The Rhythms of the ‘Festival Au Desert’ 2019

Several members of Tamikrest, a blues group

July 10, 11 & 12: FESTIVAL AU DESERT. Cascine Park, Florence. Free admission.

It may seem like Florence is already feeling the heat of the desert, but now, the city will be treated to the corresponding sounds: the Festival au Desert, a diverse, multifaceted affair devoted to Arab language and music, is back for the 10th time to celebrate the manifold traditions and identities in Arab culture.

The annual event creates a space for something that does not happen frequently enough in this turbulent European political climate — appreciation for the cross-cultural exchange that immigration from Africa to Europe makes possible. Besides this emphasis on the reciprocal relationship between the two continents, there will be a more specific focus on the evolution of African and Arab music, and the way in which their traditional musical practices and modern rhythms are intertwined. 

Several big names are invited: the Morroccan musician Majid Bekkas, the American drummer Hamid Drake, and the Sardinian saxophonist Gavino Murgia. In addition to these individual acts, a number of musical groups are invited: among these there is a blues group, Tamikrest, and an interdisciplinary troupe, Almar’à

Tamikrest, performing July 12, is the musical group that epitomizes the style of desert blues, the African genre that is held to have inspired the birth of American blues. The members of the band all have roots among the Tuareg people, a traditionally nomadic Berber ethnic confederation that populates the Sahara Desert. In the past, they’ve used their music to draw attention to riots and unrest affecting their community. 

Almar’à, performing July 11, is an all-female group, composed of 13 artists of Arab and Mediterranean origins. There are Syrian, Tunisian, Turkish, Algerian and Egyptian members, coming not only from a variety of ethnic backgrounds but a variety of musical experiences and careers as well (rappers, classical musicians, singers, etc). The group’s name, in Arabic, translates to dignified women. This is the first group of its kind (female as well as multiethnic) to be formed in Italy.

Almar’à was founded thanks to Fabbrica Europa, the organization behind the scenes of this entire event. Established in 1994, and supported by the European Union, the foundation exists to create spaces that facilitate artistic and multicultural connection. (emma hempstead)