Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Festival in the Desert [World Village, 2003]
Ali Farka Toure aside, the Mali we know is southwestern Mali. Bamako and Wassoulou, Keita and Sangare and Tounkara, all look west to Dakar and the Francophone world outside. This three-day festival takes place well north of Timbuktu, deep in a Sahara where the sand is as fine as flour and Algeria-identified Berber Tamasheks bore arms against Bamako for 30 years before they were finally placated a decade ago. So though Oumou is the soul of grace and kora master Ballaké Sissoko duets nicely with an Italian pianist, though European groups and even some Navajos check in, most of the artists are locals who arrived by Toyota or camel, and most I'd never heard of--not even the rapturous, woman-dominated Tartit. Lots of male gutturals, lots of female ululations, lots of hard chanting, lots of drums, lots of stringed instruments that might as well be drums--and yes, a few blue notes. A-