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Hubert von Goisern in Mali: Waiting for Timbuktu

June 2005 | Text: Hubert von Goisern | Photos: Bernhard Flieher

Hubert von Goisern in MaliMali had been on the bill back in 2002, together with Senegal, Burkina Faso, the Cape Verde islands and the Ivory Coast. But you don't always get what you want, certainly not in Africa. Apart from that, as the Dalai Lama said, "sometimes it's good when you don't get what you want". Or as it says just as appropriately in a song by the Stones?

"you can't always get what you want,
but if you try some, you get what you need"

So at the end of 2004 I got what I needed: an invitation to the Festival au Desert 2005, northwest of Timbuktu, at the beginning of January 2005. At the same time, I wanted (and want) to withdraw in 2005 and 2006 and release myself from everything one understands as "public". On the other hand, at the end of a 5 years touring and production phase, playing my (?) music in the desert of Essakane one last time was too appealing, and I can just go by the Tibetan calendar, where the new year does not begin until February...

When Africa has you, it doesn't let you go.

Africa - cradle of humanity - beginning of everything;
and the end too, because it is said that the end of the world is in Timbuktu.

Africa - it's like a great love that is often not reciprocated (at least so it seems to me); a test for the fortitude of my ideals and dreams, my Utopia of a global, solid, respectful society.

Always when I wrongly believe myself to be at the end of my capacity for love: gifts. Africa is that too.
But I don't want gifts, I want justice. I am also against the "presents" that go to Africa, in the form of weapons, credits, development aid etc - I am not against gifts in general, but when the relationship is not even, the recipient loses their feeling of self worth - they are ashamed and humbled.

We (?) only need to pay appropriate prices for the resources which are stolen every day from this continent (and other Third World countries).

The colonialism and proselytising is like the Third Reich. One is ashamed of others.

Africa - chosen, exploited and bled to death by adventurers, fraudsters and slave traders. In the name of God, in Allah's as in Christ's. Buddha has not (yet) come to Africa. Or has he?

Europe / Munich. At the airport, Air France are the first to hold out their hands. We are 11 passengers and have about 8kg per person too much. Debating doesn't help, despite original promises of not having to pay excess baggage for instruments and equipment, we must cough up €1400. I float the idea of turning around. Embarrassed faces on my travelling companions. I pay. In Mali I discover from holidaymakers (!), who also flew with Air France, that they only had to pay €10 per kg. Memories of my West Africa tour in 2002 surface. There was no accommodation for musicians back then either - on the contrary. The thought occurs that as a non-Francophone artist, one is not wanted in the sovereign territory of the grand nation. For that is how one views West Africa from Paris. Not a nice thought, so I push it aside, there it waits for the next opportunity.

Once we are finally sitting in the aeroplane, I have an unpleasant feeling. I hope that it isn't an omen, but rather just worry. I conquer it. It is the daily conflict with thoughts of security, with comfort, with lethargy ...

After two glasses of red wine I am resigned to my destiny and can now only feel the anticipation of the adventure that lies ahead of me. What comes will come, inshallah - your will be done!

While we glide over the Iberian peninsula in the setting sun, I see Che Guevara's Motorcycle Diaries on the screen in front of me - here too: despite injustice and adversity, the freedom of travelling prevails. So it should.

As we fly over Marrakech, the western horizon is now only an unending long, dark red line over which the seemingly motionless aeroplane hangs. Weightless like my thoughts.

Next morning - Bamako - din, dust, dirt, heat, endless traffic jams. But everyone seems relaxed. I follow their example, slow my steps and also my thoughts.

The first hurdle is to sort out the transport to Timbuktu and on to the festival. Despite arrangements made by phone and in writing, everything is different. The organiser, Mohamed Ali Ansar, presents a bill which goes into thousands of Euros. The festival has no money, sponsors have backed out, the costs are exploding etc. We are in Africa, everything is negotiable, everybody tries to line their own pockets as well as they can.

