Mohamed Aly "Manny" Ag Ansar
Mohamed Aly “Manny” Ag Ansar is the Founder and current Director of the Festival au Désert. Founded in 2001, the festival occurs annually in January in Timbuktu’s region, most often in Essakane.
Prior to running the Festival au Désert, Ansar served as a Resident for the Stromme Foundation, a not-for-profit organization from 1985-2002.
In September 2003, he became the Chief Officer of Logistics and Human Resources for AMADER, a Malian agency funded by the World Bank focusing on providing electrical services to the rural areas. He has held the position of the Public Relations Officer since October 2009.
Additionally, he is very involved in the peace process reinforcement in Northern Mali. He holds a Master’s degree in International Relations.
Formed in 1982, Tinariwen is a blend of ancient musical tradition with contemporary politics. Despite severe natural and man-made hardships, the young Kel Tamashek exiles continued performing the traditional music of their Tuareg forebears in the southern Sahara while simultaneously fighting against the government of Mali. Forced to seek an alternative to starvation and repression in drought-stricken Mali, many of these young nomads hoped to attain a better life by striking up what proved to be an uneasy alliance with Libya. The musicians include Said Ag Ayad, Alhassane Ag Touhami, Eyadou Ag Leche, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, Abdallah Ag Lamida, Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni, and Bassa Walet Abdoumou. The music itself is spare and haunting, an aural reflection of those same open spaces. The lyrics of their songs, perhaps more accurately termed sung poetry, carry outspoken political thought that draws attention not only to repression in Mali, but also to the enforced exile of many and the continuing struggle for self-determination of the Tuareg nomads. In 2012, Tinariwen won the Grammy Award for Best World Music Album for their latest album 'Tassili.'
Born in 1981 in the town of Niafunké to legendary Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, Vieux Farka Touré has electrified fans on the world music scene for the past five years. From performing at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Johannesburg to venues across North America and Europe, Vieux Farka Touré never ceases to amaze a crowd with his mix of blues, electrical and acoustic guitar, and electrifying vocals.
Vieux’s first album was released in 2007 by Modiba Productons and featured his father Ali Farka Touré and Mali's all-time greatest kora player Toumani Diabaté.
His internationally acclaimed album—Fondo—was released in 2009 by Six Degress Records was one of iTunes top World Music albums of the year and garnered praise from the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Village Voice and BBC among others. Speaking of Fondo, Banning Eyre of NPR said, "He has all the makings of a 21st-century African rock god.”
To those in Mali, Khaïra Arby (pronounced: Hī-ra Arbē) is known as the “Diva of the Desert” or the “Nightingale of the North.” Born in the village Agouni, north of Timbuktu in the Sahara, to a Songhai mother and a Berber father, Arby’s roots reflect the ethnic diversity in Mali. Against her father’s wishes, drawing on inspiration from her cousin Ali Farka Touré, Arby pursued music as a way to discuss issues that are important to her fellow countrymen, from love, peace, family, women’s issues, development, democracy, and the everyday lives of the people. Her music includes sounds of the banjo, ngoni, electric guitar, drums traditional violin, and the calabash mixed with languages from Arabic, French, Songhai, and Tamashek.
After achieving much success as a young musician, Khaïra married at the age of 14. She tried to continue singing, but was forced to stop until she sought a divorce 8 years later. At 22, Khaïra was on her own. She made her first recording with the Orchestre Regional de Tombouctou and after a short time she was invited to sing with the famous Orchestre Badema in Bamako. She continued to earn her stripes beside such Malian stars as her cousin, Ali Farka Touré and the influential Fissa Maïga. Since the 1980's Khaïra has focused all her energies on her music. With three albums in her own name she is the voice of Mali’s North.
Khaïra still lives in Timbuktu with her family. She performs at concerts and festivals throughout Mali and France. She has appeared several times with her band at the mythic Festival in the Desert in Essakane and at the Festival on the Niger River in Segou. Her most recent albums include Timbuktu Trab and Ya Rassoul.
Nothing is more evocative of the fascinating expanses of the Sahara desert than the music of Tartit, a Tuareg band consisting of five women and four men residing in the Timbuktu region. Tartit plays quiet, hypnotic, trance-inducing music: the women sit down, sing, and play cyclic rhythms on their tinde drums, while the men accompany them on string instruments, acoustic and electric. The men are veiled, the women aren't. Their last album Abacabok was distributed by indie label Crammed Discs.
