The word ‘nomad’ might make us dream about freedom, but in the southern Sahara it actually describes a man locked in a pitiless and epic struggle against drought, locusts and oblivion. The scrubland of the Azawak, an immense and table-flat plain in the northwestern corner of Niger, is home to two nomadic peoples, the Touareg and the Woodabé, who have been intimate with this daily existential grind for centuries.
Yabous Productions, the non-profit Palestinian organisation behind the Jerusalem festival, has been organizing cultural events in Jerusalem and the West Bank since 1995. After the second intifada started in 2001, they were one of the few cultural organisations in Palestine to survive the Israeli crackdown. Their small offices in Arabic East Jerusalem buzz with activity on the day before Awj’s opening concert.
What I find extraordinary about a camera, is that you can film people that seem to be so far from you, culturally speaking, and thanks to the emotion that your work expresses, you can relive certain emotions through them and make them appear extremely close. And it’s clear that you need time to do that. If you want to understand a culture, you need to understand the language; you need to live in that culture.
Once a guitarist himself, Socklo now makes about 2 to 3 instruments per week, with the help of a couple assistants, in a clapboard shed in the Lembas district of this enormous teeming city. Tools are rudimentary; no workbench, no electric jigsaws, drills or shape cutters, just a heap of hammers, chisels, planes, saws and anvils made from recycled ordnance, all lying at the feet of the kind-faced Socklo while he sits and patiently fashions his artisanal wonders on his lap.
It’s this gentle yet luminous spirituality that makes Cheikh Lo’s music so unique, injecting its boundary-busting mix of Cuban, Congolese, Senegalese mbalax and international pop flavours with a tender fire that banishes sentimentality or the empty pop formula. Lo is now 50 years old and philosophical about the time it’s taken him to deliver ‘Lamp Fall’, the ‘difficult’ third album, whose title is synonymous with the Baye Fall’s revered founder.
Look at Omar in his sheer white body-length jellabiya and gingham keffiya, with his Arab hitman shades and AoE tache, looking like a flesh and blood version of Sheik Yerbouti’s Yahoo Avatar; Omar the hillbilly from Hicksville, Syria, who sings with a voice like a chainsaw and has taken old music and mashed it into…