Festival au Désert (مهرجان الاغنية الاردني)
Photographer: © Intagrist El Ansari
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|Country and Region||Mali — Timbuktu|
|Type of Festival||Music|
|Location of Festival||Essakane, Timbuktu, Mali|
|Festival Contact Information|
Festival au Désert
Since 2001 the annual Festival au Désert took place in Essakane, an old oasis in the Sahara desert close to Timbuktu. This Festival has its origin in the big traditional Touareg festivities — as Takoubelt in Kidal and Temakannit in Timbuktu, which have represented for a long time a place for decision making and exchange of information among the different communities. At the beginning, there were songs and touareg dances, poetry readings, camel rides, games, etc. Sfinks has been a partner of the Festival au Désert since 2003, and welcomes touareg artists every year in Boechout, Belgium. Traditional ceremonies, parades, and many other events take place in the stunning setting of a forested area. According to the Routard guidebook, “the festival was established to nourish a world scene centered on the expansion of world music, and of the Tamashek people in particular, but also those of Mali and Western Africa in general.”
The Festival, one of Mali’s most well-known, celebrates the culture and traditions of the Touareg people and African music. Now the Festival in the Desert exists in exile. Plans for the 2013 edition in Burkina Faso for February and an ambitious Caravan of Artists for Peace and Reconciliation for 2013 will take place in Burkina Faso.
|Festival Dates||January 9 - 11, 2014|
The Festival in the Desert — Spotlights and Stars
Established in 2001, the Festival in the Desert has seen its success grow each year, exceeding all expectations for attendance, international recognition and its socio-economic impact to the Saharan desert regions, including the region of Timbuktu, where it takes place every January/February in Mali. The success of this event is driven by Manny Ansar, the Director of the Festival in the Desert and an originator of the project. He says happily: “This festival has transformed my life.” This is a story of a gathering both diverse and singular: the largest the desert has ever known.
I must have been approximately six years old when one day we had pitched our tents in the desert near the village of Gargando, west of the city of Timbuktu, heading towards Mauritania. As I stood outside our nomadic encampment on a high spot, I was puzzled as I watched something move through the entire camp. The image I saw was of a groups of men arriving on the backs of proud faced camels, walking in caravans or at a gallop. The men of our camp welcomed the guests and led them to the reception tents, a few metres away from the houses. The women got busy, some organizing inside the tents, others striking their tambourines to announce the event being prepared and to send a call to the neighboring camps.
The sky was blue and orange, crossing in an arc, forming a gradient of an infinity of colours only the desert lets one see. The solar spectrum shot out through the empty air of the desert plain. The shepherds and their animals returned to the camp under the gaze of the travellers who rested in front of the tents that had been oriented towards the sunset. Migratory birds in the sky sang in their choked voices the music of great spaces, a melody announcing prophecies. Listening to their concert of grief, I came down from my dune and made a wish to one day fly away with them.
Arriving at the camp I asked my mother: “Why are all these people here? Is it the feast of Ramadan once again? My mother smiled: “No! These travellers stop in all the camps. They are going to Temakanit for a festival that celebrates the reunion of all the nomads. She spoke alot about this event, its importance and its interest for the desert and its inhabitants. These people were not only making the trip but people from my camp would also join them in a long caravan, whose pattern evokes the Yemeni Kingdom of Sheba, homeland of the majority of the Tuareg tribes. Thus, camp upon camp, the camel riders would lead everyone to their final destination, a central point known to all in advance. There, they will meet other nomads who came from the four corners of the desert to celebrate the great feast of the Temakanit.
I was six years old and I discovered one of the oldest gatherings and among the most important for the Tuareg: the ancestor of the “Festival in the Desert.”
Internationalization: Dynamics of Evolution and of Opening
The Festival in the Desert, in its current form is an international musical gathering and was established in 2001. But in its evolution it has existed since time immemorial. Somehow, this event has always existed, under different guises according to the times but in harmony with those times while remaining faithful to its traditional roots.
The January 2010 Edition marked ten years of existence of what is today one of the largest gatherings of diversity in the world. That gigantic unprecedented meeting took place in Timbuktu, gateway to Sahara. The Festival extended over three days with the rhythms of the camel parades, the music and songs of the Tuareg’s traditional repertoire, and also with concerts of international and national artists in front of a crowd of ten thousand people. Nomads and sedentary people, foreigners coming from the four corners of the world, officials, journalists, the festival-goers diversity reflected accurately the heterogeneity of the present world. It is clear that the Festival in the Desert is a hybrid global mixture nourishing our curiosity and challenging our limits.
