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Brief Recap of 2012 Festival in the Desert

I’ll have a more substantial post up in the next week. For now..

As of two weeks ago, I didn’t know whether or not I would be attending festival in the desert. Security concerns and cost weighed heavily. But a week or so before the festival, I found myself having some reassuring conversations. I was also able to secure a press pass largely because of this blog. New friend Kyle, who I met through this blog, found affordable transport and we were off.

A week of camping on the outskirts of Timbuktu, on the edge of the desert. Three days of music.

More specific highlights:

– Hanging out with a Tuareg family for a week
– Sitting on dunes at sunset in the company of camels
– The hypnotic melodies of KoudedΓ©, Atri N’Assouf, Amanar, Tartit and Tinariwen
– The booming vocals of Mauritanian singer Noura Mint Seymali
– The inventive guitar and warm stage presence of Habib Koite
– Telling a Malian soldier that I was his father (understand cousinage here)
– Sharpening my Bambara with shopkeepers in Tonka, a pharmacist in Timbuktu, soldiers at the festival, and Mohamed, a Tamashek chauffeur who blasted us through the sand track after Douentza at light speed
listening to live music in the desert
– The 24 hour bus ride home that took us through the less traveled north side of the Niger. Great cast of characters, charming dilapidated bus, sahel scenery at its finest. I loved it.

I even held a few camel drawing workshops:

Mariam, a young Tamashek girl, working on her camel drawing. Of all the ethnic groups in Mali, it’s the Tamashek who are most familiar with the camel. Unsurprisingly, they were some of my most eager students.

Festival attendance was down significantly this year. Western tourists stayed home after a November kidnapping in Timbuktu. There were a few hundred toubabs in attendance and several thousand Malians, most of whom lived in northern Mali. On the first day of the festival, a family arrived at our camp. They had traveled for 15 days by camel to attend the concert. Stories like this were not uncommon.

Cold nights were warmed by music and tea and sachets of gin. Days were spent lounging with camels. In the early evening, when the temperature was just right, we perched on the dunes and listened to the opening notes of the night’s first act. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was nowhere to be found and the local population was welcoming and exceedingly friendly despite the desperate economic climate.

Festival au Desert is likely the most unique music based gathering in the world. I’ll have more to say in my next post, but for now, consider making an early addition to your 2013 calendar. More pictures and words to come, and perhaps a video or two.

Also, look out for a post on howtodrawcamels.com with interviews and video from Kpong airfield in Ghana, and an interview here with Juliet Bawuah, sports broadcast journalist in Ghana, about the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations.

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{ 22 comments… add one }

  • Myke January 19, 2012, 10:47 am

    Well said. It was a perfect time. Sorry we didn’t manage to catch up!

    • phil January 24, 2012, 5:43 pm

      Hey Myke,
      Let me know your whereabouts. I’m in Bamako at the moment. Will be heading to Fana for a bit next week..

  • Tami January 19, 2012, 12:39 pm

    Sounds magical indeed. How marvelous! Thanks for the post, looking forward to more words and pictures.

    • phil January 24, 2012, 5:44 pm

      Thanks, Tami, maybe next year we will both be there?

      • Tami January 31, 2012, 9:41 pm

        Majaliwa / Inshallah – YES!

  • Jeremy Branham January 19, 2012, 1:09 pm

    What an interesting festival! You must have been giddy with camels everywhere! πŸ™‚

    • phil January 24, 2012, 5:44 pm

      Jeremy, you have no idea

  • Camels & Chocolate January 20, 2012, 12:54 am

    Camels everywhere?!? SOLD.

    • phil January 24, 2012, 5:44 pm


  • Dave January 20, 2012, 1:30 am

    Nice post Phil. I enjoy anything to do with the desert so you got me there right off the cuff. Looking forward to more.

    • phil January 24, 2012, 5:45 pm

      Thanks, Dave. Working on the next post right now.

  • simon fenton January 20, 2012, 7:05 am

    This brings back great memories of my visit in 2008 and so pleased it is still going despite the troubles.

    • phil January 24, 2012, 5:47 pm

      Yes, Simon, I was almost surprised myself that they didn’t cancel it this year. Very resilient festival despite the low numbers of paying attendees..

  • Andi of My Beautiful Adventures January 20, 2012, 9:45 am

    I’m so insanely jealous there are no words…

    • phil January 24, 2012, 5:47 pm

      Andi, you need to get Mali one of these days!

  • Ben Gubits January 20, 2012, 11:27 am

    Wow bud! I’m glad you made the decision to attend. I know you would have regretted missing it. Can’t wait to hear more and see some pictures!!

    • phil January 24, 2012, 5:49 pm

      Video and pics on the way. Wish you were with me brother. Next year.

  • Katrina January 24, 2012, 10:15 am

    Ooo, camels everywhere? Sounds like heaven! Can’t wait to read more, Phil. πŸ™‚

    • phil January 24, 2012, 6:15 pm

      Heaven is exactly what it was. Wait till you see the videos!

  • Ekua January 25, 2012, 12:54 am

    Phil, this is not enough. I need to see more, ASAP πŸ˜›

  • Kyle January 30, 2012, 6:52 am

    Don’t forget the haute cuisine

  • Africa travels February 24, 2012, 4:49 am

    I would love to just camping out in the desert for a week – or even a month, it must be awesome! There are so many things I would do, living as a temporary nomad.. πŸ™‚

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