"All highwaymen and tramps," asserts a European who has lived in Mali for 25 years. I ask him why he's still there. There would be no going back for him. There isn't for anybody. Time and again we must all summon the courage to look forward and to step forward, and to leave something behind us - sometimes the end itself. There are dishonest people everywhere, in every nation, in every class.

Whoever says that poor people are more honest than rich is lying to himself.

It is not dishonourable to have someone over the barrel. You earn respect through dogged bargaining. But I have only just arrived, the climate change, the malaria prophylaxis, the sleep deprivation ... and apart from that, I don't like haggling, in my eyes it is worthless to demand more than necessary and to pay less than demanded.

I am distracted and exhausted. Tiredness and disinterest envelop me. I feel it and see it in Ali's eyes that he is dropping me in it. He knows I've come too far to want to turn round. What should I do? I want to play. And tomorrow the flight goes to Timbuktu I have to decide quickly and so I persuade myself that everything will even out, that there is also a karmic justice in Africa, or something like it. I pay.

One day later. We should actually already be in the air, but a sandstorm came up in the night. It is 10am. I have dropped the malaria prophylaxis and feel better. We hang around in the hotel lobby with our instruments and everything you need to overnight in the desert; water containers, sleeping bags, warm clothes, torches etc.

It should clear in the afternoon. We go to the airport and check in.

The wind and visibility is only imperceptibly better and the Kirghiz pilot refuses to take off. There is hectic telephoning because a government official who is also on the flight doesn't think it's so bad and tries to put pressure on the pilot via some governmental department. Images of Flight of the Phoenix shoot through my head. The pilot evades further discussions by simply going home. I like him.

---

A new day, a new attempt. This time it works. With us in the 30-seater aeroplane are Habib Koite and his musicians. If we crash over the desert, we could start up a super session in Nirvana. The machine is brimful. Pieces of luggage and instruments tower in the luggage rack and between the seats. The Russian flight attendant nevertheless climbs ably over all obstacles with her tray and serves hot tea and coffee. One of the few Europeans asks, with British politeness, for herbal tea, which of course isn't available. The same person is later seen in the desert camp trying in vain to get something vegetarian to eat.

After a one and half hour flight through a red and yellow sky, over a red and yellow landscape without contours, the undercarriage rumbles over the runway of Timbuktu. After another luggage orgy we continue with jeeps. First of all there are more discussions with the drivers wanting the money for their services that has already been taken from us by festival management in Bamako. The next day, we discover that they were fobbed off too. (It's said that suffering shared is suffering halved - and there's something in that.)

Hubert von Goisern's tentThe 70km journey is an experience in itself, there are no roads, just a track and sometimes not even that. The Landcruiser wallows in shifting sands, jumps over dunes, bangs into holes that suddenly appear, whipped by undergrowth we speed past scattered camels, herds of goats and herdsmen. At 2pm we are at our destination. Among the dunes stands a sand-coloured tent city and a little apart from it, the festival stage. We ask around until someone looks after us and allocates the sleeping places, two tents, which each sleep 4 (comfortably) to 5 (uncomfortably) people. But there are 12 of us! Then the next "slaps": although it is planned for the following day, and is likewise communicated on all advertisements, we are to play in 5 hours at 7pm.

I am too exhausted to put up any resistance. So we go to work and set up. The equipment is so desolate that we can only practise damage limitation. It borders on a miracle that my technicians, Spani, Balou and Hannes get the whole lot to play.
The concert itself lasts an hour. It buzzes, hisses, rattles and bangs away, there's always something missing, cutting out again and again, at times the bass, then the vocals or the accordion, we as good as can't hear each other and I needed all my concentration to hold the band together. With the best will in the world, I couldn't enjoy it. It was enough to make you want to run away.

Later in the night, I lie in the sand and look to the stars. It is the same sky as at home, just another detail, it is the same world just another continent. The question of what I'm doing here doesn't arise. I am there. That's the way it is. That's that!
The next day I use the time look around. People approach me, speak to us, both Tuaregs and Europeans, to thank and congratulate us. They thought the music was wonderful and the sound(!) - incredible, it was apparently the best of the whole festival.

Have I the right to be unhappy?

