Music

Various Artists: Festival in the Desert

Gypsy Flores

Various Artists

Festival in the Desert

Label: World Village
US Release Date: 2003-10-14
UK Release Date: Available as import
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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.

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If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

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7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

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