Confounding all who had warned against it, the Festival in the Desert opened its 11th edition to cheering crowds of thousands. With heartfelt thanks from the stage to all who had made the journey from the seven continents of the world a message of peace and vibrant cultural exchange was repeated by speakers and performers alike throughout the long evening.
Despite the minor hassle caused by the sound equipment's truck breaking down Tuesday en route, the amplifiers, microphones, speakers, and mixing boards had all arrived by Thursday afternoon, had been set up and sprang alive with sound at 6pm in the traditional Touareg sounds from the Sahara.
Festival Director Manny Ansar and the Festival team's hard work had once again come to fruition. What had been characterized by Western governments and western media as an impossible and dangerous event in an equally impossible and dangerous region of the world opened with a huge crowd of smiling, welcoming faces in one of the most fabled city's in the world.
The performances ranged from the takamba of Tamnana to the hip-hop rap of Amkoullel. Playing long into the night the desert finally became quiet at 3 AM as the stage lights dimmed and all the festivaliers returned to their tents or hotels to rest for the exciting days ahead.
I will be able to send more information in upcoming posts as the network in Timbuktu is very slow. One reason is that this is a part of the world that completely jumped over the age of wire and now the network is jammed with mobile phone traffic. The other reason is that the mobile network is still 2G and most internet connections are via land line. This lack of infrastructure blocks economic development and stymies intellectual development.
But that doesn't stop a nomadic people who have survived centuries in the desert. As I was sitting in a cyber cafe across the street from the Djingeberey Mosque, a middle-aged nomad in full traditional dress sat down beside me. I started a conversation with him when I saw someone connect a camera to the computer and the photos being viewed were of a dead camel. The nomad introduced himself as Mouusa and told me the story of how he had sold two camels but before the purchaser could take possession the one in the photo had suddenly dropped dead last night. He had photos of the brand and the entire animal. He was sending the bad news.
As I left the cyber cafe I noticed that the owner had some of Khaira Arby's new CDs for sale. He turned out to know my name and all about me. He is the guy who maintains her email account. Suddenly, we were the best of friends. That is the power of the internet. Making friends, empowering international connections and making friends and partners.
When the evenings program got underway, the order of musicians was:
Matilde Politi, a wonderful singer from Italy;
Samba Toure, an incredible guitarist and singer from Mali;
Jeconte and the Mali All-Stars from the US;
the dynamic hip-hop of Amkoullel, "l'enfant Peul";
and the final group was the Senegalese singer, Waflash.
The group Tinariwen had been scheduled to close the evening but had sent their apologies. The son of Ibrahim, the group's leader had died two days ago and he obviously was not able to perform. And to add to their difficulties, the mother of Abdullah was rushed to the hospital. Everyone expresses their sympathy to Ibrahim and wishes for a swift recovery for Abdullah's mother.