We, at Global Community Communications Alliance, wish to recognize Ag Mohamed Aly “Manny” Ansar for his courageous leadership of the Caravan of Artists for Peace and National Unity, departing from Mali, Africa in February of 2013. This Caravan of Peace is actually a music festival in exile. It is Manny Ansar’s response to the shutting down of one of the most successful music festivals in the world. The Festival au Desert became too dangerous to hold when Islamic rebels took over the region of Northern Mali in March of 2012. The rebels have since established their version of Shariah Law, which includes the outlawing of all music except for Qur’anic verses. Shariah Law, according to the MUJAO (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa) also involves horrifically literal applications such as cutting off the hands and feet of thieves; stoning adulterers; public flogging of smokers, alcohol drinkers, and women not properly attired; burning musical instruments; and threatening to mutilate musicians so they can no longer play their instruments.
Manny Ansar is the Cofounder and has been the Executive Director of the world renowned Festival au Desert (Festival in the Desert) since 2001. Called “the most remote music festival in the world” the Festival in the Desert was held for the first ten years in the nomad camp, called Essakane, which is an oasis amid beautiful sand dunes 60 kilometers west of Timbuktu. (Timbuktu itself is 200 kilometers from the nearest road). “If ever a festival was far-out, this is it, both musically and geographically” says Manny. “It started with a revival of the traditional gathering of nomadic Tuareg families who, after the end of the Tuareg rebellion in 1996, were able to meet annually at the oasis of Essakane”.
According to Khaira Arbu, a festival performer and organizer referred to as “the Deva of the Desert” the so-called Tuarag rebellion was a long, simmering conflict between the Tuarag people and the Mali government. Arbu says it was not a civil war but a “misunderstanding between brothers” which finally ended, in 1996, when peace negotiations resulted in both sides piling up their guns along the walls of Timbuktu and burning them. Once peace was achieved, all the various Malian ethnic groups (Tuareg, Peul, Bambara, Solinke, Mande, Bozo, Tukalor, Fulani, Songai and Dogon) started to come together once a year to in a traditional gathering or takoubelt at Essakane. Founded on a Tamashek (Tuareg) tradition of festivals where nomadic clans meet up in the cooler, dry season, to celebrate their culture, their music, and their stories from their years wanderings, the Festival in the Desert has branched out to represent all the communities and extraordinarily rich musical traditions of the desert of Mali and the region as a whole.
It was Manny Ansar who had the vision and the power to transform this peace gathering in the desert into an internationally celebrated music festival which has been called ‘the Woodstock of the Sahara”. The Festival grew to the point of attracting 10,000 people from Africa, Europe, and the United States. The featured musicians at the Festival are from Mali and other parts of Africa, but many international stars such as Robert Plant and Bono have also performed at the Festival. Ansar says, “Since its creation, the Festival in the Desert has represented the values of peace and reconciliation”.
The Festival coordinators managed to manifest tents, food, water, toilet facilities, stage and sound equipment, and everything else needed for this unique festival. It had become the major event bringing tourism to the region in a country once viewed as the poster child of democracy in Africa. But an evil presence began to creep into Mali when, according to UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic, extremists began buying loyalty in Northern Mali by using kickbacks from drug traffickers to abolish taxes and pay $600 for child soldiers in a country where most people live on less than $1.25 per day. Since March 2012, extremists now control key border towns, which are used as transit hubs for trans-Sahara cocaine and hashish smuggling.
In the Summer of 2009, Manny received a phone call from President Amadou Toumani Toure, requesting that he move the Festival within the city limits of Timbuktu for safety reasons. Islamic extremists had been responsible for several incidents of kidnapping Westerners in Mali. Remarkably, the kidnappers never targeted the festival or any of the thousands of westerners who braved the journey to attend it. According to Ansar, some people put this down to the fact that his tribe, the Kel Ansar, are said to be descended directly from Muhammad and are highly revered.
