Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Fes Festival - June 19

Another day and more interesting performances at the Fes Festival under sunny skies and with warm temperatures


Reviews
Kol Cole- Synagogue



Another false start was on the cards today, as festival-goers arrived at Ibn Danan Synagogue to enjoy Kol Colé ensemble. However, the concert had been moved to the nearby Synagogue Fassiyine. As usual, none of the festival management were present to inform ticket holders of the new location.

With some determination they meandered to the new venue, which was unable to seat the number of attendees. People stood for the duration of the concert, nevertheless eager to hear music steeped in Jewish tradition in such an apt venue.

Moldovan percussionist/vocalist 

Kol Colé was founded in Cologne, Germany, but unites musicians from across countries. They frequent mostly Jewish weddings and celebrations, but have travelled to Fes today to perform somewhere quite different.

In keeping with the spirit of the festival, they draw on musical traditions from across the Abrahamic faiths- evoking the fields of rural Ukraine, the Qanun songs of Syria, the shepherd flocks of Russia and old Jewish chansons.

 German accordion player

The mixed ensemble included an Ukrainian violinist, a German accordion player, a female Moldovan percussionist/vocalist and a  German accordion player.

They entered the stage looking pleased at the packed our room before them. Greeting the audience with both Shalom and Salaam, they began with a spritely piece that mixed melancholic melodies with the energy of the accordion.

Syrian qanun (lap harp) player

It wasn't long before the audience were clapping and bouncing their feet as if we were at a Jewish wedding. Introducing an old Turkish piece, they told the audience to feel free to dance and clap whenever they pleased.

Despite the temperature rising in the venue and the audience starting to sweat beads, few left early. Despite there being fewer locals than at other performances, the concert was a crowd pleaser.


World Youth Baroque Ensemble
with the Andalusia Music Orchestra of Fes

Beginning quite a while after the adhaan had sounded for maghreb prayers, and the sun had slipped below the horizon leaving a lonely purple sky, the ensemble finally made it to the stage. Half an hour late felt like nothing to the regulars.


The World Youth Baroque Ensemble is an incubator for talent, encouraging young musicians with natural musical ability to develop and share their love for music across borders. The original ensemble was born in Rome, where students from universities, conservatories and colleges from both sides of the Mediterranean united to form an ensemble.

It has been 18 years since, and they have gone from strength to strength, with many of their former members now playing in the world’s most renowned orchestras.


Tonight on stage were eight violinists, a double bassist, a cellist and lutenist, all led by their charming and humble conductor Damiano Giuranna. Introducing the composer of their first piece, Durante from Napoli, he told the audience that now the “Napolis would be inside Fes”.

Clearly a naturally expressive and gesticulating individual, he was born to be a composer, and relished personifying the mood of each twist and turn of the composition.


The string bands played expertly and with enjoyment, but there was a surprise in the mix- suddenly a tall blonde alto emerged to sing with the accompaniment of the orchestra. Impassioned, with the right balance between freedom and control, she performed with a rather melodramatic grace.

The Baroque style is not for everyone, and a touch too dusty and nasal for myself, but the audience seemed to enjoy it, although the applause was more muted than the previous nights. A few were nodding off but perhaps given the music's calming effects. If it wasn't for the energy of the conductor the performance would have been rather static.

Reviews and photographs: Venetia Menzies

Tomorrow at the Festival

HOMAYOUN SAKHI – AFGHANISTAN - 16:30
Venue: Jardin Jnan Sbil

KOL COLÉ – GERMANY - 18:00
Venue: Synagogue

HOW FAR IS IT FROM THE SUN TO THE EARTH? - 19:00
Venue: Palais Glaoui

YOUSSOU NDOUR 21:00
Venue: Bab Al Makina

RABEH MARIWARI – SAID SENHAJI - 22:00
Venue: Place Boujloud

LA TARIQA RISSOUNYA : ENSEMBLE DIAMANT BLEU DU MADIH ET SAMAE DIRIGÉ PAR YOUSSEF TAZI-CHEFCHAOUEN - 23:00
Venue: salle de la préfecture Fès Médina

LE BALLAKE ORKESTRA -16:30
Venue: Jardin Jnan Sbil

Weather: Partly cloudy and 32 Celsius

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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Fes Festival - June 18

From a somber Canticum Novum performance, through a masterly Celtic bagpipe display, to an all female Rajasthani delight, it was a mixed day at the Fes Festival 
Canticum Novum


Canticum Novum - France - Jardin Jnan Sbil

Around half of the seats were full this afternoon back in the gardens. After only a short delay, a dozen artists soberly took to the stage. Three vocalists held only books, and the rest clutched various traditional instruments.


Weaving together sacred music from across the Abrahamic religions, the ensemble incorporate Christian, Jewish and Moorish musical heritage. ‘Aashenayi’ refers to the musical encounters between these cultures that occurred during the reign of Ottoman Suleiman the Magnificent.

When the Empire was at its height, Suleiman utilised his strategic location to be a centre of trade. But not just trade of goods, but of ideas, of stories and of melodies. Fitting, therefore, as an addition to Fes Festival, the ensemble brought together a concoction of cultures. This diversity was evident not just in the tones but in the costumes, the artists and the instruments on stage.

