Festival au Désert

The Festival au désert ("Festival in the Desert") was an annual concert in Mali, showcasing traditional Tuareg music as well as music from around the world. The first Festival took place in 2001 in Tin Essako, then in Tessalit in 2002, and in Essakane from 2003 to 2009. From 2010 to 2012 it was held on the outskirts of Timbuktu because of security concerns which have prevented it from taking place since.

Several film documentaries have been made about or at the festival: Le Festival au Désert (2004), Dambé: The Mali Project (2008), The Last Song Before the War (2013) and Woodstock in Timbuktu (2013). The album Festival au Desert Live from Timbuktu (2013) has performances from the 2012 festival.


The first Festival took place in Tin Essako in 2001 and then it moved in 2002 to Tessalit in the Kidal region of North-Eastern Mali. From 2003 until 2009 the festival was held in Essakane, 65 km from Timbuktu, but because of security issues, from 2010 the festival was held on the outskirts of Timbuktu.

The Tuareg band Tinariwen first garnered international attention with their performance at the 2001 Festival.

An audio recording of the 2012 edition Festival au Desert Live from Timbuktu was released in 2013 with performances by 18 artists with supplemental digital} bonus performances.

Shortly after the January 2012 festival, the MNLA launched the Azawadi rebellion, an early stage of the Northern Mali conflict, resulting in the postponement of the 2013 festival. In July and August 2013, Tartit, Imharhan, and Mamadou Kelly toured throughout North America as the Festival au Desert - Caravan for Peace. The Festival has continued to be postponed due to security concerns in the region.

Documentary films

A French-language documentary entitled Le Festival au Désert (2004) was filmed at the 2003 festival. Performers include Tartit, Oumou Sangaré, Lo'Jo, Tinariwen, Robert Plant with Justin Adams, Blackfire, Khaira Arby and her band, 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 documentary Dambé: The Mali Project (2008) tells the story of a cross-cultural musical adventure over 3000 miles by two Irish musicians, that features performances from the Festival au désert.

Other documentary films made about the Festival are The Last Song Before the War (2013) and Woodstock in Timbuktu (2013).