Founded to link northern and southern artists and open northern Mali to the world after the Tuareg insurrections of the 1990s, the festival has attracted legendary international musicians such as U2's Bono and Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant, who called it ''one of the cleanest events I've participated in for a long, long time.'' But over the past 6 years, the festival has come under attack by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), driving festival-goers and performers away, Ansar explained.
''The festival became harder and harder to organize, because of AQIM's threats against and kidnappings of Western tourists and music lovers,'' Ansar said. This is why this year's festival, in a reduced version featuring just 20 acts, meets up in Burkina Faso, which is safer for the Western public and artists alike.
''The government in Bamako and the international community are responsible for this. They did nothing for decades. They allowed the situation to degenerate,'' Ansar accused. ''Islamic extremists are a threat to the whole world. Not just the Sahara, the Maghreb and Mali, but Somalia and Yemen too. If they're not stopped, they will soon take over all of Africa.'' The Festival in the Desert may tour to Abu Dhabi or Qatar in March, and will definitely make its yearly summer stop in Florence. ''We have many friends who have supported us for years in Florence and in Italy,'' Ansar said. ''This year, other Italian festivals and venues have made themselves available to us.'' (ANSAmed).