Malian music by moonlight seems far from country's woes

Wed Nov 27, 2013 6:27am EST
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By Emma Farge

LOMPOUL, Senegal (Reuters) - Encircled by moon-lit sand dunes, desert blues band Tamikrest from Mali's northern city of Kidal was the headline act at a Sahel music festival this weekend, held seemingly light years away from unrest in the group's native country.

The six-man Tuareg band strummed out mellow, hypnotic electric-guitar driven ballads on the themes of suffering and kinship in the local Tuareg language Tamashek.

"Are you sleeping out there?," joked 28-year-old lead singer Ousmane Ag Mossa, his 6-inch (15-cm) tall afro silhouetted against the stage, before switching to more upbeat songs like "Aratan N Tinariwen" that had the bulk of the 1,500-person audience dancing on the sand and crying out for more.

The Tuareg blues band and a West African "griot" storyteller were among the top acts at the fourth Sahel music festival which has gathered momentum as security concerns knocked a Timbuktu event off the calendar for the second year.

Musically rich Mali, which is still struggling to find normality nearly two years after a coup which plunged the country into chaos, was not forgotten by the artists who came to perform in the Lompoul desert in neighbouring Senegal.

Tamikrest, virtually unheard of a few years ago, is building on the popularity of the Grammy-award winning Tuareg band Tinariwen, from the same region of Mali.

They plan a European tour this winter to promote their third album "Chatma", meaning "Sisters", which is about the courage of women.

Blues artists in America drew inspiration from the Sahel and Tamikrest is living proof. Asked in an interview after the concert how he would describe the music, Mossa said: "Nostalgic. It's close to the blues which was also born in difficult circumstances."   Continued...

Tamikrest perform at the Sahel music festival in the Lompoul desert in Senegal November 22, 2013. REUTERS/Jean-Francois Huertas