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The Festival in the Desert

The city/town of Timbuktu, Mali, was one of those places of legend that it was impossible to get to, that is until the turn of the 19th century, when French and British explorers finally set foot in the place. But it is probably the best known thing about this landlocked West African country straddling both desert and jungle. 

The golden city in the middle of nowhere was only made of adobe and dust, a largish town with the great river Niger on the one side and the great Sahara desert on the other.

Caravans from the salt mines brought the valuable edible rocks to the boats waiting on the river in exchange for other goods. The glorious city of treasure was a myth, or so it seemed to the west, but it's what westerners knew of as a place in Mali. That's is until the Festival Au Desert began.

About 10 years ago, around the turn of this century, the Festival of the Desert  was born. It is a cross between Lollapalooza and Burning Man festivals (which are not in Timbuktu) but in the desert about a 60 miles to the northwest called Essakane, which is truly the middle of nowhere about two hours from Timbuktu.

Created in January 2001, the Festival Au Desert is held every year in January -- this year from January 7 - 9, 2010. This festival has its origin in the big traditional Tuareg festivities, as Takoubelt in Kidal and Temakannit in Timbuktu, which, for a long time, was a place for decision-making and to exchange of information among the different communities. At the beginning, there were Tuareg dances, singing, poetry, camel rides and games.

Today, the Festival is opened to the world at large and welcomes artists not only from other Malian regions, other African countries, but also from Europe and the rest of the world. During the three days, around 30 groups from around the world present their art.

The only way you can get there -- if you aren’t a fabulously wealthy rock star or industrialist and can travel by helicopter -- is to take a 4x4 or jeep from Timbuktu, which has an airport; Air Mali adds a couple of flights to their twice a week schedule to Mali’s capital of Bamako, via the nicer city of Mopti, just for the festival.

It’s possible to take a boat down the Niger or you can take a bus, a trip that lasts a full day of travelling the 350 miles over mostly dirt roads, and with the State department saying that some Tauregs have decided that holding Americans for ransom is a responsible career opportunity… Flying is the only option.

Once you get there, you have to take a look at Timbuktu, which is actually a pretty decent town, although the souvenir salesmen will follow you wherever you go throughout your stay. There isn’t much there, although the Libyan government is investing a ton of money in the place, building a huge, grand hotel right on northern edge of town, which may or may not be open by 2011.

And once you get to Essakane, the tour company will escort you to your tent; there are no hotels there, and for the next three days you will "rough it” in a luxurious way. To preserve the traditional aspect of the festival you cannot setup your own tent; you are provided with Taureg tents. However, you are free to setup your tent inside the ones  provided -- if it fits.

Bring batteries for equipment since the number of plug-in spots are few. Also bring tweezers, sleeping bag and torch light.  Make sure you drink two liters of water a day during the festival. And do not forget, it can get cold at night (5 to 10°c) depending on the year.

The cream of the Sub-Saharan music scene shows up, and it doesn’t really matter if you’ve ever heard of Salif Keita or Ousmane Kouyat or any of the other musicians, they’re all really good. But still, to see Keita is a real treat.

Scheduled for the 10th anniversary festival are:

Local artists: 

Tamnana, Tabol , Igbayen, Tachidialt, Tindé, Shallo, Kabalala, Takamba Super Khoumeissa, and Amanar de Kidal. They all represent different styles of music and dance traditional to the regions of Northern Mali (mainly tuareg).

All of them are confirmed and will be performing on the small stage called “Scène Dune”, which is a stage designed on the traditional style on the sand.
Malian national artists;
Salif Keita (TBC) , Afel Bocoum (C), Vieux Farka Touré (C), Oumou Sangare (C), Amadou & Mariam (C) ,Tinariwen (C), Tartit (C), Terakaft (C), Habib Koïté (TBC), Cheick Tidiane Seck (C);Toumani Diabaté (C), Bassekou Kouyaté (C), Kassé Mady Diabaté (TBC), Fantani Touré (C) ,Baba Salah (TBC), Haira Arby (C), Tialé Arby (C); Mangala Camara (TBC), Ahmed Fofana (C), Africa percussion (TBC). 

Performing on the main stage.
African artists: 

Special Niger: Mamar Kassey, Tarbiat, Etrane Finatawa, Koudede, Rhissa Ag Wanagli , Kel Assouf (TBC) 

Mauritanie: Dimi Mint Abba/ Noura Mint Seymali (TBC) 

Sénégal: Viviane N’dour (TBC) 

Ethiopie: Manalemosh DIBO (TBC) 

Performing on the main stage.
International artists: 

Dick et Hnatr (Authentic Kanak group from Nouvelle Caledonia) (TBC)
Leni Stern Band (USA, Maroc, Sénégal) (C),
Harper Simon (USA) (C),
Dady Dasty ( Martinique ) (C),
The Sway Machinery USA) (C)
Paul Oakenfold (Dj et spectacle Laser) USA (TBC)
Matzik ( France) en création avec Mamar Kassey (TBC)
Nouvelle R (France) (TBC)
Jean Marc Phillips (France) (TBC)
Quimi Portet (Catalogne) (C)
Performing on the main stage.

