Thursday, January 6, 2011

Festival au Desert #2

Coming to you from Timbuktu, the mysterious.  The City of 333 Saints.
After the long drive from Bamako, we have arrived and the energy in the city is rising.  Many tourists are touring the sites such as the Djingereyber Mosque and the markets.

The artists have begun to arrive.  The artist Najma Aktar arrived by air to Tombouctou Airport yesterday morning.  She had a day to recover from the long journey to Mali and to begin to form her collaboration with the Malians who will be joining her on stage.  Those initial sessions produced an exciting blending of sounds and worlds.  Najma will be performing with Koudede, a fantastic guitarist/ singer/ songwriter from Agadez.  And Najma will also be collaborating with the incredible Khaira Arby and her band.  When we arrived at Khaira's home studio, it was crammed with people ready to get to work.  Once the tamboura box was turned on and the sound tone infused the room, it was clear that something special is going to come out of this meeting in the desert.

Walking along the main street outside the Hotel Colonne we came upon Bombino, the great guitarist from Niger and his band.  How great that they are here!  After their long ride from Niamey, they reached the ferry on the south side of the river yesterday mid-afternoon.  But the line to get across was so long it took them until very late in the evening to get their car onto the ferry.

Too bad he was late because he missed a fantastic show by the renowned group led by Mohamed Issa (known as 'Med Issa) at the nightclub, Amanar.  Located at the corner across from the recently renovated Monument to the Flame of Peace Square, like many nightclubs around the world this one was hot, crowded and in a throwback, smokey, as the clubgoers puff on their cigarettes.  It is a special pre festival happening.  The place was filled with Touareg partiers in traditional and modern dress dancing in their laid back smooth grooving style.  And 'Med Issa's hot band plays well into the night to an appreciative home crowd.  Mid-set, Koudede sat in on bass guitar, taking over from M'Barka Dembele of Khaira Arby's band, and added his own style to the mix.  Then, taking a break, 'Med Issa handed his guitar to Koudede and the band rocked on even hotter!  Koudede is truly a master and an gentle person.  He quickly ripped the room apart!

Today the festival organization is feverishly working because, as is usual, logistics remain a big hurdle for this festival's success.  It's the morning of the opening and we are wondering if the sound equipment will actually arrive in time for the opening!  The truck broke down in Mopti/Sevara yesterday.  And a bus broke down on the road on Tuesday night carrying some of the musicians from Bamako to Tombouctou.  There is anxiety and exhaustion before we've even begun!  But underneath all that is the pride and excitement of bringing this international event to the cosmopolitan city of Timbuktu and the north of Mali.  This is coupled with the excitement caused by the President of the Republic of Mali's anticipated attendence on Saturday as sponsor of a major camel race to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Malian independence.

As for the disinformation campaign waged by western governments, I have been to this festival for six years in a row and I do not see any security concerns or anxieties.  The people of Timbuktu are open and welcoming.  As you walk down the streets, everyone is saying "Bonjour" with a broad smiles.

--Chris Nolan
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