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Mali > Culture and festivals > Events and festivals

Cutural Attractions in Mali. The Festival in Desert and the Festival on the Niger are among the most attractive events of the cultural life in Mali and in Western Africa.


The Festival in Desert is held every January in the North of Mali. It was first a traditional Tuareg festival.  

The Tuareg, also known as "Blue Men of the Desert", are Berber nomads from the south of the Sahara. They have a longstanding tradition of annual meetings. These meetings allow them to reconnect with each other after the nomadic season, have fun (songs, dances, poetries, camel rides and other games), but also to join families, settle quarrels, and deal with all matters of mutual interest. 

In 2001, such a meeting of Tuaregs from Mali with European musicians opened the doors to the Festival in Desert in its present form. The original Tuareg festival is now opened to the external world and welcomes artists and musicians from other African countries and the rest of the world.


     Festival in Desert   The Festival in Desert is also a way to celebrate “The Flame of Peace”, a ceremony in which 3000 firearms were publicly burned in 1996 in Timbuktu to state the reconciliation between the nomadic and sedentary communities of the southern Sahara.

The Festival, which is also a way to develop the local economic activity, is a very colourful musical and cultural festival.

On the right hand side:
Festival in Desert    © Flykr


Attending the three-day festivities is a magic and unforgettable experience. However, it is highly recommended to book both ticket and transportation and to travel safely with an expert guide and/or driver.


The Festival takes place either in Essakane or, more recently, in the outskirts of Timbuktu. Essakane is a small oasis situated about 70 km (more than a 2 hour drive) from Timbuktu. Desert temperatures in January are hot during the day (~35 C / 85 F), but can be quite cold at night (~5 C / 55 F). There is no hotel in Essakane. Accommodations consist of Tuareg tents. Timbuktu is a large city with a rich history. It is a World Heritage Site (Unesco). For safety reasons, the festival were hosted last years in the outskirts of Timbuktu. 


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The Festival on the Niger is another important cultural event in Mali. It is a music and dance festival which has been held in Segou every February since 2005. 


Segou is the second largest city in Mali and a former colonial center. It was the capital of the Bambara Empire in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is also known also as the city of “Balanzan”, named after the local Acacia tree. 


Segou is located on the Niger River in south-central Mali, about 240 kilometres (148 mi) northeast of Bamako. The region is famous for its traditional music and dance. 


The Festival on the Niger, also known as Segou Festival, offers a unique spectacle, with music and dance of local and West-African artists who play on the Niger river.

The program of the Festival gives a primordial importance to artistic expressions that form the cultural heritage of the region.

While the presence of  West African stars contributes to the international success of the event, the doors are also opened to young, promising artists. 
  Festival on the Niger                     © Flykr


The Festival is also an opportunity of cross-border cultural meetings. Art expositions and handicrafts workshops on the banks of the river are also part of the event. Tales and legends which play a so important role in education and social life in Africa are related by story-tellers, accompanied by musicians, actors or puppets. The whole festivities last up to 6 days.


The Festival on the Niger is a must for cultural travellers to Western Africa. If you land at night in Bamako, you‘d probably better spend the first night in the capital. 


festival au désert in essakane or timbuktu, january
festival on the niger, ségou, february

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Mali : Events and festivals