Film Review: THE LAST SONG BEFORE THE WAR, 2013.
This film could also be titled the rise and fall of the Festival Au Desert. Conceived as a celebratory documentary about the most remote and exotic music festival held every year since 2001 in the dunes of the Saharan desert. Initially held in Essakane, a rural village in an area associated with the Tuareg culture, and their musical traditions. The existance of the festival was significant in that there had been internal strife in Mali for years. The signing of a peace treaty with the Tuareg separatists had ushered in a conflict-free period which is when the festival began. An imminent Al Qaeda threat caused the festival to move to the desert surrounding Timbuktu in northern Mali where it continued to thrive and attract musicians from all over Africa as well as Grammy Award winning international luminaries such as Robert Plant, Jimmy Buffet and Bono who declared Mali to be the source of rock and roll and the blues.
The interviews with organizers and musicians reveal the extraordinary obstacles which had to be overcome in order to make such an event a reality. Just reaching the location is a challenge without considering the transport of the necessary equipment. But it was a labor of love and passion. Most fabulous is the performance footage and interviews with the musicians. I have spent far too many hours googling the music of these groups. It is mesmerizing and thoroughly intoxicating to see and hear this music and the blissed out audiences in the gorgeous desert night skies.
The tragedy is that before the film was finished it became clear to the filmmakers that there was trouble brewing. While preparations for 2012 were being made armed forces of former Qadaffi fighters came in from the north and reignited the demands for an independent Tuareg state, imposed a ban on the making or playing of music and in one fell swoop ended the peace, the festival, and the film. It is now known as Festival in Exile... and who knows when it will be reborn? There are now 300,000 displaced persons who have fled the violence. It is a total disaster.time
What is abundantly clear is the life-affirming power of music to heal, unite, diffuse differences and create community through the joy of gathering together to create beautiful sounds. It was bringing a measure of hope and relative prosperity to one of the poorest places in Africa as it gained international recognition. It was truly a brief and shining moment. If more people can see the world through such non-politicized eyes, maybe they will be less vulnerable to the powers that feed on dissent, hatred and fear- mongering. We can only hope that the power of music can rear it’s beautiful head again soon.
Review by Belle McIntyre