Various Artists Le Festival au Desert Review

Released 2003.  

BBC Review

'The Best Live Album Ever? I'll settle for putting it in the top five for now, and let...

Charlie Gillett 2003

This album was recorded at a music festival staged in the Sahara near Timbuktu in Mali at the beginning of 2003.Among its catalysts are members of the French group, LoJo, their manager Philip Blix, and Andy Morgan of the Bristol-based label, Apartment 22 Records, who wrote the sleeve notes.After listening to the album as I drove in the rain to WOMAD Reading in July, I was inspired to declare on air that it was among the best live albums ever made.Which means it stands up against James Brown Live at the Apollo (1962), Bob Dylan Live at the Albert Hall (1966) and The Who Live at Leeds (1970).

The sound quality is astonishingly good.It has all the best elements of a studio recording but with an extra dimension of music floating across open space, entirely different from the sound you get from an enclosed theatre, where the home listener is always conscious of having a second-hand experience.When we hear a shouted reaction from the audience, it is not because they know the song but because they are being affected by a vocal infection or a moment of instrumental virtuosity.And when the audience claps along in rhythm, they hit the beats in time.Bliss.

If you are a converted believer in the mystical magic of Malian music, you may know some of these performers already Ali Farka Touré, Oumou Sangare, Tartit, Tinariwen and Afel Bocoum have all had albums releasedin Europe.But I don't think this record requires any prior experience in order to enjoy it;the singers and musicians make their own rules, drawing you in, and the unknown names make as much impact as the famous.

Bamako rapper Django transforms LoJo's "Jah Kas Cool Boy", Adama Yalombo from Segou in Southern Mali makes his guitar sound like a kora on "Politique", and French rap group Kwal sound right at home with local musicians on "Le Juge Ment".My only gripe is I wish Robert Plant would not sing baby so many times;it was ridiculous when he was 25 and is even more absurd now he's coming up to 60.But the man can sing, and guitarist Justin Adams reminds us how African the sound of the blues always was.

The Best Live Album Ever?I'll settle for putting it in the top five for now, and let time decide its final position.

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