Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Festival au Désert 2003.Jan.6-8

This time of the year (early January) was the time of the yearly (since 2001) held 'Festival au Desert' near Timbouctou, Mali. The last one was held in 2012.January, a few weeks later started conflicts in the area, which finally lead to a civil war in the northern part of Mali. In 2013 French troups intervened, and in June a peace deal was agreed. Unfortunately up untill now the situation is still not such that the Festival can be organized.
2003.Jan.06-08: camel and tents at the Festival au Desert, Mali
I first heard about the Festival, when, after just having signed up to afropop.org, receiving the first days 2003.January an Email, which was send from Timbouctou on the way to the Festival. Well I can tell you that I was very interested in hearing some more about that mysterious Festival. Here is the text from the original Email:

Festival of Desert report... enroute in Timbuktu (2003.Jan)

Greetings from Timbktu... enroute to Festival of the Desert in Essakane. We are staying in Hotel Hendrina Khan, just recently opened and part of the signifigant building activity here since our last visit on the Mali Magic Tour of 2000. The harmattan winds have kicked up a yellowish dust but the air still feels clean and refreshing. The mix of Touareg and Songhrai and Peul people here is beautiful. Glad to see most people are still wearing traditional dress. Powder blue is the cool desert color of choice. We visited with Markus James and Timbuktubab, rehearsing for their Festival performance and recording new songs. Solo Sidibe on kamele ngoni, Hamma on calabash and Hassi on njarka, one string fiddle, and Markus James on guitar and vocals. They were recording the sound of women pounding millet and playing along with that for the rhythm. Cool. They also played Banning and me a new recording featuring the sound of the Sahara wind playing Solo's kamele ngoni. Very cool. Hamma and Hassi are singing more with Markus these days and the ensemmble is excited about their Festival in the Desert performance Tuesday night. For our Saturday night in Timbuktu, we went to a Ramata Diakite concert. She is one of Mali's most popular Wassoulou singers. What a scene ! Everyone dressed in their finest. The band was tight, feaaturing a kamele ngoni player and a guitarist. Ramata is a charismatic performer. The MC stopped the action after every song to announce local dignitaries in the crowd and do a raffle. Not the best for building concert energy and we were exhausted after three days travel to get to Timbuktu so we called it quits early. On to Essakane tomorrow to set up camp for the Festival. Don't know about Internet connections from the desert but stay tuned. Meanwhile, I'm thrilled to be able to communicate with the Afropop community from Timbuktu! --Sean Barlow (Afropop)

It appeared that for the 3rd edition of the Festival many international media were invited, so a lot of information and several recordings became soon available (papers, magazines, radio, CD* and DVD*). The one I have here for you is, I think, one of the least known. Recordings made by  DJ mps PILOT (real name Horst Timmers), done with off air, and broadcasted 2003 on Dutch Radio 4 in the 'Wandelende Tak' (meaning Stick Insects / Walking Sticks) program.
note: *if you don't have these, get them first before downloading the audio here

Here's the original 2003 info from mps PILOT himself:
Had a good start: the 3rd of januari I took off by plane to Mali to play at the remotest festival of the world; le Festival au Désert. This was in Essakane, a tiny village 70 km north-west of Timbouctou. The scene was fabulous; there were about 1000 Tamashek nomads with their camels and tents. They came to meet, have camelraces, court, sing and danse all day till late in the night under a million stars. And there was the official program of about 30 bands like Tamashek Groups as Tartit, Tinariwen and other artists like Ali Farka Touré, Lobi Traore and Oumou Sangaré. The crème de la crème. From the west there was a.o. Robert Plant playing some Tamashek influenced pieces. And the festival had a deejay! I played twice at from 00.30 on in the bar-tent, nice but not a success: the largest amount of the public was dead-tired after a full day of concerts in the sand by 30 degrees celsius. And the last night the majority of the public was dragged out of the festival by the major tour-organisator joining in on the festival, after the last gig. Too bad. It would be nicer to make a real festive end of the festival, and for the westerners to have a relaxed departure the day after. But anyway, off we went (together with Andro Biswane, the Fra Fra Sound guitarist who was there for research) to Bamako, and after a killing though beautiful trip of two days we arrived to stay at the music school of worlds leading koraplayer Toumani Diabaté. He invited me to stay there and work on a piece of music together with Mali Musov, a group of 8 female musicians playing the ballafone, kora , percussion instruments, guitar, bass and using vocals. This is an initiative of Festival Mundial in The Netherlands that will hopefully invite them to come and play in The Netherlands. So if this happens, I will make an electronic soundscape on which they will play a long version of a traditional song. Nice, nice. So we sat together and they played and played and it was great. Bamako is filled with sound. It is the major cultural product of Mali, and heard allover the place, in a diverse mix of the oldest hunter music of Yoro Sidibe untill the latest Hiphop of the streets of Mali, Senegal and the Ivory Coast. In the week I stayed there I played on a soundsystem in the street, in Toumani Diabaté's Club hogon, and in Platinium, one of the chiquest discotheques (called boites) of Bamako. So after a massive 2 weeks I returned home... to count my money and listen to the stuff I recorded and bought.
On 2003 March 03 there will be at 19.00 my report of the festival with recordings of Tamashek meetings and concerts on radio programme on VPRO Radio 4 in the Netherlands.

Listen to a recording of Tidawt:

VA-DESERT-2003_Wandel Tak VPRO

Playlist 2003.March.03: 1.Tarbiat - Final (Niger) / 2.Tartit - Tombouctou (Mali) / 3.Tamasheq - Improvisation (Mali) / 4.Tamasheq - Improvisation (Mali) / 5.Tel Kin Lokiene - Improvisation (Mali) / 6.Tidawt - Agadez (Niger) / 7.Super Onze de Gao - Improvisation (Mali) / 8.Tamasheq - Music at Night (Mali) / 9.Chetsin Sin - Improvisation (Mali) / 10.Ali Farka Toure - Final (Mali)

All audio recorded by DJ mps PILOT, 2003.Jan.6-8 at the Festival au Desert, Essakane, Mali.
Broadcasted 2003.Mar.03 on Dutch Radio 4 VPRO 'Wandelende Tak' (my source is from the, not available anymore, radiostream)
In between the tracks is talk in Dutch about mps PILOT's adventures at the Festival and in Mali. All the audio is split-up in tracks and talk, so you can listen to whatever you want.

More audio from the 2003 Festival au Desert:

*if somebody can play this, please let it be known in the comments

More information/articles about the Festival au Desert:

afropop worldwide
  • 2001 and 2003 reports included in download (as not available anymore thom their website, all are collected through web.archive.org)
2003 Festival au Desert
some reports about later Festivals
my wish at least once having listened to some great music, while surrounded by camels


  1. very thankful for this share here. The original 2003 radio broadcasts by Afropop and BBC3 I regard as classics here. Never heard of this onebefore.

    1. fully agree with you
      will add a link for the afropop one (on soundcloud) in the post
      the bb3 one (by Andy Kershaw) is still on the bbc site, but not available anymore (or at least not for me, outside of the uk)