Leni Stern is in the 25th year of her career as a recording artist, and with her latest upcoming release “Sa Belle Belle Ba” she continues to define herself as a genre-bending master guitarist and timely songwriter. Ms. Stern established her vocal and guitar abilities in jazz, rock, and folk while more recently drawing upon studies and collaborations from her international travels to such places as Kenya, India, Mali, Madagascar and Senegal. Having been awarded the Gibson Guitar’s Female Jazz Guitarist of the Year for five consecutive years, Ms. Stern has also been acknowledged for her songwriting talents by the International Songwriting Competition with 2009’s Honorable Mention in the world music category.
In 2005 Ms. Stern traveled to northern Mali to participate in the Festival in the Desert. It was here that she was introduced to master musicians Bassekou Kouyate and his wife singer Ami Sacko who later joined Ms. Stern in an UNESCO Global Alliance project at Salif Keita’s Bamako Studio, Moffou. Immediately falling in love with the music, the people and the country, Ms. Stern would return to Mali for the better part of two years, fully immersing herself in the griot tradition. Her 2007 EP “Alu Maye”, 2007 full-length “Africa”, and 2009 EP “Spirit in the Water” feature the collaborations she established during her studies and explorations to West Africa.
Born in Munich, Germany Ms. Stern came to the States to attend Berklee College of Music where she studied film scoring and composition. It was there that she began to hone her guitar skills, ultimately moving to New York City to start her first band with Paul Motian and Bill Frisell. It was not long after that she established her own label Leni Stern Recordings, ensuring that she would retain full artistic control of her diverse projects.
Group Amanar formed in 2005 under the direction of Ahmed Ag Kaedi and rose to fame locally in Kidal through hard work and perseverance. The origin of the name Amanar (the Tamashek word for the constellation Orion) comes from when the band had to rehearse through the night until the early hours, when the stars were high in the sky.
Group Amanar represents the contemporary sound of Kidal, playing an original interpretation of classic Ishumar guitar, while incorporating wailing guitar solos and frenetic rhythms. Ahmed Ag Kaedi's lyrics for Amanar are directed to the youth, concerning education, development, and "agnah" (respect for tradition).
At a moment when many artists are looking to the exterior, Amanar looks to the people of Kidal and Mali foremost. They've played throughout Mali, from Kidal to Kayes, including their debut this past year at the Festival au Desert.
JeConte & the Mali Allstars
JeConte & the Mali Allstars’ featuring Boubacar Sidibe, Mangala Camara, and Adama Drame were accepted to the 2011 Festival in the Desert. Unfortunately Mangala died tragically of a heart attack, but Joe and returned to Mali determined to honor his fallen brother by keeping the soul of his music alive. He and the band dedicated their performance to Mangala, creating a tribute with their new song ‘Mangala Camara’ that was celebrated by all who attended the festival.
JeConte & the Mali Allstars are a soulful blend of traditional Malian Blues and Northern California/New Orleans harmonica-based rock ‘n’ roll. The project leaders collectively bring original music to the ensemble. This combination creates a high energy, one-of-a-kind performance that gets the crowd going. The band recently completed a full-length album titled “Mali Blues” in Bamako, which includes unique, soulful songs with blues, rock, R&B, reggae and African world influences. They will be touring Europe and the United States in the latter part of 2011.
Banning Eyre has written about international music, especially African guitar styles, since 1988. He comments and reports on music for National Public Radio's All Things Considered, and contributes regularly to The Boston Phoenix, Guitar Player, Rhythm, Folk Roots, The Beat, CD Now, CMJ, New Music Monthly, and the Music Hound and All Music Guides. He has traveled extensively in Africa and has produced many programs for the public radio series Afropop Worldwide. He is also the Senior Editor of www.afropop.org. In 1995, Eyre co-authored AFROPOP! An Illustrated Guide to Contemporary African Music with Sean Barlow. Eyre’s book chronicling his apprenticeship in Malian guitar styles, In Griot Time, An American Guitarist in Mali, was released by Temple University Press (2000) and in the UK on Serpent’s Tail (2002). The companion CD Eyre compiled, In Griot Time, String Music from Mali, is out on Stern’s Africa. Both the book and CD have been cited in the New York Times as excellent sources on Malian music and culture.