Various Artists – Live from Festival au Désert

Various Artists - Live from Festival au Desert

Noura Mint Seymali – Vaghu

Noura Mint Seymali – “Vaghu”
Live from Festival au Désert

The Festival au Désert is one of the most important musical events around. Unfortunately, this year’s festivities in northern Mali had to be canceled due to unrest. From 2001 to 2009 the Festival was hosted in Essakane. It was moved to the outskirts of Timbuktu in 2010 where it was held up until this year. As the concert’s popularity grew, it attracted artists from distant places like the Arctic Circle and New Caledonia. While big names like Bono and Robert Plant have graced the festival, it is the local music of Mali and the surrounding region that has made the event famous.

In 2012 tensions ran high as several thousand people gathered outside of Timbuktu to celebrate Saharan music and culture at the 12th edition of the Festival au Désert. This was two days before the 2012 rebellion began in northern Mali. What began as a nationalist movement soon became much more serious when hard-line fundamentalists hijacked the area and began to enforce a strict version of sharia law. The streets were silenced as the Islamist militants banned secular music. Although many artists sang songs of praise to Allah, they would be punished severely if they were caught singing. Khaira Arby was forced out of her house in Timbuktu, her instruments destroyed as the Islamist militants moved into her complex. Her neighbors were told that if they ever caught Arby, they would cut her tongue out.

Needless to say the freedom of expression that made the Festival au Désert so authentic was suddenly crushed as sharia law was brutally enforced in the region. Even a cell phone ring tone warranted a beating. But as respected musician Baba Salah says, “In northern Mali, music is like oxygen.” There was no way the people of Mali were going to let a group take their lifeblood away from them. After French intervention, the Islamist militants were pushed back and music was heard in the streets of northern Mali once again. In recognition of the Festival’s efforts to ensure music thrives in northern Mali, Freemuse, the NGO supporting freedom of musical expression around the world, announced that its 2013 award is going to the Festival.

“In spite of extreme Islamists’ attempts to silence all music in Mali, the Festival defends freedom of musical expression and struggles to continue keeping music alive in the region.” – Marie Korpe, Executive Director of Freemuse.

Luckily for us, Chris Nolan and Clermont Music have released an amazing compilation of songs recorded during the 2012 Festival au Désert. 18 tracks recorded directly from the house sound board onto a stereo recorder touch upon the heart and soul of this event. Artists featured on this set include: Khaira Arby, Kiran Ahluwalia with Tinariwen, Habib Koité, Bassekou Kouyaté, Tartit, Samba Touré, Noura Mint Seymali and many more. The music on this disc gets under your skin immediately. You can hear the calls for peace in Tartit’s “Democratie” and Khaira Arby’s “La Liberte.” Some live discs capture a live performance, while others catch all the grit and determination flowing through the artists unto the audience. This CD is of the latter variety. Here is real music being made by artists who have to fight to keep their voices heard. It doesn’t get any more authentic than this.

Live from Festival au Désert will be available on CD and as a digital release on April 30th. Listen to Noura Mint Seymali’s passionate “Vaghu” above and check out Mohamed Issa and his band Imharhan performing “Hanin Ekrachar” at the Festival below. All proceeds from the sale of this CD will go directly to the artists and the Festival organization. Let’s hope the Festival has an uninterrupted run in northern Mali for many years to come.

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