Robert Plant Finds Blues Roots in the Sahara

Music of 'Festival in the Desert' Celebrates Nomads Gathering

Listen: <b>Web Extra:</b> Renee Montagne's Extended Interview with Robert Plant

Robert Plant performs with guitarist Justin Adams at the 2003 festival.

hide captionRobert Plant, right, performs with guitarist Justin Adams at the 2003 festival.

René Goiffon/World Village Records

Selections from 'The Festival in the Desert' (World Village)

audio icon 'Win My Train Fare Home' - Robert Plant and Justin Adams

audio icon 'Jah Kas Cool Boy' - Lo'Jo and Django

audio icon 'Aldachan Manin' - Tinariwen

audio icon 'What Do You See' - Blackfire
'Festival in the Desert' CD cover

hide captionFestival in the Desert

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Robert Plant's fascination with the blues goes back to his early days as lead singer for Led Zeppelin. Plant says the roots of that uniquely American art form may be traced to the deserts of Western Africa. He tells NPR's Renee Montagne about the connection he discovered at the Festival in the Desert, a gathering of nomads and musicians in Mali.

The festival is an annual gathering of tribal nomads known as Tuareg (or Tamashek), who move through the southern Sahara Desert. This year, the festival featured musicians from Mali, Senegal, Mauritania and Niger as well as artists from Europe and the United States.

"I'm not an anthropologist, but I just have to say that what was going down musically and the mood of it all sounded like some kind of primeval connection with what you would call the blues," Plant tells Montagne. He says that because natives of Niger and Mali were taken to the United States as slaves, "the link is there" to the blues that later emerged in the Mississippi Delta.

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