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Sahara Rocks !

A book on the Sahara today, its youth, its musicians, and their struggles

About the project

A book on the Sahara today, its youth, its musicians, and their struggles. A documentary work about a modern desert that rocks with the beat of electric guitars, rock and blues

For 15 years, I have regularly traveled to the Sahara. Often with musicians or their relatives. They’re my first contact with the society. With the success of some of them, such as Tinariwen, Bombino or Tamikrest, a small window has been opened onto their lives. I try, by my reports and documentaries, to share what I see with them of the Sahara today, well rooted in modernity.

Up until now, my projects have been completely self-funded, via film productions, exhibitions, publications and radio documentaries. I am currently seeking funding to complete the « Sahara Rocks ! » project, to take the two more trips to Sahara that will allow me to finish this project and publish a book.

Through this book, by photos and texts, I invite you on a trip with those women and men, I want to share with you what I have learned by their side. I want to show you the « Ishumar » culture, from the French, « chômeur », « unemployed ». They have their own way of life, their musical style, their fashion. They move all around the Sahara, where ever they can find a job. With them we laugh a lot, making fun of ourselves and one another, even in the hardest times.

I also want to portray the modernity of young tuaregs, arabs, songhaï, and moors who share both good and bad news through their Facebook accounts and their cell phones.

I especially want to make you discover those contemporary saharan musics, the rock and the blues, which set the scene for their wandering, for their parties, for their fights.

What are the funds for?

The Book

I’m glad to benefit from the support of a professional team working in publishing to complete this project. They have kindly granted me their skills and time. But I want to pay them for the book design (1800 euros).
The majority of your contribution (12 000 euros) will go toward a high quality printing of this book. The « Sahara Rocks ! »  book will include photos and text, in both French and English. It will be roughly 200 pages. I want it to be beautiful and robust, so you can travel with it.

2 trips in the Sahara

I’ve already took hundreds of pictures and recorded  around fifty saharan musicians, but I need to go twice again to Sahara to finish the « Sahara Rocks ! » project. A small part of your help (1000 euros) will contribute to those reports. I absolutely want to include few more musicians in this project that I haven’t recorded yet.

The book’s trip

I intend to make some printed books available in the Sahara, in some specific places. A small part of the global budget (200 euros) will be used to deliver books to « Agadez, Kidal, Tamanrasset, Ingall » ( Title of a Tinariwen song)

About the project owner

I’m an author, filmmaker and photographer. I love to travel, always with an aim, everywhere. I love to lose my bearings and simply learn. I love the Beat Generation spirit, Kerouac, Robert Frank, Paul Bowles. In the Caucasus mountains, Cape Town townships, Brittany islands or Nevada desert, music, litterature and subcultures are my first step in communities. I write texts, make films, photograph, and produce radio documentaries and reports for National French Radio stations (RFI, France Culture, France Inter).

My website :  / My Facebook pageTwitter : @ArnaudContreras

I share my work through the web, but also via exhibitions, projections, and traveling artistic installations. When possible, I do my best to share my documentaries and photos with those who have offered me their time, and their stories, on the ground. For example, my latest radio documentaries have been broadcasted in France on France Culture and RFI, and on the Internet, but also in the refugee camps on the Malian - Mauritanian border, on cell phones memory cards.

I first went to Sahara in 1999, with the idea to discover and collect tangible and intangible heritages. My project « Sahara Fragile » ( was backed by grants and numerous institutions such as UNESCO, UNDP, Le Collège de France, and was published in Le Monde, Géo…

During my trips to Mali, Niger, Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, I began to be more interested by the present times than by the past.

Around a fire or during parties, in Saharan city suburbs or during long trails in the desert, I spend days discussing with Saharans, from the old and traditional to the young and punk. They ask me many questions about our western way of life. I listen to them talking about their cultures, their exiles, and their businesses.
The texts of their traditional songs, or their contemporary « ishumar », « jagwar », « assouf » styles of music, teach me their current history. We exchange MP3s and videos via bluetooth. Their everyday life and their wandering amaze me. These stories are so different than the images we are accustomed to receiving of Saharans.

There are problems in the Sahara. Saharans are not all angels. We also speak about that. saharans live in an exceedingly harsh and geopolitically difficult environment. Exile and insecurity are constants. They surprise me by their opportunism, their fast adaptation to changes. I am not a « news junkie », not focused on wars and sad events. I often receive from the desert news of birth, weddings, concerts recorded on mobile phones.
They sometimes ask me details of new technologies I’ve never heard of. From the middle of the desert, some follow the latest innovations in Asia or the USA.

Since 2005, it has been more and more difficult to get support for my cultural projects in the Sahara and the Sahel. Terrorism and drug and arms trafficking have taken the whole region and its populations hostage. Publications, publishers and producers have lost interest in the towns, dunes and trails, that have made westerners dream for years.

During this turbulent period, bands such as Tinariwen, Malouma, Bombino, Aziza Brahim, Terakaft, and Tamikrest, have emerged as the cultural vanguard of the young men and women of the Sahara. The texts of their songs became the examples to follow. Their music has entered my life as well, stirring me either to dance or reflect.

Since 2005 also, a few Saharan musicians have begun to be included in th western world’s most prestigious festivals. Sometimes I accompany them on tour. We share tea, jokes, news of those in the desert and « soirées guitares ».

Regardless of the turbulence, I continue to go to the Sahara with musicians and with others. I continue my work to build a bridge, to transmit their story, the memory of their musics and cultures, the hard times in wich they live, their projects, our common history. It’s becoming complicated, in particular for them, but I can always hear how they say : « tomorrow it’ll be alright ».

« Sahara Rocks ! » because the Sahara is in the grip of dramatic mutation, it rocks with changes… and with electric guitars amps.

I need your help to continue to build this bridge, by publishing a book that will bring you on a trip with wise men and punk men, to the sound of the desert blues and rock.