Posts Tagged ‘Festival in the Desert’

Lines

December 30, 2015

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It was on the edge of the desert, the last settlement before the journey truly would begin. A sign in Hamid El Ghizlane read: Tombouctou 50 days. That’s history now: the camel routes have been replaced by aeroplanes and FourWheelDrives.

It was early 2015 in Hamid El Ghizlane and bitterly cold. With all my clothes on and buried under three thick blankets, still the bones would wake up freezing. Indeed: like six years previously, at a very similar festival near that other city, 50 days away, I had come woefully ill-prepared. Again.

But there was music. It sent lines across the vast open space between this Moroccan village and that city on the other side. Guitar lines. Bass lines. Vocal lines. Threads of melody, interspersed with hand claps, drums and percussion. We liked it so much that in the cold and pitch-dark night we threw off our jackets and danced.

And danced.

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There were guests. From Europe, from the neighbours, and from Tombouctou, no longer 50 days away. Three years ago, Tombouctou was battered by the twin force of an extended family feud and an empty-headed reading of the religion that has also thrown its lines across the sand. Islam. But instead of feasting their ears on the worshipping chants and marvel at the sight of the sacred tombs, vandals tore through the old culture of the city. It survived. The Festival of the Desert, which is now twinned with the one at Hamid El Ghizlane (or Taragalt, to give it its old name), is still looking for a home.

But still we listened, and we danced.

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I recorded a lot of it. A conversation with Ibrahim, one of the festival directors, spontaneous music outbursts, an interview with some lovely lads from the village, wanting to make it big. Génération Taragalte, they called themselves. They knew their music. They knew their heroes: Tinariwen, from another place in that large space of sand, rock and guitar strings, spinning musical lines thousands of miles long.

50 days. A split-second when a single chord transports you back to the other side of the desert where the Festival of the Desert spun its yarns of peace and understanding and love until some misguided fools shot holes in the fabric.

A group of women were busy putting it all back together in Hamid El Ghizlane/Taragalte. Zeinab and her friends were weaving a Carpet of Peace, made with fabrics brought in from Mali. They asked visitors to come with clothes they no longer wanted, so they could weave that also back into the Carpet before sending it across the Sahara. More lines. I recorded a lot, there, too.

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I lost some of it when my harddisk crashed, months later. Fortunately, we humans have another harddisk, equally faulty but capable of making connections, freely, randomly, dreaming up lines unexpectedly – mostly to ourselves.

And so we have come to the other end of 2015. It’s warm where I am right now. A mere 300 miles from here, 7 hours by bus, is my house. Burkina Faso, a new place, a new home, which I share with someone who is well on her way to becoming a star in her own right. But that’s another story.

Here’s to 2016 then. When more lines will be drawn, more connections made, more music will emerge, more perspectives will be challenged and more surprises will strike for which we, only human, are singularly ill-prepared.

Small matter. It’ll all make sense later.

Office. Ouaga.

Office. Home. Ouaga.

Happy 2016 to you all.

Dear Oh Dear, BBC

December 4, 2012

At its best, the BBC World Service’s From Our Own Correspondent offers interesting insights into countries that radio listeners may never visit.

On other occasions, the program gets things rather spectacularly wrong. Such as when Celeste Hicks, in her own tale, wanders into the dressing room of Nahawa Doumbia, one of Mali’s most celebrated jelis and gushes ‘I’m from the BBC!’ To which this national icon, tired of an evening-long performance, will probably have thought: et alors (so what)? Mercifully, there are still plenty of places in the world were someone who waltzes in with the three magical letters “B-B-C” on her lips does not find red carpets immediately being rolled out. Bless.

Anyway, Hicks gets her interview in the end and then proceeds to pontificate about how and why Mali’s musicians, renowned the world over, are not using their voices to comment on the situation in the North of their country. To which I, an order of magnitude less polite than Nahawa Doumbia, can only respond with:

W—-T—-F?????

Well, alright, she has probably missed Salif Keita in this week’s Jeune Afrique stating: “Anyone who bans music is not a Muslim.” Amin to that, by the way. But really: how long does the list have to be of Malian singers, musicians, performers who had plenty and then some to say about what is going on in their country. Let’s say, off the top of my head:

♪Singer/instrumentalist Fatoumata Diawara

♪Mali’s premier diva Oumou Sangaré

♪Singer/guitarst Samba Touré, whom I interviewed in Amsterdam this summer

♪Fadimata Walett Oumar of the band Tartit

♪Amkoullel, Mali’s very outspoken rapper

…and that’s just one cull of a few months trawling the Radio Netherlands Africa website. (Here’s a radio show I did on Mali just a few months ago, if you have a little time.)

You can add the likes of Cheikh Tidiane Seck, Bassékou Kouyaté, Toumani Diabaté and many more. And then you can add the story of the radio presenter in Gao who was beaten up by the Salafist invaders as he refused to obey their orders. And the youth protests because the Salafist invaders have taken their music away. Or indeed my own interview with Manny Ansar, director of the Festival Au Désert, which will become a caravan for peace this year (and I’m joining, yes!). 

And, incidentally, if by any chance you cannot make it to this festival – you have two things in Amsterdam to look forward to…

Manny Ansar told me that the (mostly foreign) Salafist vandals who are destroying North Mali ransacked his festival property and emptied a Kalashnikov on the sign of his festival. ‘The message was clear,’ he added drily. But never one to give up, he then told me about his audacious plan. His festival was going to travel, in a wide, elegant double arc around Salafist-occupied North Mali. One through Mauritania and South Mali; the other through Algeria and Niger. The gesture is very clearly designed to say this: you cannot stop us.

Hicks has at least four years of experience in the Sahel. How could she have missed this plethora of Malian music commentary? It’s genuinely puzzling. I guess that in her defense one may say that she works in and for a bubble. The BBC, like its newspaper cousin The Guardian, recruits from a limited pool of white, middle class, uni graduates – or, in the name of diversity, from a slightly larger pool of people who don’t look like white, middle-class uni graduates but who think like them. But is that really the explanation?

So, for those of you who were as genuinely flabbergasted as I was by this episode of From Our Own Correspondent, apparently done in Bamako, it’s not you. It’s the BBC. Again.