On March 22nd, 2012, soldiers in Mali took over the State television station to deliver a message. They were upset with the government’s handling of the Tuareg rebellion. Introducing themselves as the “National Committee for the Re-establishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State”, the soldiers put an end to President Amadou Toumani Toure’s “incompetent” rule. The military coup and the subsequent void of authority proved disastrous for Mali’s northern territories. Groups linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb quickly took control of the key northern cities of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal, splitting the country in two. An official decree banning all western music was issued on August 22, 2012 by a heavily bearded Islamist spokesman in the city if Gao. “We don’t want the music of Satan. Qur’anic verses must take its place. Sharia demands it” the decree says.
The Festival had been held in Timbuktu since 2010. After the military coup in March 2012, and the establishment of a harsh form of Islamic law that punishes the creation and enjoyment of music in the occupied region which included Timbuktu, it looked like the death knell of the Festival. Musicians in Mali have joined hundreds of thousands of refugees in leaving the country. Militant extremists ransacked the Festival grounds at Essakane and destroyed all the Festival equipment stored there.
But Mali is a place where music is life. Ansar says that “Music is everywhere in our daily life. Our history was told by music and through music in Mali we learn what is good and what is not. The situation is terrible. Because of this occupation music is banned, even listening to music is forbidden, it is not possible to organize a music event in Timbuktu now. But we do not want nor can we allow ourselves to become resigned because safeguarding the values of the Festival, i.e. those of peace and tolerance, now more than ever has become an absolute emergency. This is the message we want to pass among ourselves first and then to others throughout the rest of the world who share with us the same values. The brute sound of weapons and the cries of intolerance are not able to silence the singing of the griots or the sound of the Imzad (violin) and the Tinde (drum). As we look back to the 13th edition of the Festival au Desert we look back to our great nomadic traditions! In 2013, the Festival au Desert will be held as an exceptional Caravan of Artists for Peace and National Unity. Giving concerts all along the way, artists will depart from Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, Algeria, Niger and meet in Burkina Faso for the 13th annual Festival au Desert. The Caravan of Peace is a part of a global program by Festival friends of several events to be known as the Festival in Exile offering a home to the Festival au Desert in 2013. It’s my way of fighting back. Before, our music was heard in Essakane. Now it will be heard in all the big festivals all over the world. So it’s the opposite of what the Islamists want. It’s our victory and their defeat”.
Manny was born into a Tuareg family on a sand dune near the city of Timbuktu. With a Masters Degree in International Public Policy, he worked in the humanitarian aide field for many years before turning towards music. His music career began with his being the first manager of the now world renown Malian band Tinariwen.
We, at Global Community Communications Alliance, wish to recognize the globally positive response and leadership under fire of Manny Ansar. Being faced with a deluge of negativity towards his homeland and his culture of music, he has found a way to forge the forces of goodness that have been fostered in and around the Festival of the Desert into a practical vision for peace that is touching musicians and music lovers all over the world. Global Community Communications Alliance encourages everyone world-wide to cease being complicit members of a fallen system and join the SPIRITUALUTION℠—Justice to the People.
For further information:
If you would like to meet with the Festival director or offer assistance please contact [email protected] or (011) 788 7632/1
Manny Ansar - Executive Director, Festival au Desert - [email protected]
For updates on the exciting plans for 2013 Festival au Desert and the Caravan of Artists for Peace, watch the website www.festival-au-desert.org and follow on facebook, www.facebook.com/festivalaudesert or www.facebook.com/festival-in-the-desert .
"I don't give a #%@* what they say," is Malian rapper Amkoullel's terse answer to a question about the Islamist music ban. "We won't let them get away with it. We don't need them to teach us how to be Muslims. We're a secular tolerant country, where everyone declares their religion according to their feeling. And in any case, they know that a Mali without music is not possible."
Amkoullel set up his own pressure group of rappers, activists and friends called Plus Jamais Ça (Never Again). So far he has released a couple of videos, including a very popular one called SOS, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMJWoDeBRcg SOS has also been censored by the Malian state broadcaster ORTM, which is still under the heavy hand of the military.
“Music should not stop, music should continue”.
“If we have peace, we have everything”