Festival in the Desert

Mali 2008

Getting to the Festival, Day 1:

It is about 60km from Tombouctou to the Festival in Essakane, along the piste, or track through the Sahara. It's usually about a 4-hour trip. We did it in about 3 and a half. One of the features of the piste is invisible sink holes, which only an experienced driver like Mahmoud can see. We drove past 4x4 after 4x4 stuck in a hole or unable to make it up an incline. Invariably Mahmoud would stop and give a hand; sometimes actually getting in the driver's seat - and all the while on his cell, arranging something for his tours, or for the Festival, or for who knows what. There are groups of people pushing ... it is the same camaraderie so well-known in the snowy north. (Well, maybe not Toronto where we so often ignore our comrades and their troubles.)

from inside the 4x4, bouncing along the piste, Mahmoud talking with Chris Nolan in French.

This is a pan around the desert, about 10km out of Essakane. We're almost there.

One of the first things I see when we arrive is a group of Inuit rehearsing their circus act. It is Artcirq, the group that Chris worked so hard on getting to come to the Festival. His dream, and the dream of Manny Ansar, director of the Festival, was, as I understand it, to have the nomads of the sand desert meet the nomads of the ice desert. They have much in common, including the fact that both of their lifestyles have been rapidly eroding due to climate change.

The Inuit group Artcirq rehearsing between the dunes. A performer balances a woman in the air with one hand.

The next thing I do is have a brush with a couple of Tuareg. Nice. There's two guys sitting with their camel. It is almost sunset and this tall beautiful beast looks magnificent against the dusk sky. I ask one of the guys if I can take a picture. He agrees. I get down on my knees in the sand to get the right angle looking up at yellow camel and purple sky, and snap. Guy #2 decides he's not too crazy about this and wants payment. I begin to say that guy #1 gave me the o.k.... but I quickly see the dead end street. I reach for my wallet and realize I only have 10,000 CFA bills. That's about $20. I should be paying 500 ($1) MAX. I tell him I don't have any small bills. Does he have any change? Nope. And besides, coincidentally 10,000 just happens to be exactly what he thinks it's worth. I plead. He's not having any of it. Finally I show him my camera. "Regardez, monsieur. Le photo de votre chameau? Poof. Effacé. Au revoir. Bye-bye. Fini." I erase the shot and walk away, half expecting a dagger to whiz past my ear.

Needless to say, this altered my mood a tad for the next half hour or so. I didn't feel so welcome anymore and walked around afraid to photograph anything but inanimate objects. The punching-bag clown had been knocked again. But it didn't take long for it to bob back up. I captured a few satisfactory shots - with my 8x zoom from a distance - of the haunting silhouettes against the twilight.

The moon is waxing. New when I arrived, it will be full the day I leave.

A Tuareg dances with his camel in front of the stage. A safe picture to take.

I listen to music until about 11:00 then come back to the tent for a nap, fully intending to go back out and hear one of my favourites, Vieux Farke Touré, son of Ali. About 1:00 A.M. I head for the stage to catch his last tune, and the end of Night 1.

Here's a 360 of the Festival grounds. It starts looking at the stage in the distance. You then see a herd of 4x4s with some tents in the distance (these are mostly Malian families come to see the Festival), then across a big dune and, at the bottom is a group of 7 white tents. That's our encampment. My tent is the last one on the right. Walking up that dune is like trudging through a fresh snow drift. The extra fine sand of the Sahara fills my sneaks in one step. It takes four steps to go the distance normally traversed in two. You get used to it, though.

The view from inside our tent.

The view OF our tent.

Just sticks in the sand and a bunch of rope, but these tents are SOLID.


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The annoucer is very good throughout the Festival. Toward the end of this sound clip, you can hear the crowd yelling for the people at the front to sit down!


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Two clips of a very funky group called Segou Blue, I believe. Other Festival attendees, please correct me if I've got it wrong. Good chance. Warning: Extremely FUNKY track!

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This one reminds me of a George Thorogood "Bad To The Bone" type groove, only West African style

Next, Day 2 of the Festival ...

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