Deacon (Animal Collective) (C)
Gang Gang Dance (C)
Performing on the small stage at late night
Permanent animation: 

Malian Military Band (TBC)
Maak Spirit ( Belgique) (C)

Sept Etoiles de Diré (C)
Oumar Konaté et Annane Sy (C)

The main American specialist in this area is Palace Travel of Philadelphia.

Fulani Travel in Dolgellau Wales, UK also books trips there:

They both partner with local companies who can be found at the Festival’s website:

SMF Kicks Off on Second Night of Hanukkah

Shemspeed, an underground Jewish music label, has made a mission of exposing new audiences to Jewish music, musicians and the culture surrounding them. The Sephardic Music Festival is Shemspeed's way of concentrating the year's key artists in New York to draw in new interest during the eight nights of Hanukkah.

SMF returns for its fifth year just in time for the second night. The festival opens Dec. 12 at 92Y Tribeca with performances by Smadar Levi, Sarah Aroeste and Galeet Dardashti's "The Naming."

The festival aims to increase interest in and awareness of Sephardic cultures, including Mizrahi, Yemenite, and Ladino traditions. It showcases the latest Sephardic musical talents from all over the world, including Matisyahu, Yair Dalal and Electro Morocco, to name a few of the performers this year's line-up. By bringing these artists forward, the SMF highlights the diversity that exists within the Sephardic branch of Jewish culture and history. SMF also serves as a platform for the preservation and continuation of Sephardic heritage by promoting a variety of music styles, such as Ladino which is nearly extinct as a spoken language.

SMF runs from Dec. 12 to Dec. 19, 2009. This year's schedule includes:

Opening Night with Smadar Levi, Sarah Aroeste and Galeet Dardashti's "The Naming"
Dec. 12 at 9 p.m.
92Y Tribeca, 200 Hudson Street
Tickets $15 in advance, $20 at the door

Ladino Night with Rivka Amado and Elie Massias
Dec. 13 at 7 p.m.
Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, 3 West 70th Street
Tickets $15 in advance, $18 at the door

Yair Dalal
, Asefa and Michelle Webb
Dec 14 at 7 p.m.
Union Hall, 702 Union Street
Tickets $10


Dec. 14 at 7 p.m.
Webster Hall, 125 East 11th Street
Tickets $35

Sephardic Scholar Series with Ladino-flamenco duo Aviva and Dan, panel with filmmaker Lisa Katzman and ethomusicologist Samuel R. Thomas
Dec. 15 at 6:30 p.m.
Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street
Tickets $15, $12 for American Sephardi Federation members

Pharaoh's Daughter, DeLeon and Levi Mordechai
Dec. 16 at 7 p.m.
Knitting Factory, 361 Metropolitan Avenue
Tickets $12 in advance, $15 at the door

Kosha Dillz
, Y-Love, Eprhyme, DeScribe, Diwon and guests
Dec. 17 at 1 p.m.
Best Buy at Union Square, 52 East 14th Street
Free admission

Electro Morocco
and Diwon
Dec. 17 at 11 p.m.
Joe's Pub, 425 Lafayette Street
Tickets $15 in advance

Closing Night Warehouse Party with Balagan Boogaloo, DJs Diwon and special guests
Dec. 19 at 10:30 p.m.
171 Lombardy Street
Tickets $8, R.S.V.P. $5

To purchase tickets and for more information, head over to:

Sephardic Music Festival
Dec 12 to Dec. 19, 2009
Various Locations

Filipino-American Jazz Festival Makes NYC Debut

The Annual Filipino-American Jazz Festival arrives in New York City for the first time on Dec. 11 and Dec. 12 at the Triad Theater near Broadway and Lincoln Center.

For five years, the Filipino-American Jazz Festival has been held in Los Angeles. JazzPhil-USA, the nonprofit organization based in Southern California that sponsors the fest, decided to create a second installment of the critically-appraised concert series in New York City this year following much success in Los Angeles.
Three generations of Filipino jazz luminaries will share the stage during the event. Lifetime Achievement Award winners Eddie Katindig (“Eddie K”) and Ms. Annie Brazil will join the self-proclaimed Queen of “Jazzipino,” vocalist Charmaine Clamor, and the 2008 Thelonious Monk Competition winner, alto sax man Jon Irabagon, in a celebration of Filipino contributions to America’s original art form. Mon David, the winner of the 2006 London International Jazz Vocal Competition, and Sandra Viray, the leading jazz singer in Manila, Philippines, will be backed by an all-star trio led by “the Filipino Oscar Peterson,” Tateng Katindig, with New Yorker Derek Nievergelt on bass and acclaimed Hawaiian multi-instrumentalist Abe Lagrimas on drums.
Tickets are $30, plus a two-drink minimum. Doors open at 9 p.m., and the show starts at 9:30 p.m.

