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Caravan for Peace concert seeks to inspire music listeners to change

| Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Caravan for Peace
Malian blues-guitarist Mamadou Kelly
Susana Millman
Mali singer Leila Gobi

Chris Nolan doesn't think it's reasonable to suggest, as some artists of the '60s and '70s implied, that music can change the world.

“I think it is more realistic to say that music can bring attention to a situation, and it can, by repetition, change thought patterns,” says the organizer and producer of the Festival in the Desert Caravan for Peace concert, which stops Sept. 16 at the Thunderbird Cafe, Lawrenceville. The festival is normally held near Timbuktu in Mali, but the instability of the region has sent many of the region's musicians into exile.

It features Malian blues-guitar ace Mamadou Kelly, formerly of the legendary Ali Farka Toure's All-Stars, and Leila Gobi, a Tuareg singer who also plays guitar, djembe, balafon and tinde. Pittsburgh's Afro-Brazilian rhythm kings Batamba will open the 8 p.m. show.

What music can do is affect people who then go and make changes to the world, Nolan says. “Music has the power to viscerally affect people so that their perceptions or awareness may change.”

The Caravan presents a plea for peace and tolerance while showcasing the artistry of African musicians who felt forced to flee their region because of civil war and the imposition of a law by extremists which outlawed music.

The 2013 festival in the Sahara desert had to be canceled. Begun in 2001, it was seen as a dynamic meeting place of traditional nomadic Malian music and emerging musical groups and styles from throughout Africa and Europe. U2's Bono and Robert Plant have been among stellar guests in the past.

Organizers decided that if they couldn't bring people to the festival, they would deliver a taste of the fest to the people.

“It is gratifying to see so many people come to see the musicians, listen to their stories and connect to the music so directly,” Nolan says. “Our objective to keep mention of the situation in the western Sahara in the conversation has been a success. One person can make a difference by educating themselves about what is going on in the world beyond the borders of the USA and putting themselves in other people's situation.”

A solid night of entertainment awaits those coming out to the Pittsburgh show, he says.

“This show is for anyone who loves music and wants to hear some exceptional musicians ply their craft. You won't be disappointed,” Nolan says. “The artists do not take political positions. Their music is their work.”

While this certainly is a way for people to broaden their musical tastes, Nolan adds: “Don't be afraid of it. It's not so far from what you are already familiar with. The only difference may be the language of the lyrics. The groove speaks to everyone.”

The Tuareg sound of Africa is a rhythm and tonal structure that recalls traditional instruments and poetry, “but souped up with electric guitars and modern sensibility,” he says. “The experience of this evening is a great show of upbeat music and great vibes. The groove and energy bring everyone to a dancing mood.”

Kelly is an incredible artist, he says.

“His skill with his guitar is formidable. His group has played together for years and each of them is exceptional at their instrument. They all have fun playing together ,and it is clear onstage,” Nolan says.

“Gobi is experimenting with her sound. She has a dynamic backing band that follows where she's leading,” he says. “A woman band leader from a Muslim country is someone who deserves respect for working at it. Leila is destined to be one of the greats.”

This concert is part of “The Sahara Series,” bringing some of Mali and Niger's astoundingly rich music scenes to Pittsburgh over the next several months.

• Sept. 27 is “International Blues Express,” with Sidi Toure, who combines the trance-like rhythms of West Africa with American folk and blues forms (and records on acclaimed American indie label Thrill Jockey). Supporting Toure is Cedric Watson, a Grammy-nominated Cajun and Creole fiddler and accordionist.

• Oct. 3, in conjunction with the VIA Festival, is Tal National, a 13-piece band from Niger that seamlessly weaves between Afrobeat, soukous, highlife, and desert blues.

• Oct. 23 is Terakaft, led by a founding member of desert-blues legends Tinariwen, with local guests Landmark Tongues.

• Nov. 27 is the trailblazing desert guitar virtuoso Bombino, from Niger, who records on the avant-garde label Nonesuch, supported again by Batamba.

All shows are at the Thunderbird Cafe in Lawrenceville.

Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or rrutkoski@tribweb.com. Mike Machosky contributed to this report.

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