Yes, just as much as I have the right to bang my head against a wall. Nothing comes from it but a bruise.

Nevertheless, during an interview for Mali TV, I don't hold back with my criticism of the organisation. But I am, thank God, not the only one for whom the festival is suspicious. The American singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, as well as Mali's superstars Ali Farka Toure and Salif Keita have not come, despite being prominently advertised. Their names are nevertheless shamelessly advertised to the very last.
Only Marlene, my violinist, is unreservedly keen. But that's probably down to the fact that wherever she appears, half a dozen Tuaregs lie at her feet, one carries her bag, one her violin, one brings her food ...

The high point of the final evening is Desert Blues, a kind of Mali Allstar band with Habib Koite. Music like the landscape from which it grew - soft, repetitive, and yet always lightly varied, seemingly endless melodic arcs, performed with natural virtuosity and musical passion.

The next morning at sunrise we dismantle the tent and back we go through the disorienting landscape to Timbuktu.

At the airport, Ali Ansar confronts me with an additional demand. €200 still has to be paid for spirits. Now my chain breaks. I get an interpreter and have it repeatedly translated that I consider him a fraudster, dishonest and incompetent, and that he is a disgrace to the festival, his country and his people ... Without contradiction, he forgoes any further money and says he is too exhausted to want to discuss it any further and moves away in a sulk. As we go across the taxiway to the plane a little later, he holds his hand out to me with a smile, thanks me and wishes me a good journey. Astonishingly, a light-footed "au revoir" escapes me. See you again?

---

Bamako - I lie on the bed and listen. Street sounds, sheep bleating, the buzz of the air-conditioning, a train goes past ... disappointment in my heart, exhaustion in my limbs, blankness in my mind. When we entered the air-conditioned airport hall in Bamako, the bassist from the Desert Blues band, a local, said: "back to civilisation, thank God!" I don't share his relief. I would love to have remained up in the desert. But we still have another three days in Mali. This can't be it yet. Annoyed, I turn the air-conditioning off and get up. As I look out of the window at the street traders I have an idea, or rather, I have two. I ring the number of the Austrian consul.

A little later at the bar, over a glass of Pastice, I ask him to organise a club in which we could play the evening after next, without a fee, just for food and drink. And - I want to meet Kele Tigi, the brilliant balaphone player and excellent violinist. He had attracted my attention at the festival, on the return flight we sat next to each other and exchanged a few words. He lives in Bamako and I want to ask him to play with us.

The next morning, we embark on our search. We ask around until we reach his house. We talk a little about the key and tuning of the instruments. Both, his balaphone and my accordion too, are diatonic. I begin to play a Steirer - he pricks up his ears, listens a while and out of nothing begins to play the craziest things to it, it works like a dream. He agrees to come to "Akwaba" the next evening and asks if there is a fee, he has 40 people to support. I tell him no, we are not getting paid either, but I promise to come up with something.

It was a wonderful evening. Even Mali TV came and recorded the concert. And at the end when we gave Kele a mutton as a present, which he took home with him strapped to his instrument in the open boot of his taxi, the final tension released. Finally something like accord and harmony with the country which we had already been travelling for ten days.

After a very short night it came to packing and departure.

The goodbye meal took place in a restaurant with live music. And there, unexpectedly, what I have always dreamed of happened. We were just paying and making a move when completely unspectacularly and almost incidentally, an unbelievable band began to play. They played a blues like I have never heard before and which was yet at the same time so familiar and expressed exactly what I was feeling. All my worries, hopes, joys and doubts became sounds. Without thinking, I unpacked my accordion one last time, went to the microphone and embraced the whole world singing and dancing.

Au revoir - I'll be coming again!

Hubert von Goisern

P.S. Sand or snow, dunes or glacial ice - Tuaregs or Saamis, camels or reindeer, heat or cold - everything has an opposite and an equal. Everything is rhizomatous - scattered but hanging together, connected to each other.

You find sand from the Sahara in the Dachstein glacier too - accordingly, our music in the desert; like a scattered seed which only briefly shows its bloom in one night.