For tickets and additional information, check out
Triad Theater
158 West 72nd Street, New York City
Dec. 11 to Dec. 12, 2009

Carnegie Hall Presents Ancient Paths, Modern Voices

From October 21 to November 10, 2009, Carnegie Hall presents Ancient Paths, Modern Voices: A Festival Celebrating Chinese Culture, paying tribute to China’s diverse and vibrant culture and its influence around the world with 21 days of events at Carnegie Hall and throughout the city at New York partner institutions.

Carnegie Hall will present Harmonic Visions, an exhibition of contemporary Chinese photography in Zankel Hall, sponsored and curated by Chambers Fine Art. China boasts more than 5,000 years of history, the presence and influence of which can be felt in many aspects of its society and culture. The visual artists featured in this exhibition combine their experiences of living in contemporary China with the country’s rich and diverse traditions. Artists featured are: Hong Hao, Hong Lei, He Yunchang, Qiu Zhijie, Rong Rong, Weng Fen, Wang Tiande, Yin Xiuzhen, Song Dong, and Zhang Huan. The exhibit will be open to Zankel Hall concertgoers through December 31.

In addition, Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute is pleased to announce that 19-year-old pianist Haochen Zhang will perform a free recital on Monday, November 2 at 7:30 p.m. at Flushing Town Hall in Queens. This will be Mr. Zhang’s first concert in New York since becoming one of the youngest participants and the first Chinese performer to earn the Gold Medal at the 13th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in June 2009. The program includes Chopin’s complete 24 Preludes, Op. 28; Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit; and Liszt’s Rhapsodie espagnole.

Carnegie Hall has partnered with select New York art galleries as well to present China in Chelsea and Beyond, an event celebrating Chinese contemporary visual arts and exhibiting work by some of today’s leading Chinese artists.

Participating galleries are Arario Gallery, AW Asia, Chambers Fine Art, ChinaSquare, Goedhuis Contemporary, Max Protetch Gallery, and Stux Gallery, with featured artists including Yue Minjun, Qi Zhilong, Tan Dun, Sun Xun, and many more.

Other visual arts events, presented by festival partners, include:

China Art(s) Today
A panel discussion on November 2 at the Asia Society, moderated by Asia Society Director Melissa Chiu and featuring avant-garde artist Wenda Gu and award-winning composer and artist Tan Dun. Two of China’s most provocative artists discuss their work and ponder future directions for themselves and for contemporary Chinese arts. 

Silk and Bamboo: Music and Art of China
An exhibition of Chinese instruments and art, presented by The Metropolitan Museum of Art through February 7, 2010. A celebration of the diverse musical heritage of China, with about 80 objects drawn largely from the museum’s permanent collection, the exhibition features a wide variety of musical instruments and art, including a rare Ming dynasty ivory-covered pipa (lute) and lacquered qin (zither), extraordinary bells from the fifth century B.C., and Han dynasty pottery dancing figures and musicians.

Ancient Paths, Modern Voices features performances by leading international musicians, including some artists traveling outside China for the first time. Festival performances will feature many genres of music—from Western symphonic and chamber music influenced by Chinese culture to Chinese traditional folk music and contemporary music, including premieres by internationally recognized Chinese composers. The festival exploration also includes a wide variety of other offerings on each coast, including traditional marionette theater, dance, film screenings, calligraphy, panel discussions, and art exhibitions, offering insights into a world that mixes the ancient and the modern, the traditional and the cutting-edge.

With over 30 events, the reach of Ancient Paths, Modern Voices in New York will be extended throughout the city through partnerships between Carnegie Hall and other prestigious cultural institutions: Asia Society, China Institute, Works & Process at the Guggenheim, The Joyce Theater, The Juilliard School, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Chinese in America, and The Paley Center for Media, as well as through a series of free Neighborhood Concerts presented by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute in the community venues of Flushing Town Hall in Queens as well as Abrons Arts Center at Henry Street Settlement and The Performance Project @ University Settlement on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

The California line-up for Ancient Paths, Modern Voices, presented by the Philharmonic Society of Orange County and supported by presenting sponsor South Coast Plaza, will feature performances by major artists and ensembles appearing at Carnegie Hall as well as new programming created through the Philharmonic Society’s relationships with Orange County Performing Arts Center, Orange County Museum of Art, South Coast Repertory Theatre, the Colburn School of Music in Los Angeles, and other Southern Californian cultural institutions. This relationship between Carnegie Hall and Segerstrom Center for the Arts marks the first time that Carnegie Hall festival programming will be offered to audiences outside New York City.

For the most up-to-date information on festival events, video interviews and performance excerpts from featured musicians, and insights into Chinese culture and festival programs, go to Carnegie Hall's special web site:

Ancient Paths, Modern Voices: A Festival Celebrating Chinese Culture
October 21 to November 10, 2009
Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall

China in Chelsea and Beyond
Various New York
art galleries


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