The Tuareg Tribe of Northern Africa

The Tuareg are the mystical ancient caravan traders of the Sahara desert. They are artists, nomads and musicians and still forge their incredible silver jewellery, leathers and swords by hand. They play a cool desert style rock with electric guitars and are aptly named the blue people because of the natural indigo they wear, which stains their skin a deep blue. It's an incredible matriarchal culture where women rule and have some of the most incredible hair designs we've ever seen. They are truly special people, and, like all tribes, they love having you as a guest, feeding you and telling you stories, and with the Tuaregs, it's also playing their unique funky electro-rock for you.

The Sahara Desert is Calling  

It started like every other journey before, our souls longing for an adventure into the unknown, being drawn to a place and its people, to a place where free-spirited people still sleep under the stars and live in a simple traditional way.
The Sahara Desert was truly calling. For years we'd seen photos of shimmering purple turbaned men with curved swords on camels and beautiful women with orange painted skin wearing incredible silver jewellery. So as with all ENKI campaigns, the search began to find someone who would guide us in.

Finding the real Tuareg of the Sahara   

A usual, we wanted to go deep into the tribes land and find the Tuaregs who would not usually see many tourists, so we needed to find someone who knew their way around the desert. After seeing some amazing YouTubes, our first choice was the country of Libya. We found a lead, but it soon went cold when we told the guys it was a branded campaign. After digging around, we found a very old blog about a Tuareg silversmith named Elhaji from Niger. We reached out to him, and, as usual, things started to fall into place. He told us about a three day Tuareg festival coming up at the oasis of Iférouane in the middle of the Sahara, and if we could make it within a few weeks, he would meet us there and guide us. His well-connected friend Zenit also had a few seats left in his jeep, which was taking a small group of tourists on the long 15-hour drive from Agadez into Iférouane. A military guide would be escorting us in and be present the whole time because apparently the year before, bandits raided the festival and the desert was not always a safe haven for tourists.

Researching Niger and the do not travel warnings

When researching Niger, it was crystal clear that this wasn't going to be easy with no consulate in Australia for visas and prominent travel warnings. Terrorists could also be targeting places visited by foreigners, including hotels, cafes and restaurants. Were they really though? How much crime does really happen in these so-called red zones compared to large cities around the world? Because from our experiences, these countries are always the safest and most welcoming. The visa issue was the first of the many challenges we would face but in true ENKI style, we completely disregarded the apparent conditions and set our intention on reaching the tribe no matter what it was going to take. 

Getting to the festival in the middle of the Sahara

As usual things fell into place, Zenit being a tour guide would arrange visas. We would first fly to Nyami, the capital of Niger, and take a small plane to the small desert town of Agadez in the Sahara. Elhaji would be picking us up, and at 4am the next day, Zenit would arrive with a military guard and drive us for around 15 hours through the desert to Iférouane oasis where the festival was being held. We would rendezvous with Elhaji there and stay with the tribe for the whole festival.

Arriving in the Festival de l'Air in the Sahara

After a very long drive, we had arrived at the festival's location. Iférouane is an ancient desert oasis set in between the rugged air mountains in the middle of the Sahara. It doesn't get any more remote than this. The sun was setting, it was cool, the air was pristine, and the desert had turned a magnificent pink and orange. All that could be heard was ecstatic tribal drumming; the energy was electric. We all knew this was going to be something extraordinary. when travelling like this, you feel so alive, so free it's entirely intoxicating, and this is what ENKI is all about, that feeling of exploring new places with new people. That feeling of magic. As planned, Elhaji was waiting to pick us up and take us into the village where we would be staying with the Tuaregs in their mud-brick houses with sand floors. After unpacking, we headed straight into the festival for some music, dancing and poetry. Men and women dancing and screaming with swords, chanting and drumming late into the Sahara night. 

Shooting with the Tuareg Tribe

The first morning we awoke early and immediately began arranging the shoot. We only had three days before we would be asked to leave with the other small group of tourists. With the help of Elhaji and some locals, we found our muses and a location to shoot. It was an ancient mud-brick structure out from the festival which glowed orange at sunset, so it was a perfect backdrop. We would shoot and travel in and out of the festival for the next few days to experience what seemed like 50 degrees dry heat and something straight from the movie Gladiator. It was a total sensory overload of vibrant colours, foods, beautiful tribal people, and non-stop drumming. It was indeed something we will never forget. Sometimes we wonder what these guys must be thinking when we're doing these shoots; there's always a lot of jokes and laughter, and everyone has so much fun doing it. Still to this day, we stay in contact with all the people we work with; these kinds of friendships are so special. Creating art like this with tribes is indescribable, and we've been so blessed to be able to experience it. We try to capture this magic energy in our campaigns, it could never match being there, but it's the next best thing.

Heading back to Agadez

A big part of us didn't want to go; we were having too much fun enjoying the music and BBQ's at night; it all seemed too short. But we needed to leave, and we would also be visiting another village close to Agadez to shoot, so we were excited about that. We broke down in the desert at one point and were asked to cover our faces because bandits could be hiding in the mountains. Again even with this, we never felt in danger. People live, work, and trade all through the Sahara, and locals would always be running about selling something to us like homemade cheeses or fruits; it was all a fantastic experience.

The last stop Tichoureane Village

We finally reached Agadez with our equipment broken full of sand; this often happens on these trips, and we make do with what we have; it's just all part of the journey. We had one last village to go to, Tchirozerine. Another desert oasis where they grew fruits and vegetables and still lived in traditional stick huts. It was an amazing location with date palms and a dry river bed where they made sun-dried tomatoes. We had a great time with these Tuaregs as well; it's never easy doing this work, and sometimes it takes a lot of explaining to the tribal elders, but once they understand what we're doing and all is negotiated, they're always more than happy to help. We worked here for a few days and then finally needed to get back to Niamey. We would take the bus the whole way, and when we finally arrived Elhajis wonderful brother Ousman would pick us up and take us to our hotel. After a few days in the capital, it was all over, and like many times before, we would stop back through Doha airport, completely exhausted but at the same time mesmerized at what had just taken place. 

Thankyou to Niger and the Tuareg Tribe

If you love a non-touristic experience, Niger is genuinely an incredibly safe country to visit despite all the warnings, and if you love the desert and want an incredible experience, this is the place for you. We would like to say a massive thank you to Elhaji Koumama and his Family. His brother Ousman, Zenit who drove us to the festival and to all of the Tuareg we met and worked with along the way. If you love a non-touristic experience, Niger is genuinely an incredibly safe country to visit despite all the warnings, and if you love the desert and want an incredible experience, this is the place for you. We want to say a massive thank you to Elhaji Koumama and his Family. His brother Ousman, Zenit, who organized visas and drove us to the festival and to all of the Tuareg we met and worked with along the way.
Please see the link below if you would like to purchase some of Elhajis Koumama's Tuareg jewellery or organize the trip of a lifetime.

https://www.facebook.com/KoumamaTuaregJewelry/

Our souls always long to return, but there's a part of us that always stays and never leaves these incredible places and the people we meet along the way.