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Festival In The Desert - Mali - Le Festival au Désert

The Festival in the Desert ( Festival au Désert ) is an annual concert in Essakane , Mali , showcasing traditional Tuareg music as well as music from around the world . The Tuareg band Tinariwen first garnered international attention with their performance at the 2001 Festival.

A French language documentary entitled Le Festival au Désert was filmed at the 2003 festival. Performers include Tartit, Oumou Sangare , Lo'Jo , Tinariwen , Robert Plant with Justin Adams, Blackfire, Django, and Ali Farka Touré . The DVD contains English subtitles, and an audio CD of the concert, Festival in the Desert , was also released.

The celebration manifests what was envisioned in the 1996 "Flame of Peace," in which 3000 guns were publicly burned to signify the beginning of the reconciliation between the nomadic and sedentary communities of the southern Sahara . EFES, a Tamashek association whose aim is to develop the region, hit on the idea of grafting the Festival onto the great traditional gatherings of the Tamashek people on a grand scale. For centuries these gatherings have provided an invaluable opportunity for the nomadic Tamasheks to meet and celebrate with various forms of Tamashek song, dance, poetry, ritual sword fighting, games, and other ancient cultural traditions. EFES opened the event to the entire desert region, to the whole of Mali, and eventually to the world

Essakane Festival

is an oasis town in the northern part of Mali . It is located in the Tombouctou Region , several hours' drive (approximately 65 kilometers) north of the city of Timbuktu .

Essakane is the site of an annual music festival called Festival au Désert ( Festival in the Desert ), which has been held each January since 2001. The festival showcases the music of the local Tuareg people, as well as musicians from other nearby nations such as Mauritania and Niger .

Learn more about the Tuareg Culture





From the Sahara Desert in the north, to the savannas of the south, Mali offers a wide range of scenery. The best time to visit is the cool and dry season of November through February.


The city of Bamako, the visitors' usual starting point, offers an intricate blend of modern and traditional while maintaining an authentic African identity. Bamako is the capital of Mali, and is known as one of the best places in the world for music lovers and performers.


From Bamako, the next stop on your tour of Mali should be Mopti. Mopti owes its prosperity to the Niger River, part of which was reclaimed to accommodate the city. Mali's most important port is located in Mopti, as well as fishing villages and Mopti Grand Mosque.


By road or ferry, continue to ancient Djenne, a large flourishing and prosperous city blessed with some of the most benevolent, friendly and hospitable people in the world. In Djenne, you will find mud brick buildings of 100 years or more, most notably the Great Mosque of Djenne.

Dogon Country

Continue your experience with a visit to Dogon country. Dogon life is centered around sacred rights and rituals which take place in the hollow cliffs on which the Dogon houses are built. Dogon culture is surrounded in mysticism and intrigue, from an astonishing knowledge of the solar system to the unique structure of Dogon villages.




The ancient city of Timbuktu was an important center of Islamic scholarship throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. You may want to take one of the intricately carved and decorated doors home, but smaller (and lighter) examples of the finest Tuareg craftmenship are yours for little more than a song - the craftsmen will throw in the dancing.

Essakane Festival in the Desert

Mali's Festival in the Desert, a world music and Tuareg culture festival, held annually in early January, is one-of-a-kind, modeled on traditional gatherings and celebrations of the Tuareg people, the "Blue Men of the Desert."
It features musicians from Mali, Mauritania, Niger and many other countries worldwide.

It is also an opportunity to interact with the Tuareg people, as it is their event, and the festivities will include traditional singing, dancing, swordplay, camel races and artisans' exhibits.

The festival is held in the desert oasis Essakane, 65 kilometers from Timbuktu. Accommodations consist of Tuareg tents and ground mats (NB: there are no hotels ); hot meals are prepared on-site.
Desert temperatures in January are hot during the day (~35 C / 85 F) , but quite cold at night (~5 C / 55 F) ? travellers must bring sleeping bags !

This is not a luxury holiday, but a unique cultural experience that requires adapting to local conditions.

Festival tour requirements:

  • a sleeping bag.
  • soft luggage, such as a duffel bag; hard suitcases are not appropriate.
  • summer clothing for days, and a warm outfit for the desert nights