Monday, 17 December 2012


Normally in Bamako on the weekend we go to a party or out for dinner. But this time we decided to do something a bit different - we went to the Tuareg Cultural Centre for a fashion show and concert. Once we got there we found we'd been misinformed - not a fashion show, but a play, and then a concert. But it was still a wonderful opportunity to step into another world.

Outside, the centre is unpreposessing - it's a metal door with a small awning, with 'Tumast' written in Roman and Tamazigh script. But inside you step into a huge mauritanian style tent - not really a tent, actually it has a thatched roof, but the cloth walls and the leatherwork and silver and other Tuareg symbols that make up the walls give it that feel straight away. There's no alcohol, but we had shots of the strong Sahel tea, and as we were the first people there - only half an hour late, rather than an hour and a half, like everyone else, we had some brochettes with the director. He told us a little about the centre, how it had grown from twenty years ago when only a handful of Tuareg families lived in Bamako, rather than the hundreds there now, and a lot about about his interactions with journalists. Particular ire was reserved for La Nouvelle Observateur, whose journalist allegedly claimed to have met the MNLA there.

After eating, we made our way back to the tent, where other people had started to arrive, and curled up on seats around the back ready for the show. When it came, I didn't follow all of it, but what I did follow was funny, about an inept king and his equally inept advisors, and the mix of French and little Tamazigh interjections was fun to listen to. Then, after the show, the concert began, a group down from Kidal, playing exiled music, banned by Ansar Dine in their homeland.

Sitting in the back of the tent, watching the music and the people, I felt like a child at a wedding - curled up in a corner, watching the grownups in the beautiful clothes, safely invisible. First two people, then many more, got up to dance, women and men in rows opposite one another, moving slowly to the music, all in the most amazing costumes. For the men: boubous and some in turbans, and for the women: some in Bazin boubous - a Bamako style - but lots in the more traditional Tuareg costume, consisting, for women, of a long, transparent piece of cloth wrapped an improbable number of times around the body and somehow held in place over the head. I have one from when my family visited Tamanrasset, in Algeria, which I use to cover a chair, but when I've tried, a few times, to wear it the way they do I've always failed to figure out how it works.

Too many people over-romanticise the Tuareg - wild blue men of the desert, and all that - but it's very, very easy to do.

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