What does one discover coming here? The desert’s immensity of course in the backdrop but especially the singularity of a culture and civilization in harmony with this aridity for whom the desert has served as a “bulwark” for centuries. Song, poetry, storytelling and music are important foundations of the historical and cultural heritage of the Tuareg civilization. This heritage finds itself not only confronted by but also supported by the dynamic opening brought to it by the Festival in the Desert. The Festival in an idyllic and striking fashion allows the epic tales of the Tuareg to be told from across time and nomadic trade routes to the historical facts and syncretic process of today. It allows us to reach today’s observable reality today where already people’s aspirations unfold towards the future. It is this long epic journey which justifies our advocacy today for the preservation of Saharan heritage, an invaluable asset for humanity.
To be open to the world is to become aware of one’s own culture, one’s identity and particularities in the concert of diversities. Globalization or the globalization of trade among people, particularly as seen here at the Festival in the Desert, does not have to result in a standardization or “cloning” of behaviours. In the words of Pierre Rabhi : The standardization of lifestyles that leads to a single model is contrary to the spirit of openness. To recognize how to borrow from others that which improves our lives is the key. The proper use of enriching relationships and creative meetings is the guarantee of world stability. This is the credo of the Festival in the Desert, world-renowned as a real space of dialogue and exchanges.
In an interconnected world, this event demonstrates the great adaptation of the Saharans hidden in the desert, and in the face of the changing world, a contemplation of the multiplication of cross border links and of passing beyond the barriers of culture and identity. “To deal” with today’s world is inevitable. The Festival in the Desert has helped the Tuareg from the camps “meet modernity.” They have adopted communication technologies, means of transport, medicine. For others, they have decided to keep their ancient customs, better adapted to their life and more sustainable. This capacity of adaptation and this freedom of mind find their origin in the desert itself: to tame the desert’s immensity, to survive with its inhospitality, to agree with its changing situations with ease.
The meaning of the message issued to the world
The largest desert of the world is known to be an open and welcoming place through the magic of the tradition of hospitality of its inhabitants. Through this image the Festival in the Desert warmly invites people of all cultures to come and share their traditions, to discover and recognize each other in a musical encounter on a grand scale. But the Festival also poses this question: “What do the Saharan cultures and civilizations have to bring to the world today.” Men of the Sahara have developed a life in harmony with the environment, and have adapted to the most inhospitable space in the world.
The concept of “Downscale”, dear to Serge Latouche, which is in the process of winning over - slowly - the Western spirit in its frenzy of overconsumption and of hoarding material goods, could well be guided by this principle, by its philosophy and above all by its application, by the wise and parsimonious use of resources that the men of the desert demonstrate. Here is how to breath new life into the world and give it vitality and youth. There is a great need for a man who has gone through a time of crisis, of inertia and of an obscurity able to brush aside heritage, the foundation of universal civilising values.
The intercultural exchange that the Festival in the Desert promotes is authentic and reinforced by the conducive and poetic framework of the desert. It can contribute to a renaissance or at least a new light on today’s world inclined toward cultural amnesia. Within the space for dialogue created by the Festival, the Saharan contribution arrives at a critical moment. It draws on an old civilization, singular by the strength of its originality, which has survived through centuries of history and upheaval, and one of whose anchor points is based on the exemplary and harmonious rapport a man maintains with his fellow man, with nature and with his environment – a paradox of nature, a passage at once hostile and captivating: those who know how to adapt, sometimes at a heavy toll, would not live anywhere elsewhere.
Saharan civilization contains some remnants and vestiges of cultures ancient and lost. Seclusion, the search for solitude and contemplation has led men to populate the desert spaces. They have made there way throughout the ages, sometimes taking different routes and resisting many hardships. Their isolation resulted in the conservation of ancient cultural traits, of origins and of diverse eras. These old remnants present in this way in Saharan civilization are like anthropologist Jacques Hureïki writes “a heritage of humanity, a living heritage comparable to major historical monuments stone”.
Our contemporary world is loosing its benchmarks and needs the teachings of the Saharan civilisation, because it can find its roots there. It is this visceral need which no doubt explains why so many people, always more numerous, gather each year around the Festival. The public’s stubbornness is never denied, in spite of the regularly alarmist Press when it begins to talk about the Sahelo-Saharan zone or by the image of some Ministers of Foreign Affairs. So we recall here that the security of foreigners who came to the Festival has never been disturbed despite those birds with bad omens consistently predicting otherwise before each edition!
