Festival In The Desert

Various Artists

Festival In The Desert (Wrasse Records Wrass 129D)

It’s never going to be easy capturing in 52 minutes the full range of music
played and the atmosphere that prevailed at Essakane in Mali. And to convey the
nightmare logistics required to organize such as festival has to be left largely
to the imagination. The music, to a great extent, has to be the main focus of
this flm and there are some spine-tingling performances from artists like Django
whose ‘Laisse Moi Dire’ is enhanced by the presence of an unnamed n’goni player.
This small stringed instrument adds an especially plaintive dimension to the
song. Just as mesmerizing are the all female ensemble Tartit who, sitting
cross-legged, mix heir chanting with insistent percussion to hypnotic effect.
They also dance a little too.There cannot be many more visual and aural spectacles as enthralling as
Tinariwen on stage. Clearly proud and passionate about their contemporary
electric Tuareg music, they look and sound formidable. So it is a bit of a
mystery why they weren’t allowed to showcase one complete song. They play ‘Amassakoul
‘n’ Tenere but it is interrupted by various snippets of interviews that could
surely have been placed elsewhere. It is a missed opportunity, especially when
Robert Plant and colleagues get to perform their piece, a mess of re-fried
blues, without interruption. Still, I guess his name will help sell the DVD.

Plant to his credit does have the good grace to recognize that his
contribution is relatively unimportant, calling it simply a soundtrack to the
far more urgent and on-going problems faced in Mali. An interview with
organizer, Issa Dicko, expands on some of these difficulties.

Back with the music,
sings as wonderfully as ever whilst inviting
Farka Toure
on stage to sing and dance.
joined by Django, deliver their electro-acoustic mélange displaying how diverse
influences can easily blend. For a moment Django nearly steals the show with an
impassioned vocal but overall he and the band are a balanced unit.

In the spirit of cultural unity a Native American band,

, bring their grungy protest to the cause and they include
Tinariwen’s Said on percussion among their numbers. He doesn’t look at all
phased by the presence of such amplified anger.

As with any documentary this can only offer a partial insight into the music and
its context but hopefully it will whet appetites and, who knows, encourage more
to make the arduous desert crossing for the next one.


Festival in the Desert

Author: Paul Donnelly