I want to go back there! I want to go to Mali again. That can't have been it.

I don't know when and under which circumstances - perhaps new seeds were sown, by us or within us - and are just waiting for a few drops of water;

Water of curiosity,
Water of affection,
Water of friendship,
Water of love.

P.P.S.: Warten auf Timbuktu (Waiting for Timbuktu) is also the name of the film of our adventure in Mali. It will be out in the autumn.


Timbuktu

Appendix: Timbuktu - or, as it is written here: Tombouctou, lay not too long ago by the Niger river, which now runs 15km south. Loam-smeared, two-storey houses, built directly onto the sand, which also serves as the floor on the bottom storey. Three mosques, the oldest of which was built in 1325, serve as orientation when exploring the confusing, narrow, crooked alleys, through which motorbikes without number plates meander from time to time, even one car or another rumbles through the sleepy city.

For centuries Timbuktu was the centre of learning and trade, point of departure and terminal for all the caravans through the Sahara, collection point for the goods which came from the far north of the great desert, from the Mediterranean countries, as well as goods from central Africa. In the 11th century, the area was converted by the Almoravides (Islamic reformists) and Muslim dealers.

At the high point of the kingdom of Mali, in 1224, the regent at that time, "Kankan (Mansa) Moussa", went on a pilgrimage, a Hajj to Mecca. With no fewer than 60,000 men, each loaded with a gold bar, he moved northeast. In Cairo he paid the Sultan a visit and spent some much gold that the Egyptian gold market completely fell apart and needed 10 years to recover. So it is no wonder that 150 years ago, the story went that houses in Timbuktu were gilded inside and out. Attracted by such stories, there were time and again attempts by European adventurers and travellers to penetrate Timbuktu.

The first to manage it was a Scot: Major Alexander Gordon Laing. As boldly as arrogantly, he reached the city steeped in legend in 1826, in British uniform, with silk stockings, white breeches and a gold braided jacket, he stayed a few weeks and was killed on his return journey by nomadic Tuaregs, who supposedly felt threatened when he went bird-hunting with his rifle.

In the meantime, the French geographical society promised 10,000 Francs to he who managed to make it to Timbuktu. One who wanted to know it was René Chaillié, he spent 9 months on the Senegal river in order to study the Koran and Arabic and reached his destination - "a depressing city of badly built loam huts" - disguised as a Muslim in 1828. Back in Paris, he was on the one hand showered with honours, but they did not want to believe his achievement, as it did not fit with the romantic world view at that time. Sceptics even alleged that he had never even been in Timbuktu. He died, not yet 40 years old, from the strains of the journey.

Heinrich Barth, a German in the service of the British government, also brought personal tidings from Timbuktu, which he reached in September 1853, in the course of his 5 year crossing of the Sahara. He stayed 8 months, learned Tamashek, the language of the Tuaregs, studied the old Arabic writings that lie in the Koran schools and finally by a miracle escaped an assassination attempt by a group of fighters. When their leader suddenly and mysteriously died just before the assassination, nobody dared question Barth's presence any more. His reputation is untouched to this day and the house in which he lived is now a museum.

HvG

Where the desert shakes

Salzburger Nachrichten (Part 1) 7th January 2005 | Text: Bernhard Flieher

Hubert von Goisern is on his way to the world's most distant festival:
The "Festival au Désert" in Essakane in the south Sahara

Bamako (SN). By Austrian proportions, Mali's capital Bamako seems to be in the middle of nowhere. But even from here it goes out further into nowhere: "Oh, in the north. That's far, really, really far. Over 1000 kilometres," says Lamine Seck, who earns his money as a street hawker on Grande Marche in Bamako. In his voice resonates awe and respect for this plan. There, where only a few residents of Bamako go in their lifetime, Hubert von Goisern is going. To Essakane. It's about 70 kilometres north of Timbuktu.

You need about five hours for this 70 kilometres, they say in Bamako. On Sunday, the Goiserer will perform at the Festival au Désert in Essakane. Around 5000 people are expected - and that in a region where barely anyone could travel a few years ago without the danger of being ambushed: The fact that the Sahara lives and shakes again through the festival, has its seeds in an international cooperation which the EU and UNESCO are part of.

