Our friend Chris Nolan sends us his first report from Festival In The Desert, and boy are we jealous!
The legendary Festival au Desert is about to begin. Proud to be marking its 10th Anniversary, this year's site has been located closer to Timbuktu to take advantage of the multiple celebrations scheduled to be held commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Malian Independence as well as major cultural events programmed by the City itself for the occassion.
The Festival has overcome many challenges due to the risks of holding any event in the North of Mali today. The Festival's 2001 founding was based on peaceful conflict resolution through cultural exchange and the preservation of a culture extremely affected by climate change and geopolitical forces outside of its control.
The program for the Festival includes major West African musicians such as members of the group Tinariwen, Oumou Sangare, Toumani Diabate, Bassekou Kouyate, Khaira Arby, Vieux Farka Toure and many more. Also performing this year are the Western musicians, Joshua Dibb from Animal Collective and The Sway Machinery from Brooklyn whose members include musicians from the group Antibalas.
The three day Festival is a significant economic development activity for this impoverished area. Western governments have up until this year helped with financial support. With this year's edition that support has been withheld. That last minute loss of funding has brought significant stress to the organisers. The actions of a small criminal element are being used as a justification for these Western actions. The Festival organization has been forced to seek bank financing to bridge the loss. While everyone involved in the Festival as well as the Malian government are vigilant towards a high level of security, Manny Ansar, the Festival's Executive Director, has expressed disappointment at the western embassy's withdrawal of funding support. "I will be going to the banks today to request loan funds to insure the Festival goes on as planned."
Even these financial and geopolitical challenges are not dampening the excitement that is building as the Festival begins to take shape. Stage platform, sound equipment and light along with water, food and tents are en route. Caravans of 4x4's and camels are converging on Timbuktu for the official opening on January 7th. A predeparture party is to be held tonight at the home of Vieux Farka Toure where many of the musicians and organizers will gather for a toast towards a successful 10th Anniversary Festival au Desert.