Part of complete coverage on
Desert festival an oasis for sounds of the Sahara
February 2, 2012 -- Updated 1134 GMT (1934 HKT)
- "Festival au Desert" is held a few kilometers outside Timbuktu, in Mali
- The festival is inspired by the traditional gatherings of the region's Tuareg nomads
- U2 singer Bono made a cameo appearance at this year's festival
(CNN) -- You might associate music festivals with muddy fields and heaving crowds, but Mali's "Festival au Desert" is a world away from all that.
Based a few kilometers outside the historic town of Timbuktu, on the fringes of the Sahara Desert, the festival is inspired by the traditional gatherings of the region's Tuareg nomads. It's been running since 2001, bringing together musicians from the region, and beyond.
It's perhaps the only festival in the world where you can watch camel racing while listening to amped-up desert blues, where hawkers sell headscarves rather than burgers and where you can camp in a Tuareg tent among miles of empty sand dunes.
See also: Asa, African pop legend in the making
This year's festival, held in January, was in doubt after the kidnap of three tourists and the killing of another in Timbuktu, in November last year. The festival did go ahead, with an increased security presence, but security fears and travel warnings reportedly kept many tourists away.
Those who did make it to the three-day event saw performers including soulful Sudanese singer Amira Kheir, Nigerien group Koudede, and an all-star tribute to the music of legendary Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure.
In the past, European acts including Robert Plant, Manu Chao and Damon Albarn have performed at the festival. This year, U2 singer Bono made a cameo appearance, singing onstage with local favorites -- and now international stars -- Tinariwen.
Watch video: Mali's nomadic musicians
It's the authentic homegrown stars that really represent the festival. Among them is local Tuareg group Tartit, which was formed in 1995 by a group of women who met in a refugee camp. Their song "Democracy," featured on the video above, is their take on the fate of the Tuareg in modern Mali, and perfectly embodies the spirit of the festival, and the Sahara.
Part of complete coverage on
February 13, 2014 -- Updated 1159 GMT (1959 HKT)
You might not associate Botswana with rock music, but in recent years its heavy metal scene has been making a name for itself.
January 29, 2014 -- Updated 1117 GMT (1917 HKT)
The ruined town of Great Zimbabwe is part of a kingdom that flourished almost 1,000 years ago, and a bridge to the past.
January 22, 2014 -- Updated 1139 GMT (1939 HKT)
Known for its diverse geography and culture, Cameroon could be on the dawn of becoming known for tourism.
January 21, 2014 -- Updated 1116 GMT (1916 HKT)
The world's only "Flying Eye Hospital" is a DC-10 jet that flies around the world carrying out sight-saving operations.
January 27, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
A Kenyan TV production set in the year 2063 imagines a world where European refugees are fleeing to Africa.
January 16, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
The Tour d'Afrique is a four-month, 12,000 km cycle race across the length of Africa.
January 17, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
These magnificent mammals have learned to adapt their behavior to avoid drunk and rowdy humans.
January 7, 2014 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
Glittering jackets, pounding drums and faces covered in bright paints -- welcome to Cape Town's New Year carnival celebrations.
December 20, 2013 -- Updated 1243 GMT (2043 HKT)
A new documentary spotlights the rising wave of talented singers emerging from South Africa's black townships.
December 12, 2013 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
As Kenya celebrates 50 years of independence from British rule, a photo competition shows the country's beauty and heritage.
December 9, 2013 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Many of Burindi's war orphans live on the streets. But a radio presenter has made it her duty to feed as many homeless street children as possible.
December 5, 2013 -- Updated 1110 GMT (1910 HKT)
Africa's cultural festivals celebrate everything from rose harvests to religious saints. Here are five of the best.
Each week Inside Africa highlights the true diversity of the continent as seen through the mediums of art, music, travel and literature.
Today's five most popular stories