The Tuareg are around a million people, who for centuries have lived as nomads in the Sahara in the national territories of Algeria, Niger, Libya, and Mali. After drought catastrophes in the 70s and 80s, they suffered under corrupt governments. International help seeped away long before it arrived in the Sahara.

Music festival with camel races

The Tuareg, once feared as masters of the Sahara, struggled. The following five year civil war lasted until the mid 90s and transformed the region in north Mali into a war zone. In 1996 the government in Bamako promised the construction of the infrastructure, and the traditional tribe meeting "Temakannit", which had been banned during the war, could take place again. Some Tuaregs had the idea of the festival, at which, besides music, there is also a handcrafts market, camel races and tribe rituals. And if they are doing it for Mali, why not for the whole world?

In previous years, Manu Chao, Damon Albarn from Blur and Robert Plant are among those who have been invited. Last year, a CD and a DVD (Harmonia Mundi/Lotus Records) were released of the 2003 festival. Both project an intense atmosphere of the middle of nowhere and the power of music. The performances by the regional stars like Tinariwen, Tartit, Oumou Sangare or the great blues man Ali Farka Toure are above all impressive. They are - like other stars from Mali, for example Afel Boccum, Salif Keita and Habib Koite - there every year.

Mali has long been on the agenda for Hubert von Goisern: the chance for the journey offered itself last autumn. The ORF planned a documentary about the festival. With Goisern as a guest in Essakane, the interest in Austria should have been kindled. The ORF culture editorial department's plans were thwarted by finances.

Hubert von Goisern got the journey off the ground himself with his Munich management Blanko Musik. "It's a unique chance," says Goisern. With the band (Bernd Bechtloff, Arnulf Lindner, Max Lässer and Marlene Schuen), he will play around an hour of the Trad tour programme in Essakane. The Goiserer played about 100 concerts last year with these folk songs. But it's not about presenting your own music, say Lindner and Bechtloff. It's the opportunity to silence the curiosity about a mysterious and, at least in image, wild, nomadic culture.

St. Anton in the Sahara

Salzburger Nachrichten (Part 2) 15th January 2005 | Text: Bernhard Flieher | Photo: SN / Heinz Bayer

From the glacier into the desert:
Hubert von Goisern's "Trad" tour ends with conflicting impressions at the Festival au Desert" in the Sahara dunes

Hubert von Goisern

Mali. At the edge of the city, where the mythical little town of Timbuktu becomes desert, the driver stops. He still hasn't got any benzine money, he says. That was already paid in Bamako, and directly to the director of the festival too, answers an increasingly provoked Hubert von Goisern. Transport costs were negotiated for two days in Bamako, and now, just before the end, the "Festival au Desert" in the Tuareg village of Essakane, it all starts up from the beginning again. Could well be, but he wasn't given the money, says the driver. The bargaining continues.

The journey is a "works outing". The recordings for Trad II began in 2003 on Krippenstein, then an extensive tour followed. In December, the troupe, which had accompanied Hubert von Goisern in 2004 through one of the most successful years, at more than a hundred concerts, went their separate ways.

The Goiserer called everyone together again for Mali. But what sounds like the departure into distant musical worlds, develops at the scene into a disillusioning adventure, even for the Africa-experienced troupe.

The music moves into the background. The Goisern concert in the desert is a "combat appearance" due to desolate technology and overworked technicians. The boundaries between desert and alpine valleys seldom open. Then arise the magical moments that were hoped for.

Native artists also stand at the side. The stage lies idyllically in the dunes, but a few hundred metres away from the actual festival area. The appearances seem like a foreign body in the tourism-suited presented culture of the Tuaregs.

The fact that countless natives are delighted by the Goiserer's show, helps little. Just a weak consolation that "mistakes probably help you one further than successes", as the Goiserer says.

Nevertheless, some contact with musicians results after the return to the capital. At a self-organised concert in Bamako, the Goiserer party plays with Mali's balaphone star Kele-Tigi.

