Sunday, July 26, 2015

Fez Amazigh Festival Ends on a High Note

The final night of the Fez Festival of Amazigh Culture was a fitting end to a very successful festival and on a (thankfully) balmy night in Fez, the Bab Makina venue was once again packed to capacity - it was party time!
Ahidous Oulmes Boukchmir

(Click on images to enlarge)

The night got off to a joyous start with the highly animated Ahidous Oulmes. From the moment they came on stage it was party time and the predominantly Amazigh audience lapped it up.

To an outsider, the repertoire may have felt repetitive, but the high-octane delivery meant it didn't matter. As one, non-Amazigh Moroccan pointed out, "It is all about the energy! I don't understand a word, but I love it!"

Although there were four women in eighteen strong ensemble, they were not utilised and the chanting duties fell to four or five men at each end of the lineup.  In turn the belted out a phrase that was then repeated by the men at the other end. The sheer volume and high pitch was such that it was easy to imagine the sounds travelling in the High Atlas from one mountain valley to the next.

The old actors adage about not working with children or animals was totally overturned by the presence of young Hossain, son of the group leader, Moha. His facial expressions switched from innocent to possessed as he danced, gesticulated and channelled Michael Jackson. It was a joy to behold.

Scene-stealer, Hossain totally absorbed in his moves

It appears that theatricality is a family trait, as Hossain's father, Moha, leapt from the stage and gave a gloriously frenetic performance in the crowd.

Moha dances off-stage

Laura Conti and Eivadòr

Laura Conti was a revelation - with a voice from the world of jazz Laura Conti proved to be a huge hit. Dressed in gypsy black, with high boots the Italian actress and singer delivered a master class in the music of the Italian region of Piedmont.

With the three piece group, Eivadòr, Conti has teamed up with Maurizio Verna, a virtuoso guitarist and arranger, whose work brought alive the traditional folksongs of the Piedmont region.The music's mediaeval heritage felt fresh and enriched with no starchy whiff of the museum.

Having a superb voice with a wide range, plus the skills of an actress, Lara Conti brought old songs to life; songs of love and loss, and love's tangled webs. Despite the fact that she was singing in Italian, her rendition of a love affair between a Piedmontese soldier and a young French woman, a pairing without a common language, was understood by everyone.

While Conti, inhabited the music, the skilful arrangements by guitar maestro Maurizio Verna, gave her the space to bring the songs alive.  Verna's interpretations of the traditional music of Piedmont and the Canavese  respects the music's historical heritage while opening each song up to a fresh interpretation.

The three piece group Eivadòr (Golden River) is named after the old Canavesani name for the Orco River, famous for the extraction of gold.

Laura Conti and Eivadòr certainly delivered gold tonight with a wide ranging repertoire that left the audience wanting more.

Guitar maestro Maurizio Verna

Nadia Laaroussi

There is no escaping the fact that Nadia Laaroussi has star power. She bounced on stage with super-charged energy of someone plugged directly into a high-voltage cable. From her first greeting and prolonged ululation, this Rif Mountains Amazigh woman, showed why she had been given the honour of closing the Amazigh festival.

While not having the physical stature of some of the Amazonian Amazigh we have witnessed over the last few days, Laaroussi packed a punch way above her weight - and didn't let up in the delivery. Her modern interpretations of Amazigh music had the crowd on their feet and the security guards on alert.

It was the perfect way to end a successful festival. Shukran Nadia.
The View From Fez would like to thank the Amazigh Festival organisers for once again granting us such easy access to the festival and making our reporting an absolute pleasure. We look forward to the 12th Edition, inshallah.

All photographs and reporting: Sandy McCutcheon

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Second Amazigh Concert in Fez

The second day of the Fez Festival of Amazigh Culture was a success on all levels. According to the organisers, the forum sessions had been well attended and totally engaging. The evening concert at Bab Makina was never in danger of being anything but great. That was assured by the appearance of Mustapha Oumguil

Amazigh superstar Mustapha Oumguil

The evening began with the Symphonie Amazighe "Adrar". The line up was remarkable array of talent gathered from around the country. Adding to the impact were an impressive twelve gembri players, six drummers and five formidable Amazigh women, who between them created a wall of song and chanting that was spine-tingling.

The five Amazigh female singers - a force to be reckoned with

One of the gembri players was a blind man who was presented with a token of appreciation. And a plaque was also given to the group's musical director, Mohamed Aknouz.

Musical Director Mohamed Aknous receiving his award

The Amazigh women are warmly welcomed whenever they appear and when Raisa Rkia Demsiria took to the stage she was given a heroine's welcome.

Raisa Rkia Demsira also brought along her own troupe of dancers and a talented rebab player

The surprise of the evening was a stunningly dead-pan and clown-like performance from Rais Haj Aarab, who played the rebab,  joked with the audience and eventually left the stage to join the audience - accompanied by four of the dancers who had performed with Raisa Rkia Demsira.

Then it was time for the crowd favourite, Mustafa Oumguil, a native Amazigh singer from the High Atlas mountains. He is from the same region as the late singer Rouicha.  Oumguil has been a star of the Moroccan music scene for over twenty years and is constantly in demand for concerts and festivals in Morocco and abroad.

Oumguil was not into theatrics and performed with consumate skill, but without a lot of charisma.  His set list included songs from his many albums - "Alawah", "Adiyani", "Chkoun ykhelik" or "hal Denya Wach hda". Mustapha Oumguil released several singles that were big hits with the public, including "Wa zin awa", "Zmani ghedar", "Lkha oubridench", "Ida Zman," "Nhmed Sidi rebbi" and "Asawasir". Oumguil is today considered one of the superstars of Amazigh song.

Oumguil was accompanied by an unnamed singer with a voice that could cut through steel. He also had the seemingly obligatory four Amazigh dancers.

Mustapha Oumguil is known for his melodious voice and a Chaabi-Amazigh style. Moroccan Chaabi differs from Algerian Chaabi and refers to several types of Moroccan popular music of Morocco, combining rural and urban folk music. Rural varieties include Jerra and Aïta. Urban varieties are called Sahli.

Famous artists performing this genre include Hajib, Stati, Najat Aatabou, Senhaji and Khalid Bennani.

The future of Amazigh music 

One of the difficulties for non-Amazigh speakers face in researching Amazigh musicians is the absolute lack of a presence on line. While there are many music videos, there is almost no biographical information. The Amazigh music movement would do well to have a campaign to increase their presence on the Internet.

Sunday's concert includes Italian singer Laura Conti and Evidor. Nadi Laaroussi will be the closing act at Bab Makina.

The full program and concert details are here: Amazigh Festival

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