First Published: 2012-11-14


Morocco’s M’Hamid Festival brings rhythms to dunes


Taragalte music festival kicks off under spectacular star-lit sky in M’Hamid amid participation of groups from Mali, Mauritania.


Middle East Online

By Simon Martelli - M'HAMID, Morocco

Desert music, dance, lament in dunes of Morocco

Rousing desert rhythms brought to life the oasis of M'Hamid, last stop in Morocco before the vast empty wastes of the Sahara, as musicians from across the region descended on the dunes.

The Taragalte music festival kicked off in earnest at the weekend under a spectacular star-lit sky, with a list of women's groups, from Morocco, Mauritania and Mali topping the bill.

Camel racing, poetry and traditional dance featured among the palm trees and rolling sand dunes of M'Hamid, with the festival celebrating -- and seeking to preserve -- a desert culture undermined by modernity, according to its organisers.

Mauritanian group Noura Mint Seymali captivated the crowd with a powerful delivery from the vocalist, Noura, accompanied by a virtuoso performance from Ayniyana, her accomplice on the ardine, a 20-string harp similar to the kora.

Next up was the Malian group Tartit, 10 Tuareg women from the northern region of Timbuktu, whose traditional music, a hypnotic blend of chanting, clapping and drumming, added poignancy to the Moroccan event.

Unrest forced the group to flee Mali in February, just two weeks after they played at Timbuktu's famed desert festival, with Islamist militants later occupying the entire northern region, banning music, destroying ancient shrines and forcing women to wear the veil.

A sign placed below the stage read: "Taragalte pays homage to Timbuktu, heritage of humanity."

Oum, the budding Moroccan star who headlined the opening night at Taragalte with her five-piece soul band, said the festival sent a message of solidarity to the musicians and the women of Mali.

"It's a chance to say that we support them, and the freedom of the arts, and the freedom just to be," she told AFP. "It's a message that is even stronger because it comes through the voices of women."

Taragalte, now in its fourth year, has forged strong links with its Malian counterpart, which the organisers have attended yearly, inviting musicians to M'Hamid from the festival in Timbuktu -- just a 50-day camel ride away, locals quip.

Malian guitarist Samba Toure, a protege of Mali music legend Ali Farka Toure, made an appearance at M'Hamid, while renowned Tuareg group Tinariwen played at the inaugural event in 2009.

Rich desert culture

Osman Toure, bass player for the Mauritanian group Noura Mint Seymali, which was also invited to play at M'Hamid during the Timbuktu festival in January, praised the Moroccan initiative, following the events in Mali.

"I find that the desert, the tents... Of course they are different cultures. But it's the same spirit. There is a great similarity between the two festivals," Toure said.

"It was a moment of tragedy that took place (in Mali) with respect to the music... Many of the musicians fled to Mauritania, as well as Senegal and Burkina Faso. But despite that, many of them ended up here."

M'Hamid El Ghizlane lies deep in the desert, on the edge of the arid Draa valley, some 250 kilometres (150 miles) southeast of Ouarzazate, the so-called gateway to the Moroccan Sahara, and 40 kilometres from the Algerian border.

Centuries ago, it was used by the camel caravans plying the old trade route between Morocco and Timbuktu, but the closure of the Algerian border in 1994 means any overland trip, however hazardous, is no longer possible.

Halim Sbai, one of Taragalte's main organisers, speaks passionately of the need to preserve "the natural and cultural patrimony of the desert," including by allowing local people to participate, displaying their traditions and music at the festival.

The construction of a hydro-electric dam at Ouarzazate in 1972, to provide for the city's growing population and tourist trade, with its five-star hotels and golf courses, took a heavy toll on water supplies to M'Hamid, Sbai explained.

"The dam deprived the region of water that, before it was built, flowed from the High Atlas mountains all the way here."

"We are in an oasis that needs to be preserved. It's a very fragile environment. And we try to get tourists to help us with that, so we can leave it for future generations," Sbai said.


Tunisia under state of emergency

Turkey downs Russia Su-24 fighter jet on Syria border

Lavrov says no war with Turkey after 'planned provocation'

Brussels extends terror alert as US issues worldwide travel warning

Somali pirates seize Iran fishing boat with 15 crew

Missing Iranian diplomat found dead in Saudi

Heavy Russia raids at site of Syria plane crash

Tunisia declares state of emergency after terrorist attack in heart of capital

Bahrain calls HRW torture report 'misleading'

Syria, Russia foreign ministers set Moscow talks

Rival Libya tribes sign peace deal to end months of fighting

Turkey reveals new cabinet of Erdogan allies

Hopes fade away as Sudan peace talks break without deal

At least 6 dead in Libya bomb attack

ISIS suicide bombers kill four in assault on Sinai hotel

Kerry visits Israel with scant hopes for major breakthrough

Hollande heads to Washington to seek support for war on ISIS

UAE blames Islamists for delay in military operation in Taez

Egypt kills 5 Sudanese migrants near border with Israel

Anti-Muslim hate crimes rise 300 percent in Britain

Russia eases restrictions on nuclear cooperation with Iran

Gulf leaders to hold annual summit on December 10

Ex-Gathafi Minister arrested over murder of UK policewoman

UK boosts military spending as pressure grows to join anti-ISIS strikes

Israel bars Palestinians from West Bank settlement bloc

Iraq suspends northern flights due to danger posed by Russia missiles

Syria army advances against ISIS in central province of Homs

Pro-Kurdish leader escapes assassination attempt in Turkey

Tunisia group claims beheading of young shepherd on behalf of ISIS

Kerry arrives in Abu Dhabi for Syria discussions

Three Palestinians killed as fresh violence hits West Bank

Iran arrests ISIS-linked cell near Iraq border

Brussels remains on high alert for second day in a row

Israel seeks to strip citizenship of those who join ISIS

France warns Libya as ISIS gains ground

Fear escalates as ISIS edges closer to Syria Christian town

Iran sentences reporter Jason Rezaian to prison

Egyptians vote in second phase of parliamentary elections

Assad grateful to Russia as army advances on ‘nearly every front’

Obama calls for resolve in face of terrorist threats

Russia bombs ISIS in heaviest strikes since beginning of Syria war

ISIS claims deadly attack on Iraq Shiite mosque

Iran Revolutionary Guard simulate capture of Al-Aqsa Mosque

Turkey-backed Syria rebels seize two border villages from ISIS

Israel shuts down second Palestinian radio station