy that accompanied the Prime Minister’s attendance of the 2001 Festival was evidence of the recent tension between the Tuaregs and the Malian government. Armed outlaws continue to roam this part of the desert. And, in fact, a group of them hijacked the PA system that was flown in for the 2001 festival. This crisis was averted when a celebrated Tuareg warrior named Kheddou—who was working with the festival organizers and is a member of the band Tinariwen—spent two hours bargaining for the release of the equipment. With wood a scarce resource, organizers were forced to pour a concrete stage with no backdrop, and the only other structures around were a small number of camel-skin tents. But the festival went off without a hitch, and is emblematic of the organizer's commitment to collaborations and cross-cultural inclusion.

This festival has grafted itself onto the great traditional gatherings of the Tuareg or Tamashek people, as they call themselves. For centuries these gatherings have provided an invaluable opportunity for the nomadic Tamasheks to meet, exchange and celebrate. They also provide a public stage for various forms of Tamashek song, dance, poetry, camel racing, ritual sword fighting, games and other ancient cultural traditions.

When and where does the Festival In The Desert happen?

The third edition of the Festival In The Desert took place at Essakane, an oasis in the southern Sahara desert 65 km north west of Timbuktu in Mali, West Africa between the 6th and the 8th of January 2003.

What is the purpose of the Festival?

The Festival in the Desert is designed to provide a worldwide showcase for the music and culture of the Tamashek people in particular and of Mali and West Africa in general. The purpose of the festival is to stimulate global interest in the southern Sahara region – its people, culture, history, economic and social development. The northern desert parts of Mali have been wracked by civil war, drought, poverty and under-development in the last four decades. Although the situation is peaceful now the Tamashek face a huge job of reconstruction, education and development. The hope is that the Festival in the Desert will play a small but valuable part in this process. The Festival organizers also hope that people who come to the event from all over the world – musicians, film makers, journalists, speakers, performers and festival goers – will come prepared to interact with local people, exchange skills and ideas and generally share what they can. Above all, the purpose of the Festival is to have a great time, enjoy some amazing music and experience the grandeur and beauty of the desert!

What is the Festival site like?

The festival site is situated in the depths of the Sahara desert. It features a large outdoor stage where the more popular groups will play. There is also a smaller marquee stage which allows the programme to continue late into the night protected from the cold (the temperature in that part of the Sahara can be as low as 5°C in January). There are also stands exhibiting and selling local arts and crafts. There are areas for meetings, conferences, exchanges, games, camel races and various other events. Another area is set aside for communal camping, Tamashek style, in large leatherbound tents. All festival goers are welcome to bring their own tents if they want total privacy at night. Sleeping under the stars is also possible, even recommended.

[Click here for: Festival in the Desert CD to be released
by World Village/Harmonia Mundi October 2003.]

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Electric Guitars, Camels, and the World's Stage in the ...
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