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Sway Machinery

Day Three:

Click an image to enlarge.

By Saturday I have become somewhat accustomed to being woken up by the sound of camels grunting right behind my tent; of stumbling out to be greeted by the sight of Touaregs parading around nonchalantly on their camels, their brightly coloured robes and swords glinting in the searing desert sunlight, and of the legendary Touareg hospitality involving numerous invitations to drink the obligatory ‘three cups’ of Touareg tea* ….

During the day on Saturday I come across members of the group Amanar entertaining a small crowd with an impromptu jam session outside a tent. The festival is not only an opportunity for Malians to see some of their favourite super-groups, but is also an important showcase for up and coming unsigned bands such as Amanar, who already seem to have a strong following. Their sound has echoes of Tinariwen, tinged with reggae; modern, but unmistakeably Touareg…

The non-African international artists at the festival are an eclectic mix, including Dick and Hnatr - an authentic Kanak group from New Caledonia; Dady Dasty – a rap group from Martinique; Skullroots from Norway, with an unusual take on the jews harp; the Leni Stern Band (USA), and Harper Simon (son of Paul).

The idea of Hebrew cantorial vocals may sound like an unlikely choice for a festival in the Sahara, before a largely muslim audience, but New York band Sway Machinery deliver an extraordinary performance, and Jeremiah Lockwood’s haunting vocals, together with an impressive bass saxophone seem strangely at home amongst the desert blues. As if to emphasise this mellow blending of cultures, the band joins the great lady of Timbuktu Haira Arby on stage and they jam as if they’ve been playing together for years…. The band are due to record their next album in Bamako with Malian musicians, which promises to be a rare musical collaboration.

Other treats on Saturday night include a gymnastic Michael Jackson tribute band, rap group Double K Non, and from Niger; Mamar Kassey and the marvellous Koudede, with his own brand of superb desert blues. And this has to be the first festival I have attended where announcements from the stage include lost camels….(!).

The evening is rounded off by a blinding jam session led by Cheik Tidiane Seck and his band of highly accomplished musicians and singers. The band provide support for stunning performances by Habib Koité, Kasse Mady Diabate, Mangala Camara, and the always excellent Amadou and Miriam, who had been eagerly awaited by the crowd, and finally took to the stage around 3.00am.


The Festival au Desert was listed this year among many major events celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Independence of the Republic of Mali. I am sure that everyone who attended – including over 600 foreign visitors - would agree that despite the huge challenges faced by the Festival organisers due to the withdrawal of most of their western financial partners, it was an unqualified success. For the many visitors from western countries this was a unique opportunity to experience Touareg music first-hand, and to make connections with people from a culture we would never otherwise get the chance to encounter. The journey from Bamako was not for the faint-hearted, involving some very poor roads and a lot of dust and heat. But after a weekend of astounding music; several stunning desert sunsets; numerous conversations in the sand dunes, and more cups of Touareg tea than I can remember (!) this was without a shadow of a doubt a journey well worth making.

*The first; bitter like death, the second; mild/soft like life, the third, sweet like love’ ( = ‘Le premier; amer comme la mort, le deuxième; doux comme la vie, le troisième; sucré comme l’amour’)….

© Alice Mutasa

Sway Machinery

Sway Machinery

Cheik Tidiane (seck band)


Mamar kassey

Habib Koité

Cheik Tidiane

Folklorique de Rharous

Michael Jackson Tribute

Further Recommended

Click the image below to go to the Festival au Desert Day 2...

Basekou Kouyate @ the Festival au Desert (click to go to day 2)

Go back to the Festival au Desert introduction page.

 Go back to the soul gallery.

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