Despite travelling with companions this time, the trip from London to the refugee camps in the Western Sahara is still long and arduous. On this occasion I am accompanied by my FairTunes collaborator Nick Minton and Danielle Smith from Sandblast. The waiting around drains you more than any work possibly could; forms followed by forms and more forms to fill out, checked and double-checked within seconds of each other. Bureaucracy rules here!
During our predictably dull four-hour wait for a flight to Tindouf in Algiers airport, Danielle called some friends to see if they were around. A couple of hours later and Simir and Towfik appeared with dinner: two whole chickens with bread, washed down with Coca Cola; a dramatic improvement on the airport fodder that Nick had just wasted his money on. Coincidently the Saharawi Minister of Culture, the very person we are working with to build the music school, is also awaiting the same plane.
Eventually we arrive in Tindouf to be collected by my old host Hamdi Tabouli, this time driving an old Mercedes Benz car, which we cram full of everything and head off to the February 27th camp. On arrival we went straight to Hamdi’s new home. It seems since my last visit Hamdi has married and has moved out of his old bachelor pad and is now living with his in-laws. It is clear that Hamdi has stepped up to the mark – his new home is far better equipped for visitors. So, at the end of a long day in transit, we settled down for a well-deserved sleep.
The next morning Hamdi woke us early for breakfast. Unfortunately I didn’t sleep too well as the big cushions I used for a mattress were not as comfortable as they first appeared. No tea ritual either, which is strange as my last trip was one long tea break…
As yet the van we sent from London with the sound equipment hasn’t arrived due to being stuck in customs, with the rest of the 50-vehicle aid convoy, in the port of Oran in northern Algeria. We are hoping to get the van before our trip ends so we can do some recording.
We head out to find Biba and Moufid from the band Tiris who are playing a small concert nearby for some new arrivals from the occupied territories. It was the first time I have seen a full concert in action out here; there were around 100 people – mostly women in the tent dancing and enjoying the wonderful tones coming out of Moufid’s mouth (Moufid seems able to create any noise he wants and is renowned for his ability to recreate any singers voice after hearing it just the once). The musical talents of the rest of the band are top notch as well. It’s really gutting that the van hasn’t arrived as we would be able to upgrade their sound equipment – this is the only thing that lets their music down.
The last time I saw Moufid and Biba was on my last trip in Sept 2010, when I dislocated my collar bone in the sand dunes just before I left. When Moufid sees me he cannot resist mocking me in song about my accident much to the amusement of the audience.
Despite the various other offers we left after the gig and headed back to Hamdi’s, where his wife made lunch for us. On our return Nick realized he had lost his phone so he went back to look for it. In the meantime we called it only to be answered by what sounded like a bunch of kids before they hung up. When he got back Nick cancelled the Sim.
After dinner we were treated to a traditional music performance at a local house. The music was amazing, with the voice being used as another instrument in a way that has been lost in Western music. One of the songs was a conversation between all of the instruments, which became quite comical if you observed the musicians facial expressions. Another song was about jealousy and ageing. The expressions on the female percussionists face really brought out the meaning of the song, somehow breaking down the language barrier. I truly understood the meaning of the song. After a fantastic night of music it was time to call a night on our second day. The group agreed to do a full performance again on the 7th. By then we hope to have a van full of sound equipment to be able to put it to good use.