In late January, I traveled to the edge of the Sahara Desert in Morocco to participate in an African music festival called Festival Taragalte. It took place in the dunes just outside the dusty oasis town of M’Hamid El Ghizlane or “Town of the Gazelles.” It was the Door of the Sahara or “Porte du Sahara” where the great, trans-Saharan caravans from Timbuktu and other desert regions came to exchange gold, slaves, ostrich feathers, and ivory for North African manufactured items like dates, clothes, and Arabic manuscripts. Taragalte is the old name for the city. The Taragalte Festival is modeled after the town’s traditional festival (moussem) that used to celebrate the end of the date season and long journeys of the caravans. The moussem, almost extinct today in the region, was celebrated annually with music and dance, song, poetry and other oral traditions.
It brought together all of the region’s diverse tribes, local populations, merchants and caravaners in the spirit of goodwill and prosperity. The Taragalte Festival, now in its 6th year, seeks to restore the moussem with a new focus on music of trans-Saharan nomads. Here’s a glimpse of the official opening as I filmed it, prefaced with a roadside peek at the Draa Valley as we drove down to M’Hamid from Ouarzazate.
The performers above are nomadic folk troupes from the region performing traditional Berber and gnawa (gnaoua) music and dances: the ahidous, rokba, ganga and chamra. The electric rock band on stage is also a local group called “Generation Taragalte”.
A second objective of the festival is to “not ignore the African roots” of Morocco. Festival co-director and founder Halim Sbai told me that his grandfather was from Mali. “We Moroccans forget that many of us have Malian ancestry, ” he said, “A healthy tree begins with healthy roots.” Taragalte Festival nourishes these roots by flushing new life into the moussem of M’Hamid, boosting the local economy, and engaging cross-cultural dialogue. This last point is what brought me to this festival. I was invited to participate in a conference (pictured above) on “Culture as an Agent of Development and Reconciliation.” Each of us on the panel talked freely in Berber, French and English to a mixed audience of Sahelians from Morocco, Algeria, Mali, Tunisia and some Western tourists and reporters. My favorite music groups (pictured below) were: Daraa Tribes, a local up-and-coming rock group from Tagounit with an American Peace Corps Volunteer as acting manager;
University of Gnawa, a gnawa fusion band led by singer Aziz Sahmaoui; and Ben Zabo, a modern-traditional dance band from Mali.
Here are a few video clips from their live performances Saturday and Sunday, beginning with Ben Zabo. Enjoy!
From the Main Stage on closing night of Festival Taragalte 2015 with Ben Zabo, the clip below featuring a solo peformance of Aziz Sahmaoui was filmed on the quiet dunes of M’Hamid Elghizlane earlier that day.