Caravan for Peace: Mali’s "Festival in the Desert" came to Freedom Square this summer

Tartit/Imhartan photoThe traveling edition of Mali's award-winning "Festival in the Desert," featuring two of Africa’s most powerful musical groups, stopped in Troy NY for a free all-ages show in Freedom Square on Friday, July 26, 2013. Freedom Square is located at 39 5th Avenue, where 101st Street meets 5th and 6th Avenues in North Troy. Bring lawn blankets and chairs.

War can’t stop the music, and Malian artists continue to practice their art despite upheaval and violence. In support of and to highlight their tenacity, the Festival au Desert - Caravan for Peace, brings to the US legendary Malian artists adored in Mali.

The Festival in the Desert has featured everyone from rock idols to Saharan nomads, Now it is coming to several U.S. and Canadian cities this July and August, 2013. In addition to Freedom Square, stops include New York (Lincoln Center Out of Doors), Montreal (Festival Nuit d’Afrique), Santa Fe (Lensic Theater), Northampton MA (Iron Horse), Trumansburg NY (Grassroots Festival), Spiegeltent at the Hudson Valley’s Bard Music Festival, and more in Brooklyn, Washington DC and beyond.

The Caravan shines a light on two of Mali’s greatest contributions to the world’s music: the Tuareg sounds and Malian blues, both revealing the deep and gritty roots, and the striking skill and musicianship of Mali’s beleaguered artists.

Tartit/Imharhan transform from a very traditional mixed female/male ensemble—where voices, small hand drums (tinde), and stringed instruments form the basis for trance-inducing songs—to a band that reflects the often experimental, fascinating Tuareg adaptation of Saharan nomad music to contemporary, fresh sounds.

Mamadou Kelly made a name for himself by playing with greats like the late Malian blues legend Ali Farka Toure. A virtuosic acoustic guitar player, Kelly has an encyclopedic knowledge of Malian music, as well as lightning-fast technique and a soulful, bluesy voice.

About the Festival au Desert and Mali’s current crisis:

Held in the Sahara Desert outside Timbuktu, the Festival au Desert (http://www.festival-au-desert.org) was where cultures came together in unexpected ways for 12 years. Artists from the Arctic Circle to the small Pacific Island of New Caledonia, from stars like Bono and Robert Plant to traditional musicians from remote communities, have all found a warm welcome at the Festival, helping to put little-known Saharan music on the global map.

A nationalist uprising in Mali’s north reignited immediately after the January 2012 edition of the Festival came to a close. It was soon hijacked by hard-line fundamentalists and conditions rapidly deteriorated in the region. Invaluable historical monuments were sacked and destroyed and music was banned under the fundamentalists’ strict version of sharia law. January 2013 fighting intensified when France and other countries intervened. The 13th edition of the Festival had to be postponed. Today, the situation has improved but remains unresolved.

But the country’s woes did not stop musicians and music lovers from singing, playing, and speaking out for peace and freedom. In solidarity with the Festival in the Desert many musicians are determined to take a message of peace across Mali and abroad. The Caravan for Peace presents some of the best of those artists and their efforts to testify to the endurance of their music, art and culture.

Musicians and festival organizers want the conversation to move beyond violent conflict into a more productive conflict resolution. Live performances showing Malian music is one small but vital step to keep attention to the crisis.

This presentation was made possible by funding from the NYS Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts and the City of Troy as well as volunteer labor and small financial contributions from thousands of patrons of The Sanctuary for Independent Media.