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Festival in the Desert Wins Freemuse Award

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We at Afropop are delighted that the valiant Festival au Désert in Mali as been honored with the Freemuse Award for 2013.

Marie Korpe, the Executive Director of Freemuse, says “In spite of extreme Islamists’ attempts to silence all music in Mali, the Festival au Désert defends freedom of musical expression and struggles to continue keeping music alive in the region.”

From Bamako, founder and festival Director Manny Ansar says: “It is an honor for our festival efforts to be recognized….Thank you! It is just this type of solidarity and global recognition that helps galvanize our deep musical tradition in Mali and the Sahel. While extremist forces may attempt to divide and silence our communities, the cultural heritage that lives and weaves between us, will always overcome. With your generous support, we will continue to spread our international message of tolerance and plurality in exile, until we are able to return home to Timbuktu in peace.”

At this point, many readers probably know that in the face of the active war currently underway in Mali’s north, the 2013 edition of the festival has been canceled. In a statement on their website, the organizing committee of the festival stated that, “The Government has requested that we temporarily postpone the Sahel portion of the Festival, as insecurity in the region could jeopardize the safety of tourists, technicians, artists, journalists, etc. The February caravan in the Sahel will be postponed most likely until late fall, after the rainy season.”

Since its debut in 2001, the Festival in the Desert has been the world’s premier Malian music festival. The caravan-style gathering has been growing in attendance and prestige since, though regional instabilities forced it to move from the northern Malian village of Essakane to Timbuktu in 2010. Considering that last year’s festival was cut short due to groups of armed Tuareg rebels storming the area, it’s ultimately little surprise that this years’ installment has been postponed. Up until roughly the past month, the festival was still scheduled to go on despite the deteriorating situation in both the nation’s capital and it’s northern half.  A festival in exile was planned to take place as a caravan in Bamako and in neighbouring countries during this spring, but due to the war and conflicts in the region the festival has had to cancel the spring tour.
Afropop producers Banning Eyre and Sean Barlow fondly remember their own trek to the Festival in 2003 when it was staged in the sand dunes around Essakane, about a half day’s drive north of Timbuktu, a location accessible only by 4×4’s. It was a powerful celebration of Tuareg culture and community at a time of relative peace following years of violent  uprisings. Leading artists from all over Mali performed- Ali Farka Toure, Afel Bocoum, Khaira Arby, Tinariwen, Tartit, Lobi Traore, Oumou Sangare- and Mali’s kaleidoscopic multicultural heritage was on full display. Afropop actually got the chance to record an number of intimate performances in a variety of performer’s private tents. Listen to the show that we made from those recordings HERE.

Afropop also co-produced the film “Festival in the Desert: The Tent Sessions” with Link TV.

About the Freemuse Award

The Freemuse Award is sponsored by the Björn Afzelius International Culture Foundation (BAIK). Björn Afzelius, who died in 1999, was a Swedish rock singer who became a passionate spokesman for suppressed people around the world combining his musical career with political activism. This is the first time that the Freemuse Award is given to an organisation. The award is given to an individual or an organisation that “has worked for freedom of musical expression in a remarkable way”. Previous winners include Tiken Jah Fakoly, one of Africa’s greatest reggae artists, who ironically lived safely for several years in exile in Mali after having received death threats in his home country Ivory Coast.

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