Timbuktu or Bust!
So the idea for this journey basically started in my friend Kenna's basement, where I picked up the book A Year of Adventures and first read about Le Festival au Desert in Timbuktu (Surprise! Its real!), Mali. Le Festival au Desert is billed as 'the most remote music festival in the world.' held, literally, in the middle of nowhere, outside a city famed for being impossible to find. - Jumping at the challenge, my plans for this year immediately changed to include an adventure through West Africa.
For centuries it was the destination- Timbuktu- and not the journey that mattered for European explorers. It was a quest that emptied national treasuries and defeated armies. Even in today's super-connected world, Timbuktu is a real pain to get to. For the budget conscious festival go-ers there are three basic options. 1) A long drive across the Sahara in 4x4s where debilitating car trouble is the expectation not exception 2) Lengthy riverboat journeys up the epic Niger River. 3) Or do what the Tuareg do, set across the desert for weeks on the back of a camel (not recommend).
As it stands, my plan is to be flying in on Point D'Afrique arriving in Bamako Jan 3rd before bussing to Mopti, river boating to Korioume, taxiing to Timbuktu, and finally 4x4ing to Essakane (an oasis village 65km north of Timbuktu) where I will parté it up Tuareg-style for three days. Whoop whoop!
Since 2001, Mali has hosted the annual Festival in the Desert in early January - a celebration of Tuareg and Malian music and culture, grated onto a traditional Tuareg gathering. But much more than the concert, the festival, to me, has become a symbol for peace. Harsh living conditions, droughts, rebellions and warfare have all been a common part of northern Mali's volatile recent past. Since 1995, a fragile peace prevails in the region, with minor skirmishes breaking out as recently as 2006. Talks between the different population groups as well as conferences and discussions play a major role in each year's festival.
Just as in Timbuktu's golden age- when it was the hub of Islamic scholarship and among the most advanced intellectual centers of the world- the festival's dessert camp is filled with excited political debate, cross-cultural exchange and most of all, there is MUSIC EVERYWHERE!
The rough encampment is filled with a couple thousand Tuareg, some of the biggest names in African and Malian music as well as a few hundred travelers, most of them carrying their instruments in tow. The unforgiving Saharan climate limits all main-stage concerts to begin in the evening, turning the days into the perfect melting pot for the world's most extreme jam session! From tent to tent, there is said to always be a crowd of musicians, a never-ending cultural and musical infusion.
Each year, in the middle of nowhere, amongst the sand dunes and camels a spirit of community and humanity blooms: Music can change the world! I want nothing more than to be part of it.