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.

 

Kerry cites ‘some steps forward’ in Gaza truce efforts

Qatar emir in unannounced visit to Saudi

Is Tunisia returning to old regime censorship?

Libya government to hand over power to new parliament

Islamic State expands into tourism in Syria, Iraq

Mladenov pleads for UN help to end IS 'atrocities' in Iraq

Hamas hails suspension of Israel flights as 'great victory'

Lebanon army records first case of desertion to join Syria Nusra Front

Iraq gunmen kill female former candidate for parliament

Turkey hunts for nine intelligence officers in wire-tapping probe

Suspension of hostilities in Gaza to allow medical assistance

Assassination of famed Somali musician and lawmaker

Sisi defends Egypt in trying to broker Gaza truce

Syria welcomes nomination of Staffan de Mistura as new UN envoy

Iraq lawmakers stall presidential election as violence yields grim crop of bodies

Yemen president calls for unity

Etihad helps Jet Airways return to profit

HRW: Iraq air strikes wreaking awful toll on civilians

Kuwait revokes pro-opposition TV, newspaper licences

Twin suicide bombing shakes Libya's Benghazi

Car bomb rips through Baghdad checkpoint

Israel escalates merciless Gaza onslaught

Turkey detains dozens of senior police officers for 'spying'

Saudi Arabia ousts head of Syria opposition government

Maliki meets Sunni tribal leaders in new bid to gain support

Israeli envoy: Our soldiers deserve a Nobel Peace Prize

Rights group denounces Kuwait's revocation of citizenship

Kerry again places onus on Hamas to accept ceasefire

Britain finds evidence of effort to Islamise state-run schools

Fiercest fighting in months hits Eastern Damascus

Iraq slams Jordan for hosting 'unacceptable' meeting of Sunni critics

Erdogan sacrifices Gaza mediation in favour of anti-Israel diatribes

Israel hits Al-Jazeera Gaza office

Syria oil industry suffers huge losses because of war

UN calls for help to vaccinate Syria toddlers against polio

Erdogan has stopped talking to Obama

Israel confirms kidnapped soldier is dead

South Sudan rebels pledge to pull troops out fails

Rouhani: More negotiations only solution for nuclear deal

Israel identify 12 soldiers killed over the weekend

UAE pledges $41 million aid for Gaza reconstruction

Security Council condemns persecution of Iraqi Christians

Islamists lose in Libya parliament elections

Deadly clashes erupt in Benghazi

27 Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza assault