Words by Louise Ungless
The annual Festival au Désert is a celebration of Malian music and the nomadic Touareg culture. Inspired by traditional Touareg tribe gatherings, it now features some of the best world music artists. Despite it’s growth as an international festival, you can still expect a strong Touareg presence.
The festival is known to be one of the remotest festivals in the world and takes place in the Timbuktu region of Mali, but it still manages to attract over 1,000 foreigners and tourists to the fringes of the Sahara. With recent unrest in the region and the kidnapping of tourists relating to al-Qaeda, there was curiosity as to whether foreigners would avoid the festival this year. Travel advice for this region is “Do not travel”; with a killing of a tourist in Timbuktu and further military operations and attacks being led by the Touareg rebel movement, the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA).
However, the festival still went ahead and was considered safe due to strong safety measures in Northern Mali and an increased safety presence on the site. Although the number of foreigners was much less this year due to security fears and travel warnings, the festival still received approximately 350 foreigners, with a crowd from 60 different countries.
The festival had an amazing line up, such as Vieux Farka Touré and Bassekou Kouyaté. On top of that, Bono from U2 made a surprise appearance on stage with Tinariwen during the opening night. Check out the YouTube video below, with Bono singing (or shall we say screaming) ‘Viva Tinariwen’ and ‘Viva Timbuktu’. We’re not entirely sure whether his singing actually fits with the music, and his dancing looks somewhat awkward, but it’s nice to see that renowned European artists still made an appearance this year to promote and support the festival and the Northern region of Mali.
To see a full Afropop report on the festival, click here. (http://blog.afropop.org/2012/01/2012-festival-in-desert-full-report.html)
For more information on the Festival au Désert, click here. (http://www.festival-au-desert.org/)