October 15th, 2012
KadmusArt received a message from one of the world’s great festival leaders, Mali’s Manny Ansar. Manny, who is the director of the Festival au Désert – Essakane, has had to leave his country because of the political situation in Mali.
Last year, KadmusArts interviewed Manny about the global reach of the festival and its resonance with our deepest traditions of gathering, exchanging our stories, and journeying to discover something new in ourselves and in our world.
Now, Manny hopes his forced travels will create a new movement…
I’d like to thank you for your continued support in this time of Malian conflict. My family and the festival team are fortunate to be safely exiled in Burkina Faso for the time being.
Needless to say, it’s a time of complexity in the Sahara. Vast regions are newly subject to Shariah law and its barbarism, including child subscription, gender oppression, stonings, amputations, and bans on sport, music and radio. Fear has displaced approximately 426,000 people to neighboring countries and refugee camps. If unchecked, the conflict threatens to create an arc of instability extending to the west coast of Mauritania and east through Niger, Chad and Sudan to the Horn of Africa and Gulf of Aden. The statistics of those affected by instability and the accompanying food crisis across the Sahel are increasing by the day. More than 4 million children are now gripped by malnutrition, and over 18 million people are at risk. And why, we ask?
Mali is only the latest region to fall victim to a wave of sectarian violence and intolerance accompanying extremist ideologies. Timbuktu has stood for centuries as Africa’s center of Islamic culture and learning – a timeless crossroads of trade, griot and scholarly pilgrimage. To allow our integrated democracy and its schools, courts and world heritage sites to be destroyed by internecine goals of fundamentalists, is to turn a blind eye to International Law and the most basic Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Are we to bury our heads in the sand while radical doctrine continues to poison civil society? In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Religion itself is outraged when outrage is perpetrated in its name.” The Tuareg are a “free people,” tolerant and pluralist. However, we also have a proud Malian Bambara battle call, “saya kafisa ni malo ye”; which means, “better death than shame”. These last months have been a time of deep reflection. I’m writing today, not with the heavy heart of a refugee, but with the strength and inspiration that many of you have personally experienced at the Festival au Desert. As atrocities from Mali continue to draw headlines, the festival and its embodiment of cross-cultural harmony have become a rallying call.
It has been written, “Nothing provokes Salafists more than a festival”, and this is why many from our festival family are now threatened in Timbuktu. Festival is one of a few ubiquitous words the world-over, meaning, a celebration of the best of culture in that region. Culture educates. It strengthens the bonds of society, weaving community interests and collaboration between generations. Culture is the antithesis of fundamentalism, and in effect, a concentrated antidote. To the radical factions attempting to polarize our people, we will unite with our most powerful cultural tradition: Music, in the form of a festival of international proportions.
The Festival au Desert is a centuries old Tuareg gathering uniting the Sahara in peace, trade and performance. In the last decade, musicians and fans have traveled the world over to share in its unique heritage. While ethnomusicologists identify the region as the ancestral home of the Blues, music is considered Mali’s most important export. Music has also helped focus the eyes of the world back on us. Arm in arm with our international network of acclaimed musicians and millions of fans, an extensive festival is being planned. It will be an historic fusion of musical traditions espousing co-existence, while embodying an educational narrative that teaches the facts and effects of intolerance. Our goal is to inspire a global movement that helps turn back the tide of extremist ideology, while raising resources for its victims caught in the Sahel refugee crisis.
Due to the danger of hosting our annual event in Timbuktu, and until we can return home in peace, stability and freedom of expression, we enter this new chapter entitled, Festival-in-Exile.
The Festival-in-Exile is a 2013 awareness campaign to be presented in conjunction with major music festivals around the world in solidarity with the exiling of the acclaimed Festival-au-Desert in Timbuktu, and its international message of peace and plurality. The tour will feature an unprecedented conjoining of West Africa’s finest musicians in collaboration with an international array of guest stars, in the name of raising awareness and support for the refugees of this vast region in the Sahel, whose culture and way of life have all but been destroyed by surging sectarian violence and humanitarian crises.
I sincerely hope that we can count on your support for the platform and affiliate partners. If we bang the drum of solidarity loudly enough for the world to hear, our message of culture overcoming extremism and instability will reverberate for generations to come.
Directeur Général du Festival au Désert — http://www.festival-au-desert.org/
On behalf of everyone at KadmusArts and in the global festival community, please do help get the word out on Manny’s plans — and dreams. And, of course, if you have any ideas or offers to help Manny and his team create the Festival-in-Exile, do let us know!
- Bill Reichblum