New film project Sahel Calling at the Festival in the Desert

Posted on November 8th, 2012 in News, Recent posts by .

Words by Birikiti Pegram, Songlines Intern

As the crisis in Mali continues to worsen, pressure is mounting for a resolution to be reached. The humanitarian crisis, exacerbated by socio-political strife, escalated to a coup d’etat in March 2012. This was followed by an occupation in the north of Mali, first by a separatist movement and now by Islamist militants. For music and culture, the extremists are a fatal threat. Andy Morgan reports of musicians receiving death threats, having their homes raided, their instruments and musical equipment set alight by militiamen.

However, the world is rallying together to contribute solutions to the cause. People are talking, the word is spreading, awareness is increasing: from local musicians to international organisations, there are many trying to make a difference.

‘A musical, cinematic project with humanitarian spirit’

Our current issue features a piece by Kathryn M. Werntz (Nov/Dec 2012, #88, p32) who interviews Malian artists about the problems in their homeland and what solutions might be available. The article she wrote for Songlines was the impetus for her new film project Sahel Calling, a ‘musical, cinematic project with humanitarian spirit.’ There will be two films telling the story of courageous musicians making a stand for their country in dangerous times, and the impact they make with their work. The films will also feature footage from concerts and interviews in villages and refugee camps while the crew journey with the Caravans of Artists for Peace and National Unity around Western Africa.

These caravans of peace will be replacing the annual Festival in the Desert. The world renowned festival had to be relocated from the dunes of Essakane to within Timbuktu city limits in 2010, which is no longer safe either. Rather than be silenced by Sharia law advocates, festival organisers are continuing the 13th edition of the event as a ‘Festival in Exile’ in a determined effort to safeguard the values of the festival – those of peace and tolerance.

Festival in the Desert

The Festival in Exile will start with two caravans from Bamako, Mali and Tamanrasset, Algeria and stop at music festivals along the way. They will meet finally in Oursi, Burkina Faso for the annual Festival in the Desert on February 20-22 2013. The Oursi site was chosen for its physical (a set of sand dunes) and cultural (Songhai, Tuareg and Fulani communities) similarities with Timbuktu.

Through the Festival in Exile, with musicians as guides to culture, landscape and life on the Caravans of Peace, Sahel Calling will be documenting the voice of the musicians and their attempts to address and help the situation. Using music as a tool to explore and expose complex issues, Sahel Calling hopes to reach and inspire a global audience to take notice and take action.

Proceeds from the Sahel Calling film project will go towards Oxfam’s West African Emergency Program, UNHCR’s Refugee Programs and Instruments4Africa’s Aide 2 Northern Artists Program. There are many ways for everyone to get involved, and make a contribution.

See the Sahel Calling website for more details.

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One Response to “New film project Sahel Calling at the Festival in the Desert”

  1. Judith Brown Says:

    I was privileged to go to the Festival in the Desert in 2005 and was moved by the way that the music brought people from different communities together enjoying, sharing and melding their cultures. What has happened in nothern Mali is a tragedy and anything that draws attention to it and helps the music be heard again is very much to be supported.


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