I once read a French proverb that was something to the effect that "impossible" is not a French word or that the French do not know "impossible." That certainly seems to be the case with producing a music festival in the middle of the Sahara Desert. More importantly, in this age of cynicism, it is refreshing to know that visionaries exist among us, even if they would never call themselves visionaries. What seems impossible to one person or group seems like a worthy cause to others and so people come together and manifest something beautiful in the world.
(Lo’Jo‘s manager) and Lo’Jo not only represent one of the most unique world music groups around, but have taken their gifts a few steps further by co-producing the annual Festival in the Desert. Details about the festival can be seen in the article that follows the interview.I will admit that there was a time in my life when I didn’t care much for French people and meeting Lo’Jo opened up a new world for me as well as, opening my mind to possibility. I used to be one of those cynics that America breeds by the dozens, but since I started this world music site and met a vast array of musicians manifesting love in the world through music, I can no longer call myself a cynic. In fact, this brazen attitude towards music and culture is contagious. I hope you catch it.
I’d like to thank Philippe for this interview through e-mail.
CCWM: What year did you first meet the Tuareg people and when was the idea for the festival conceived?
Philippe Brix: We first met these Tuaregs in December 1998. It was our second time with Lo’Jo in Bamako. We remained one month with two others bands in the same place (la Maison du Partenariat Angers-Bamako), to attend the Festival du Théâtre des Réalités, who had invited all of us. The bands were Gangbe Brass Band (Cotonu, Benin) and Tinariwen (Kidal, Mali). In fact there were five Tuareg (Nina, Hanini, Tafa, Foy-Foy and Dicko). Foy-Foy was playing Amassakoul’n’Ténéré from Tinariwen with the girls, but they were not Tinariwen. But we became friends, and by the end of December, they told us their whole story.
(That was) their first time in Bamako, the capital, after thirty years of rebellion and exile. The way they were living in the desert and Tinariwen was a true legend. We spoke all night long, drinking tea, and at the end the idea came that Lo’Jo would go one day with its team to the desert. Then Dicko said: we need a “festival au desert”. We invited them all, under the name of Azawad, to come to Angers the next year to attend les Nuits Toucouleurs Festival.
CCWM: Did it seem like an impossible dream at the beginning and did you have any idea that it would draw the international attention that it has received?
PB: No, it didn’t seem like an impossible dream at the beginning, because Dicko was very optimistic. In the hands of Tuaregs, a festival in the desert really seemed possible. And we had the feeling that everybody in the world would like it, if we could make it happen.
CCWM: What was the biggest challenge that organizers faced in putting the first festival and the following festivals together?
PB: The challenge was money and technical questions. Regarding politics and security, we came and met several important Tuaregs of Mali. They wanted it to happen. But Lo’Jo was just able to bring its team and its money (which wasn’t) enough. This is why we asked Chalon-dans-la-Rue Festival in France to come and help. Meanwhile, our Tuareg partners really did their part.
CCWM: There is a good feeling that comes from watching the DVD [Festival in the Desert] in showing the peaceful gatherings of musicians sitting in the desert playing music and watching various people enjoying themselves. Can you talk a little more about the atmosphere that this gathering created?
PB: The DVD is talking about the third one (festival). The first (one) was wilder and not as big. Imagine nomadic people who almost never met white men before, and maybe just saw one day a 4×4 as a witness of our modern world. (Here were) These people (2000 or 3000 ?) in front of a stage with light and sound, plus guitars and other instruments. The Malian government also sent the prime minister and many others. So, some really very different worlds did live together for three days, (sharing the) same food and music. I felt very much respect from everyone there in those hours, like if the festival was an open door for new times.
CCWM: What were the goals of the festival and have those goals been achieved as far as cultural exchanges?
PB: The goal of Lo’Jo was to visit our friends and the desert and to help Dicko, who is fighting for the nomadic culture in the Sahara. Dicko is like a symbol of a new consciousness (see him in the DVD, bonus-interview). It seems that all the world has been talking about the Tuaregs because of the festival. And Tinariwen is now coming out from the sands. Dicko’s dream is alive.
CCWM: Finally, is there a funding organization for this festival that people can donate money to if they support the festival? A web site to visit?
PB: Yes, Efès is the main partner for the festival in Essakane. This organisation is involved since the beginning. Its president is Manni Ansar. Details about the 5th festival on www.festival-au-desert.org in Essakane, near Timbuktu, Mali.
There is another festival in Essouk, near Kidal, Mali, see www.kidal.com.
(Archival Interview from www.geocities.com/p_herlevi, Cranky Crow Whole Music).