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Timbuktu Welcomes Tuareg Music Festival - Photos

Timbuktu Welcomes Tuareg Music Festival

Photos and Story By Karim Sahai


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The town of Timbuktu is literally the end of the main road crossing the west -African nation of Mali. Venture further in the Tuareg north and the Sahara's confusing sand dunes and hellish temperatures will be your companions all the way to Algeria hundreds of kilometers away.


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For centuries - and during Europe's dark middle age - the sandy outpost was a dynamic hub for trade, science, education and art. Timbuktu's glorious past naturally rhymes with antipodean adventure however, today's this desert haven is a shadow of its former self. A portion of Timbuktu's myriads of old manuscripts on topics such as astronomy, law, medicine, is on display at several libraries in the town centre while many more in poorer state disappear forever.


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The arid town remains on the salt route, with Tuareg merchants hauling back giant slabs of the mineral from Taoudennit, a mine located a month away by camel, in the unforgiving Saharan north. The same area was the base of a Tuareg rebellion which opposed the nomadic people to the Malian government. Assimilation policies, underfunded infrastructure, power struggles, cultural identity were all ingredients of this complex conflict which lasted several years. As a new era of peace took hold, numerous tribes gathered at Essakane, a tiny village 80Km north of Timbuktu and celebrated Peace with music and dancing; the "Festival Au Desert" was born. This was ten years ago.


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A few hours ago - the tenth edition of the Festival Au Desert welcomed artists, dignitaries and visitors from around the world. Due to the number of travel advisories discouraging travel to Mali's north, the festival's historic location of Essakane was abandoned for the "more secure" dunes close to Timbuktu, with a large number security personnel nearby, in a bid to reassure festival participants.


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For many Malians and a few expatriates calling Mali home, the travel warnings are only part of a geopolitical game involving American and French interests. On one side is the waning post-colonial influence of France and its supposed interest in the recently discovered oil reserves of the Malian Sahara. On the other, the US' assistance in the form of military hardware, security advisors and defense training personnel to prevent or contain potential threats from extremist groups. Although vigilance and common sense should always prevail, the relatively recent and heavily publicised kidnapping of foreigners by alleged Al Qaeda elements operating from Niger took place far from Timbuktu and then "Festival Au Desert".


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Far from those geopolitical considerations, the sounds of the festival continue to reverberate throughout Timbuktu's sand dunes tonight, as they have for the past decade.

Links:
http://www.festival-au-desert.org

Karim Sahai is a travel photographer based in Wellington. Some of his travel images can be seen at http://karimsahai.com


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