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Last Updated: Friday, 30 January, 2004, 16:22 GMT
In pictures: Festival in the Desert 2004
Gateway to the festival
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In January Mali's nomadic Tuareg tribes opened their annual gathering to outsiders. The fourth "Festival in the Desert" was hosted in Essakane, a Saharan oasis 65km from Timbuktu. (Words and photos: Judy Pointon, Peter King)
Camels and Tuareg nomads wait for the start of the festival
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Over 2,000 people and dozens of camels waited in the heat for Mali's celebrated film-maker and Minister of Culture, Cheick Oumar Sissoko, to open the three-day event.
Camels carry salt tablets brought from the salt mines in Taoudenni, northern Mali, for the opening ceremony
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The minister finally arrived - three hours later than scheduled - accompanied by a caravan of camels carrying salt tablets brought from the salt mines in Taoudenni, northern Mali.
Camel race
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Camel races kept the audience entertained...
Tuareg musicians
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But for most people music was the highlight of the festival. Throughout the day impromoptu performances by Tuareg musicians drifted across the dunes.
Malian musician Ali Farka Toure
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And the hypnotic rhythms performed by Malian musicians such as Ali Farka Toure, Habib Koite and Oumou Sangare captivated the audience until the early hours.
Malian musician Afel Bocoum (l) accompanied by British musician Damon Albarn (r)
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International artists Damon Albarn and Manu Chao also made the long journey to perform at the event. But neither stole the stage, leaving the spotlight for their Malian hosts.
Sun sets over Sahara
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Festival organisers hope that it will "promote northern Mali and show that this is a peaceful region".


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