Desert music dance and lament in dunes of Morocco

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Osman Toure, bass player for the Mauritanian group Noura Mint Seymali, which was also invited to play at M’Hamid during the Timbuktu festival in January, praised the Moroccan initiative, following the events in Mali.

“I find that the desert, the tents... Of course they are different cultures. But it's the same spirit. There is a great similarity between the two festivals,” Toure said.

“It was a moment of tragedy that took place (in Mali) with respect to the music... Many of the musicians fled to Mauritania, as well as Senegal and Burkina Faso. But despite that, many of them ended up here.”

M’Hamid El Ghizlane lies deep in the desert, on the edge of the arid Draa valley, some 250 kilometres (150 miles) southeast of Ouarzazate, the so-called gateway to the Moroccan Sahara, and 40 kilometres from the Algerian border.

Centuries ago, it was used by the camel caravans plying the old trade route between Morocco and Timbuktu, but the closure of the Algerian border in 1994 means any overland trip, however hazardous, is no longer possible.

Halim Sbai, one of Taragalte’s main organizers, speaks passionately of the need to preserve “the natural and cultural patrimony of the desert,” including by allowing local people to participate, displaying their traditions and music at the festival.

The construction of a hydro-electric dam at Ouarzazate in 1972, to provide for the city’s growing population and tourist trade, with its five-star hotels and golf courses, took a heavy toll on water supplies to M’Hamid, Sbai explained.

“The dam deprived the region of water that, before it was built, flowed from the High Atlas mountains all the way here.”

“We are in an oasis that needs to be preserved. It's a very fragile environment. And we try to get tourists to help us with that, so we can leave it for future generations,” Sbai said.

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