The Biggest Music Festival in Africa: le Festival au Desert, Mali

Adventures in Mali

Le Festival au Desert, the Festival of the Desert, is held annually in the dunes of the Sahara Desert not far from Tombouctou, Mali. The venue for many years has been the oasis of Essakane, approximately 65 rugged kilometers from Tombouctou. The festival features traditional Tuareg and celebrated Malian musicians as well as groups from other West African countries.

Noted musicians in attendance include Tinariwen, the Tuareg group from Tombouctou that gained international notoriety with their performance during the debut of the festival in 2001. Salif Keita, Oumou Sangare, Habib Koite, the late Ali Farka Toure and his son Vieux Farka Toure are just a few of the shinning stars who delight the multi cultural international audience.

The idea for the festival took root in 1996 during a time when 3,000 guns were burned in the “Flame of Peace” to signify the end of fighting between peoples of the region. The idea was to combine the festival with the great traditional gathering of the nomadic Tuareg, or Tamashek people to promote the economy and develop the region. The name Tuareg applies to a Berber ethnic group and originated with the early explorers and historians of the region. The Tuareg call themselves Kel Tamasheq which translates to “Speakers of Tamasheq”. For centuries, traditional gatherings of these nomadic people have been celebrated with song, dance, poetry, ritual sword fighting, games, races and other customary entertainments.

For international visitors, the festival offers a wondrous occasion to be immersed in the world of the desert dwelling Tuareg. The three night festival provides a kaleidoscope of smells, sights and sounds that titillate the senses. Daytime activities include sampling delicious traditional food, shopping for treasures at the craft market, listening to impromptu concerts and participating in social interaction with people from local ethnic groups and visitor from around the globe.

The feature concerts begin in the evening and the impressive high tech sound system fills the starry nights with enchanting, rhythmic melody until the wee hours of the morning.

The Festval Stage

The Main Stage at the Festival au Desert

Festival au Desert, Essakane Mali

Tuaregs Arrive for Festival

Festival au Desert

Scene From the Festival

Tuareg Camel Riders at Festival

Grandstand View Tuareg Style

Camel Riders Feet

Close Up of a Riders Feet

Tuaregs on Camels

Festival au Desert

Decorations on a Camel Saddle

Beautiful Tassles Adorn a Camel Saddle

Camels at the Festival

Festival au Desert

Concert Goers

Enjoying the Concert from the Dunes

Enjoying the Concert from the Dunes

Festival au Desert

Faces in the Crowd

These Guys Seem Awed by the Crowd!

Faces at the Festival

Female Tuareg Performers

Local Photographer

Bedecked in Fashionable Ornaments

A Face in the Crowd

Female Tuareg Performer

A Face in the Crowd

A Woman in the Audience

Goods for Sale

Leather Bags for Sale in the Market Place

Modes of Transportation

Camels and 4 x 4s


Some of the People Attending the Festival


Camels at the Festival

Tuareg Horse

Horse in the Crowd

Festival au Desert, Essakane Mali

Tuareg Saddle on Horse at Essakane

Splendid Tuareg Camel Rider

Festival Attendees Don Their Most Spendid Outfits

Festival au Desert, Essakane Mali

Tuareg Camel

Festival au Desert, Essakane Mali

Fulani Musicians

Traditional Tuareg Tent

Festival Goers Often Stay in Tents of this Style

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