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Desert winds that start stirring the dust in the Sahara carry what my friend Johnny Clegg called, “the scatterings of Africa” from those arid dunes eventually reaching the sea, where like a colossal string of giant sponges, they soak up the tropical moisture from the equatorial Atlantic and start heading our way.  Once many years ago after a storm had hit us on the Eastern shore of Mobile Bay, my dad and I were chain sawing away the fallen debris from his driveway with the wind still whipping through the tops of trees that had not been decapitated by the blow.  

Amid the familiar smells of salt spray, ozone and sawdust, I picked up the scent of unfamiliar smoke. “There must be a fire, somewhere” I said to my dad.  “No, that’s Africa.”  He replied.  “I was there during the war.  I know that smell. These babies come a long way to get to us.”

Hurricanes have been rumbling through my backyards in Mississippi, Alabama, Key West, Sag Harbor and St. Barthelemy for over half a century.  It seems I have been singing and skirting around these storms most of my life.  So, it was without a moment of hesitation that I made the split second decision to accompany a group of fellow music lovers, self-adorned-the Buktu Brothers, on a journey to the heart of West African music-Mali.  Once there wrapped in indigo blue scarves and long sleeve shirts to ward of the incessant swirling sand in the air, it didn’t take long for me to once again pick up that distant scent my father had told me about long ago. 

Those winds that are capable of making that marathon trek from the Western Sahara to the Gulf and Atlantic shores of America indeed carry with them, not only sand and wood smoke but haunting melodies that go back to the beginning of time.  It was on this trip to the  ancient city of Timbuktu, where I realized there just might be some kind of melodic piece of monofilament, that was reeling me towards the desert like a fish on a long line.  It was an oasis on the banks of the Niger river, not on an island or a boat, where this group of songs started spinning around in my brain just like those storms in the desert.

The last night I spent in the land of wind, sand and stars, a binding curtain of sand roared through the festival in the desert hurling the goat skins of my tent towards the four corners of the earth and burying me and my sleeping bag in an instant dune.  As I lay there, wondering if the wind would ever stop, I asked myself, “What the hell was I doing stuck in a sands storm four hours north of Timbuktu.  Why couldn’t I just go into a studio with a bunch of songs and make an album like everybody else. The answer came fast “What fun would that be?” 

When you are lucky enough to get to a point in your life where you can basically do what you want, the trick is to be able to enjoy it.  I never see myself as a nonagenarian sitting in a deck chair on a cruise ship watching the ocean, the islands and life appear and disappear over repetitive horizons according to some
Some landlubber in Miami’s computer generated schedule. I would rather be lost in the Sahara.  When I finally disentombed myself that morning, I realized that I was not only at a unique musical gathering; I was also on a treasure hunt, which was right down the alley of this son of a sailor.  Along the way from the Malian desert to the Crooked Island Passage and beyond, I have gathered some interesting artifacts and it is now time to share them with the crew.  Welcome to my treasure chest. Here is a list of what’s inside.

- Jimmy Buffett
Somewhere Over Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
1 October 09
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