Ojai gallery welcomes nomad musicians
By Jesse Phelps
Voices from the Sahara will be
echoing through Ojai throughout the next month. Leslie Clark,
who runs the Nomad Gallery downtown, has welcomed two Tuareg
nomads to perform their music at various locales, starting with
an intimate gathering at her gallery on Friday.
Hasso and Alassane are Tuareg warriors who play the rebel music
of their people. Both sing and play guitar and Hasso is a gifted
songwriter, renowned among his people. They have come to America
to share a tradition that is slowly fading as their people leave
the desert and integrate into African society.
As the culture of the Tuareg threatens to become lost, Ojai painter
Clark works tirelessly to help them preserve their traditions.
Clark confirmed that a percentage, in some cases all proceeds,
from items purchased in her gallery go to help the Tuareg. And
now she has brought the two warriors to Ojai to share their music
and raise money for various projects, including a cultural center
to be built in Niger.
"It's not expensive to do these things there," said
Clark. "We could do the whole cultural center, buy the land,
build it and pay six people salaries for two years for $250,000."
The nomads have lived in the Sahara Desert for centuries, where
they served as guides for those who wished to cross it, or raiders
on those who wished to cross it without their guide services.
They are the masters of the camel. They have constantly struggled
against outside forces, including the government of Niger, which
they fought against in a civil war until the mid 1990s.
When an agreement was reached to bring an end to the conflict,
the Tuareg began to move out of the desert to find themselves
in the cities. But as Hasso says, "You lose a lot when you
go into the city. In the country, in the bush, there's peace
and there's tranquility."
The main event of the month will take place at the Ojai Playhouse
on Aug. 3. At 5 p.m., Clark will show a film she made on her
travels to be followed by a party at Calypso's with live music
from Hasso and Alassane. Admission for the film will be $15 and
the party, at $50, "is where we're hoping to raise our money,"
In addition, Clark's paintings will hang in Jonathan's on Main
Street in Ventura, beginning with an artist reception on July
20, which Hasso and Alassane will also attend.
On Aug. 9, Nomad Gallery will hold its annual patio sale and
then the three will take their show to Santa Monica for a film
screening and music presentation at the On The Path multimedia
studio on 2nd Street on Aug. 14.
And in February 2004, Clark will lead an expedition to nomadic
lands where people can experience the culture first hand.
Clark started the Nomad Foundation in 1997. She traveled to Africa
in 1993 to paint and says she started "meeting people living
very traditionally. Nomadic people, especially, I was attracted
to. I realized that so many of them lived in very poor conditions
and they had very few opportunities to change their lives if
something goes wrong. It's not that they're unhappy, it's that
they're very limited in what they can do."
Clark said she was further inspired by an experience helping
out a friend.
"I had a friend who was a nomad who lost his cattle in the
drought and he was ready to have to abandon his nomadic life,"
she said. " I gave him a couple of hundred dollars one year
and it turned his life around, totally changed the direction
of his life until now and he's still improving his life based
on a very small gift. 200 dollars is not a small amount of money
but it's not like it changed my life, it's not enough to make
a difference to me. I realized that it's something I could actually
accomplish, to make a difference in this individual's life. And
that's how it started."
Clark says that as a painter, she became particularly interested
in the artistic traditions of the Tuareg, such as the textiles,
jewelry and leatherworks they produce. Ultimately, she became
taken with their music, which lyrically reflects a warrior culture
living on the outskirts of civilization. Many of the songs, says
Clark, served originally as messages between groups, perhaps
detailing where and when to meet for a raid.
But it wasn't always that way. Traditionally, music was the province
of the women and artisans, not the warrior class, for the Tuareg.
It's just another element of a culture changing to meet the demands
of the modern world.
The Nomad Foundation operates as the cultural arm of Ojai's Wild
Foundation, which handles all the bookkeeping and much of the
organization. Clark says since she donates her time and money
to create the newsletter and do all fundraising, so potential
donors can be assure that their contributions will help. "Every
dollar that's donated," she says, "Goes directly to
a project. It doesn't go for anything else. It buys the cow.
There's no overhead cost."
As for Hasso and Alassane, they're here to both spread their
message and preserve their music. "We want to tell the artists
in America that we're her because we're all artists," said
Hasso, speaking in French as Clark interprets (the nomads are
all multi-lingual, speaking not only the colonizing language
of French, but several dialects of their native tongue and a
common trading language of the Sahara).
"But we know that we're going to die one day. We don't have
the means to make sure our children have our music. We want our
children to continue to love our music and we are here to help
our music be known enough so that it will be passed on to our
children and for us to have some kind of means to be able to
continue that music."
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