Mali war won't stop the music, Festival in the Desert on tour

The yearly Tuareg-hosted event to resist Islamic extremism

29 January, 17:25

The Tuareg band Tinariwen from Mali (archive) The Tuareg band Tinariwen from Mali (archive)

(ANSAmed) - ROME - Nothing, not even the war, can stop the music in Mali. The yearly Tuareg-hosted Festival in the Desert, which is traditionally held every January in the fabled city of Timbuktu, will be an itinerant one this year, organizers told ANSAmed. Two caravans, one moving towards the east and one towards the west, will depart on February 7, stopping in Mauritania, Algeria, and Niger before meeting up in Burkina Faso. ''We took this decision to show the extremists in the north of our country, who have banned every form of entertainment, music and dance, even forbidding people to laugh on the street, that the Festival in the Desert is not stopping. Our traditions cannot be erased,'' festival director Manny Ansar told ANSAmed. Like fellow artists from northern Mali, many of whom have fled to the capital, Bamako, or to refugee camps, Ansar has not set foot in Timbuktu for years.

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).

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