Observation of international geopolitics permits us to easily understand the pessimism that feeds the news. For a long time, the largest desert in the world was unfortunately only valued for its sand dunes and sensual, huge and majestic infinite landscapes! The wind of international interests, of geostrategic and states’ desires for natural resources - water, oil, gas, uranium and solar energy – blows across a Saharan region that endures it sometimes violently. International news lets itself be carried by this wind which which, like everything else, will pass. The largest desert of the world will survive. It will resist these storms as harsh as they might be, as in the past. It will always have the last word. And the Festival in the Desert will stay on its great and noble mission to save a part of the heritage of humanity.
Ten years already
January 2010. I was a little more than 30 years old, at a time when the Festival in the Desert celebrated its first decade of existence. At the top of a dune, I hold myself there veiled by my turban in modesty to not be hampered by the gaze of others so that I can contemplate with emotion the human ant hill below.
We are on the second evening of the Festival. From my observatory, I am on top of the camp. It was assembled in less than a week and now more than ten thousand men and women of all nationalities, all trades, all social hierarchies, all ages, all religions… A mosaic of the world is here!
At the same time here one can meet: Ministers, Ambassadors, Princess Caroline of Monaco, a millionaire co-founder of the famous MTV, a shepherd who supports his eight children with 15 goats, or a craftsman who offers his creation of the day. All so different and yet so similar take their place on the same large white dune of fine and pristine sand. And every night on this common grandstand groups spontaneously form around campfires. The simplicity of the meeting. In front of them, a large open stage able to sound defiance to the deserts’ silence with its power. The spotlights illuminate the desert without competing with the stars.
Jean-Marc Phillips Varjabédian, a violinist trained at the Conservatoire Supérieur de Paris, interprets Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Chaconne”. A gradual and feverish tension overtakes the crowd. Music spreads across the dryness of the air and space. At this precise moment, I feel the push like grains of sand in my body! The trance is broken. I regain awareness, a return from my distant baroque escape. The public regains its spirits and breaks into applause, while the group, Tartit, an emblematic ensemble of Tuareg women, arrive for their turn on the stage. The women are draped in white voile with grace and elegance. Indigo cloth tied on the shoulder, complete their costume in the pure Saharan style. Musicians tune their instruments, while seated women adjust their clothes with their fingertips. Simple and delicate gestures whose beauty and refinement are beyond describable! The heart drinks in these subtle details, then the music begins.
Really, this evening is dedicated to the 18th century, between Bach or the culmination of European Baroque and the epic tales that evoke the Sahara victories of the Tuareg. In effect, this evening Tartit interprets “Abacabok”, which traces the history of Hawalen Ag Hammada al-Ansari, “The Pius”, the mystical Saharan of the 18th century. A voice at once haunting, lively, engaging and captivating sang the poetry of the vastness and the infinite. An inconsolable nostalgia for origins and for happy times takes hold of the crowd conquered and seized by the haunting, hypnotic and transcendental song. Time freezes. The magic works. Emotion is tangible. The audience is gripped and I am swept away by the dream. My heart and my mind stray through a maze of enigmatic reflections where my thoughts combine with music and sung poetry.
In this inner adventure, I remember that day where as a child I arrived at the camp on the long caravan and discovered the Temakanit. Suddenly, I am aware that my queries have never ceased. A quarter of a century later, this dune is my observation post. I’m still struggling with the mystery of this gathering, this mixing, the exchanges and the energy that animates it! A strange hard fact that, at the same time, in the same location, Saharans nomads and city people, Africans and foreigners who came from the other end of the world, from New Zealand, Canada, Northern Cape, find themselves in a complete and harmonious communion! How to think about this thing, to describe this phenomenon? What to think this gesture of our time will birth tomorrow? Intrigued and confused, I am …
But the desert, it certainly has the answer.
— ©Intagrist El Ansari
Past and future of the festival 2013:
- In 2001 the Festival au Desert in the Sahara Desert near Timbuktu held its first edition in an effort to promote peace, reconciliation and economic development by using culture as the driving attraction. It worked. For 12 years the Festival held its events in the desert to world reknown. But, in all that time only one live album was produced and that was in 2003. In 2012 we recorded the Festival from the house sound console with the objective of using it as a means of publicity and fundraising. But then, who know it would become such an important historic document of the struggle against fundamentalism! Two days after the 2012 edition ended, a rebellion broke out in the Sahara that was quickly followed by a coup d’etat of the central government of Mali. That left an opening for fundamentalists to occupy the desert region. In June 2012, they instituted sharia law which banned music everywhere. Now the Festival in the Desert exists in exile. The 2013 edition took place in Burkina Faso in February of that year and an ambitious Caravan of Artists for Peace and Reconciliation for 2013 also happened. You can read about our plans at http://www.festival-au-desert.org.
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