The art and music of the Sahara

My photos show textiles and other artefacts from a wonderful collection that celebrates the art of the Sahara. A major geographic and cultural barrier, the Sahara is the world's largest hot desert and the second largest desert of any type after Antarctica. Following the Islamic conversion of West Africa in the seventh and eighth centuries important trade routes opened-up across the Sahara connecting North Africa and Europe with sub-Saharan Africa using Berber guides who also supplied camels.

One of the earliest trading routes connected the Senegal and Mali regions south of the Sahara to Sijilmasa in southern Morocco and then on to Marrakech and to European Moorish al-Andalus. As well as transporting gold and slaves north the route also became a very early communications channel along which cultural influences travelled and my photos show exhibits in the remarkable museum recording the multi-cultural development of the Sahara region which was created in Marrakech by the Dutch anthropologist Bert Flint.

Flint was born in Groningen in Holland in 1931 and after studying Islamic and Hispanic art and culture moved to Marrakech in 1957 where he taught art while continuing to study Andalusian-Arab culture. Over the years his focus increasingly turned to rural culture and he built up an important collection of artefacts from the Saharan region through his extensive travels which reached as far as Mali to the south of the Sahara.

In 1981 Bert Flint opened his private collection in a beautifully restored riad, the Maison Tiskiwin, to the public, and it is there that my photos were taken. In 2006 he donated the riad and the major part of his collection to the city of Marrakech and the museum is now administered by the University of Marrakech as a wonderful antidote to the 'lifestyle tourism' that is in danger of submerging the city.

Now playing - The Mandé Variations by Toumani Diabaté; brought up in Bamako, capital of Mali, and son of one of the country's leading griot musicians Toumani Diabaté is one of the best known exponents of the twenty-one string African harp known as the kora. Griot musicians are part of an oral tradition which also includes the storytellers of Morocco who featured in an earlier article here. In recent years Toumani Diabaté has been responsible for the emergence of the kora from ensemble to solo instrument, and this move continues with The Mandé Variations which lay Western pop, Indian classical, flamenco and blues over a foundation of Malian griot music. As a member of the harp family the sound of the kora is not alien to Western ears which means this album is an excellent and accessible introduction to the musical art of the Sahara region.

Judith Weir wrote an opera set in the desert. OK, I know Verdi did as well.
Photos (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


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