"Fleeced like a tourist in St. Anton"

The memories of the circumstances are not extinguished by it. "To be fleeced like a tourist in St. Anton, I don't like it there or here," says percussionist Bernd Bechtloff.

At an interview with the state TV broadcaster ORTM, Hubert von Goisern similarly vents his annoyance with the Austrian EU representative Irene Horejs in Mali. The EU was also a sponsor of this festival until last year. Continuing the traditional Tuareg meeting and "if at all, to organise a music festival in Timbuktu," von Goisern recommends. "This place with its great history, is in the middle of nowhere, and you don't have to necessarily press forward from there."

After the festival in 2003, documented on CD and DVD, Essakane was advertised massively in Europe and became mysterious legend due to its isolation. But every myth is lost when you get close. "The Tuareg know how you go to the loo in the desert, but the visitors don't," comments the Goiserer on the sanitation, that stinks to the heavens. Considering the admission fee of 300 Euros, the accommodation and shabby supplies are "a joke".

Artists are also advertised, who never appear. This year, Mali's king of blues Ali Farka Touré was announced. He told a journalist shortly before the festival, that he had "never thought" about coming to Essakane.

Desert blues under a starry sky

Despite growing public interest, the organisation has not change its infrastructure. "Lots of people want to make quick money there," says Foussouri Traore, who predicts an early end to the festival. He is a studio and label owner in Bamako and earlier offered his sound equipment to the festival.

Habib Koite, one of Mali's big international stars, agrees. Nevertheless, Koite took the strains upon himself. And with the Mali supergroup, Desert Blues, led by him and Afel Boccum, the festival at least experienced an impressive end. The rough blues under the starry sky lets you believe for a few moments that everything could be good. The next morning, the price for the long paid return from the desert must be haggled again.

Sky above the glacier sand

Salzburger Nachrichten (Part 3) 29th January 2005 | Text: Bernhard Flieher

Between faltering organisation and zest for action from frustration: Hubert von Goisern and his band experience the free-fall of overpowering expectations and the liberating felicity of spontaneous meetings in Mali.

Wolfgang Spannberger turns his back to the stage and looks into the white dunes. His tired eyes ask: "What am I doing here?" He should let Hubert von Goisern's concert at the Festival au Désert in Essakane in northern Mali sound out - as perfectly as possible, if it goes according to him. The chasm between justified requirement, earned respect and unexpected sobering reality crackles, creaks and clicks out of every speaker during the one hour performance.

Spannberger, who has been von Goisern's co-producer and meticulous master of sound for years, turns and pushes at the mixing desk knobs, perspiring, to limit the damage. But nothing fits together here. "Because of great concentration, where we are in the song, and the effort to hold everything together, I couldn't enjoy anything here," says Hubert von Goisern. A couple of hours after the show, he sits in the cold Sahara night in front of the tent in which he is accommodated with his band. A couple of Tuaregs and a couple of tourists from Bavaria and Switzerland come past and say it was wonderful. Percussionist Bernd Bechtloff says it was a "combat appearance". A second and third Castel, the local beer, don't help anything either. Tiredness, exhaustion and the disappointment about the desperate organisational conditions, under which had to be played here, mix together to a slightly depressive mood.

The clear, starry sky above the desert, the epitome of the remoteness one craves at home which promises adventure and new insight, doesn't help. The windy expanse, the soft serenity of the dunes and the thoughts, that behind all the sand, a few thousand kilometres away, only then does the Mediterranean bring change, don't help either. The end of a long tour was a sociologically interesting field excursion because of the possibility for an approximation of the culture of the nomadic Tuaregs. Artistically, nothing went as Hubert von Goisern and his band had hoped.

The same sand as on the Dachstein glacier

Two years ago, the Goiserer sent for the same troupe - Bernd Bechtloff, Arnulf Lindner, Max Lässer and Marlene Schuen - on the Dachstein glacier. When the wind from Africa blows north, it carries the Sahara sand even up to this glacier. The snow shimmers red. In the abandoned mountain hotel on the Krippenstein, they recorded Trad II, the second Goisern album on which he brought his versions of old folk songs from the Salzkammergut into the present.

