The legendary Festival in the Desert returns in the form of a Cultural Peace Caravan
Songlines Music Award winner Bassekou Kouyaté has released a new song and video about Mali’s legendary Festival in the Desert. The festival took place for a decade in the silky-soft sand dunes of Essakane, near Timbuktu, before moving to the outskirts of Timbuktu for security reasons in 2011. Since the Islamic incursion of 2012 the festival has been on hold.
Bassekou’s song, ‘Désert Nianafing’ (Longing for the Desert) – in French and various Malian languages – mentions the gorgeous sand of Essakane and praises the festival as a meeting place and something that can bring the people of Mali together. As well as Bassekou and his wife Amy Sacko, the film features musicians from the north of the country – Songhai singer Afel Bocoum, who used to work with Ali Farka Touré,and Touareg guitarist and singer Ahmed ag Kaedi, leader of the band Amanar. Based in Kidal, Amanar won the Prix de la Revelation at the 2010 Festival in the Desert. When the Islamists arrived in Kidal in 2012 they came to Ahmed’s house and destroyed his instruments and said if he played again they’d kill him. He fled south to the capital Bamako.
The ban on music in northern Mali lasted 10 months, until French troops expelled the Islamists. But sadly the security situation is still precarious and most of the musicians have not returned. For now the Festival in the Desert takes the form of a Cultural Caravan for Peace, which starts at the Taragalte Festival on the northern edge of the Sahara in M’Hamid, Morocco (January 23-25). Bassekou is part of the Cultural Caravan, which includes a big concert in Bamako (Jan 31), a visit to the Festival on the Niger in Segou (February 4-8) and further performances in San and Mopti. I’ll be going to the Festival on the Niger and will be reporting on developments.