[12 January 2004]
More than anything else, the Festival in the Desert is a symbol of unity and peace between nomadic tribes. The Tamashek of northern Mali and Niger, who had been warring for years, had recently burned three thousand firearms in a public square in Timbuktu, Mali. This opened the doors for the return of traditional gatherings in the desert of the southern Sahara where ideas and news could again be exchanged. Thus, the grand and seemingly successful event, the Festival in the Desert, could be conceived and actually occur. Not only was it successful in terms of international artists as well as audience who attended, but the fact that the obvious logistics of staging a festival in a remote region of the Sahara and have it exist with such a roster of amazing talent performing was incredible, to say the least. Although, from the description in the liner notes of the festival, the conditions were harsh and somewhat primitive, from the sound of The Festival in the Desert one would never know. Everyone sounds as if they are having a wonderful time and the musicians, for the most part, are well recorded.
Not only is the CD well produced, but the liner notes are also descriptive and extensive and contain some very beautiful and heart-warming photographs. I especially love the one on the front cover of the CD and inside back cover of the liner notes, showing the view of the festival from the back of several camels. Of course, as one would expect, camels are very prevalent in the overall feel of this recording and are evocative of the experience of desert music. I don’t mean one can actually hear camels themselves, but many of the tunes move at the pace of a camel ride through the desert. Something like one hears in the music of Tuva, where the feel of riding on horseback or the sound of horses is a recurring theme.
There is a wonderful mix of musical artists who are considered “superstars” on the international music scene (such as Mali’s Oumou Sangare and Ali Farka Toure and France’s Lo’Jo) and artists who, although quite well known in their own countries, are perhaps lesser known on the “world music” stage. Great. Perhaps this CD, with its extensive distribution, will bring them to the attention of those who would otherwise never be able to hear of them.
Included are both very traditional music as well as music with a “modern” influence. Electric guitars abound, but so do women chanting and beating drums. There are blues artists from Mali and rap artists from France. Because so much of the music is highly rhythmical and almost trance-like, I find it is my current favorite CD to do my early morning workout to. All the music, including the final smooth, cool-down piece by Django, with its gorgeous vocals and kora playing, has great energy and invites one to get up and move.
Many of the artists included on this compilation are some of my very favorites, including Afel Boucoum, Tinariwen, Ali Farka Toure, and Ensemble Tartit. Django’s contribution is intriguing and my very favorite on the recording, but I was also impressed with Takamba Super Onze, who opens the CD with their traditional rhythm of a camel racing through the desert.
Although The Festival in the Desert may not be the greatest live recording I have ever heard, it is nonetheless very well done and special tribute can be paid to the technicians who did such a fine job of recording this CD.