Festival in the Desert (DVD) ~ Robert Plant (actor) Cover Art

Festival In the Desert (DVD)

Robert Plant, Ali Farka Tour, Justin Adams

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Throwing an enormous Woodstock-style music festival in the middle of the Sahara desert--the gorgeous photos included in the booklet to Festival in the Desert make clear--isn't exactly easy. Held during the last three years in the shifting sands of northern Mali, the Festival in the Desert has brought together a mix of desert nomads and pop stars to play sublimely enchanting music in some of the harshest but most starkly beautiful conditions imaginable. Luckily for us, the 2003 Festival produced this impressive and varied CD, mixing together tracks from Malian superstars like Oumou Sangare and Ali Farka Toure with lesser knowns like the Mauritanian singer Aicha Bint Chinghaly and the desert nomads Tinariwen, who a few years ago traded their rifles in for electric guitars when the civil war in northern Mali abated. The biggest name here, of course, is Robert Plant, who turns in a wailing medley of old blues tunes. But Led Zeppelin-heads who buy the CD just for him--particularly those drawn to the Middle-Eastern strains of Plant's music from "Kashmir" through his recent collaborations with Jimmy Page--are in for quite a pleasant surprise when they hear the rest of the disc. What comes across the most, despite the star power present, is the energy of the live performances in such an extraordinary setting, making the Navajo rock band Blackfire, the gorgeous duet between Italian pianist Ludovico Einaudi and the Malian kora player Ballake Sissoko, the otherworldly collaboration between French rappers Kwal and the Touareg (desert nomad) guitarist and singer Foy-Foy, and the French sisters Lo'Jo's duet with Malian guitarist Django all sound like natural pairings, unfolding together under the Saharan sky. --Ezra Gale

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