The guest appearance at Festival au Désert was the conclusion of a journey that began on a glacier. On the Trad tour, von Goisern and band played around 100 concerts last year. It was the most successful tour since the time of the Alpinkatzen in the early 90s.

With a band who instinctively understand his ideas and with whom he musically created the quintessence of his work so far, he wanted to show in the desert what is to be understood by alpine world music. "You need a framework when you are travelling with a band," says the Goiserer of the necessity for organisation - and he says it also of the dependence on a functioning organisation on site. This "organisation" and this "framework" certainly oppose the idea of the spontaneous meetings, stays and watching. Those who travel alone speed up or slow down their tempo at will. Those who have a mandate must fulfil it - or climb down. Or hope. Or grit your teeth through all adversities. Despite an invitation to Festival au Désert, long-negotiated accommodation and transport costs had to be haggled again and again on site. As it turned out, names were advertised for the festival that never wanted to come in the first place - for example, the big blues man Ali Farka Touré and the US jazz diva Dee Dee Bridgewater. "Possibly, it's our expectations that are the mistake," says von Goisern in the bar of the Hotel Relais after the return to Bamako. It is his ninth trip to Africa and he says, "I really must have known what was coming to me."

The myth of a festival in the desert, in the domain of a mysterious nomadic culture, the hope of being able to deal with like-minded travellers, with searchers - that together lets dream and reality melt together for those who know too. From European distance, the remoteness of Essakane as the festival location makes it legendary. But each myth loses its strength as you approach. "The myth is very often the enemy of truth," said John F. Kennedy.

Mali had been on the Goiserer's agenda for a long time. And with the length of an idea, grow the expectations. "Perhaps they are the problem," he says again. The fact that the disappointment has already diminished on the return to the airport in Bamako is not to be noticed at this moment.

Musical journey into a backyard

On the flight back out of the desert, musicians from Mali were also on board. "Back to civilisation. Brilliant," says Abdoul Wahab Berthé in the arrivals hall. He plays bass for Habib Koite, one of the stars in Mali. When they see it this way, then it can't be western arrogance which accounts for the annoyance. "It can't have been that," says the Goiserer and from the annoyance comes zest for action. No wonder, for someone who calls himself an "incorrigible optimist".

What arose from sporadic contact at the edge of the festival should at least enable one or another musical meetings in the remaining days in Bamako.

The next day, the Austrian honorary consul Peter Klein drives through a residential quarter south of the city centre. We ask our way and end up in a backyard. It smells of soot and cooked rice. During the visit to Kele Tigi, whom they just call "Maestro" here in Mali, because he expertly masters the balaphone like no other, the wind, which had hitherto whirled this journey so hard, turns.

Two which like each other: balaphone and "squeezebox"

The Goiserer squeezes a "Steirer" out of the accordion. Kele Tigi listens, picks up his balaphone hammers and joins in. The soft sound from the brusque mountain valley and the resounding sound of the balaphone mix together naturally. A day later, Kele Tigi also looks in on a spontaneously organised concert (which was the true, worthy conclusion of the Trad tour) in Club Akwaba. An appearance was also contrived at a primary school right by the hotel round the corner. For an hour on this morning, 200 schoolchildren have a new lesson: watching Austrians and listening to alpine world music. The band disappears behind a wall of cheering children. All are smiling.

And when everything seems wrapped up, the suitcases are packed and the frustration from the desert has dissolved, the Goiserer troupe almost miss their return flight. At the goodbye dinner in Café Thierry, the band for Ngoni player Basekou Kouyate - a member of Ali Farka Touré's band - beguile them with desert blues. Hubert von Goisern goes up on stage, improvises and unpacks the accordion. "We really must go to the airport now," says the honorary consul. The band says goodbye with a nod. In this nod lies all the respect one can have when something great has happened. "I'll come again," says the Goiserer and accepts Kouyate's visiting card.