Lap harp

The vocalists, two females and a male, played up the chemistry by doing romantic duets, mostly in Latin. The most entrancing instrument was a lap harp, played by a man deep in concentration, speeding up until his fingers risked detaching.


Although each instrument was expertly played, there was something important missing from the stage: joy. Perhaps typical of this genre, which was typically performed in rather formal settings at the request of elite sponsors, there was a rigidity to the performance that prevented one from getting lost in their harmonies.

Carlos Nunez - Master of the Gaita Bagpipes - Spain


“Tradition is more important than ever,” declared Carlos, whilst explaining the roots of Celtic music, which was exchanged via the Atlantic between the northern isles of Scotland and Ireland to the southern shores of the Spanish Mediterranean.

Gaita bagpipes are local to his hometown in Spain, and Carlos was not just a master of these pipes but of a range of wind instruments that he chose between, stacked next to him in a pile.

“This is the music of the mornings” he announced whilst grasping his bagpipes, despite it being late in the day. He was joined by guitarist Pancho and his brother on drums. But there remained two empty seats on the stage.

Mary Ryan

Gesturing out to behind the audience, Carlos aroused confusion. Suddenly, all the cameras began to turn and the audience followed. Appearing from within the aisle was brunette violinist Mary, moving and playing as if it were second nature. She paused at the stage entrance where the stage technicians sat. Eventually they got the idea and moved out of her way while she multitasked her way onto the stage.

Mary Ryan softly introduced herself and said they would next sing a song something from her native Ireland. The sweet girl then transformed into a fiery musician, rocking up and down with her violin as if it were an extension of her arm.

All of the performers were dancing simultaneously as they played, jumping up and down in unison like an Irish jig. The audience couldn't resist the beat and were tapping their feet. One brave attendee even tried out some Irish dance near the front of the stage.

The bagpipes demanded the audience’s attention, and if they weren't already wowed, next to join on stage was an angelic harpist Keira Taff, who switched between two differently sized harps throughout the performance. From Belfast, she explained in English that the next melody was from the ancient scripts of the time of King Arthur. With rustic moody tones, the ensemble played finally as a complete set.

Keira Taff

New instruments kept being thrown into the mix. Carlos next asked his guitarist Pancho to show the audience a smaller Andalusian style guitar, which made a deep and melancholic sound. A traditional Maghrebi style bagpipe was then whipped out as he asked everyone to clap along to the beat.

Energised and perhaps a little deafened, the audience departed. A fair few sneaked off before the end, likely in the hope of reaching the next concert at the Ben Youssef Complex, an elusive venue that takes some determination to find.

Many on their way questioned the scheduling of the festival, complaining that passes were made redundant as there had been no attempt to allow time for the audience to move between venues.

Meera- India

Taking us to another world, Meera from India performed a dance that was so expressive it was akin to physical theatre. But it wasn't just because of Meera that the audience was in a new world, but also as we were in the mysterious Ben Youssef Complex.

The bride bows to Lord Krishna

As Fes medina has over 8,000 streets, finding the venues for the festival’s second ‘Night in the Medina’ is a challenge not the be overstated. With far greater foresight and intelligence than the festival management, young Moroccan boys arrived at Jnan Sbil after the last performance hoping to make a day’s money escorting the audience to the next venue. Only the ones lucky enough to find an escort made it to see Meera’s magic.

The dance told the story of a young girl so in love with her Lord Krishna, she has no more space for another man. Set to be wed, she debates over and over with her mother's and aunties, but to no avail. Shy and nervous, she goes through with the marriage. However after arriving back in the marital home, she bows down in service to Lord Krishna instead of her new husband.

Meera is married to her husband

The group of eight dancers led the audience through this story with elegance and poise, in traditional Rajasthani fashion, rocking back on their feet wrapped in bells, always with their hands perfectly in poise. Now their dancing was only half the spectacle, their colourful and delicately crafted outfits, which are traditionally worn in dance, glittered as they turned in circles, underscored with the percussion of their ankle bracelets.

The husband was also played by a woman, but dressed in traditional groom wear, a turban with a long kameez. As Rajasthani grooms traditionally ride to the bride's home on horses, they enacted the arrival of the groom, miming the riding of a stallion.

The all-female ensemble didn't stop smiling for one second, and the audience matched their glee. The local audience was greater tonight, and were enthralled, many of them being huge fans of Bollywood and Indian dance movies.


Orbiting around the statue of Lord Krishna, always returning to him to give puja (offerings), the dancers gave a flavour of how Hindus worship and how their religion entwines with their daily lives. The story continues until the young bride has aged, and she shared her woe at how life didn’t turn out as she had dreamed. Nevertheless, always there to give her solace and never leaving her side, was her one love, Lord Krishna.

The addition of this piece makes the Fes Festival truly inclusive, showcasing not just the sacred music and dance of Abrahamic faiths but of all faiths and traditions from around the world.

Reviews and photographs: Venetia Menzies

Tomorrow at the Festival

KOL COLÉ – GERMANY - 18:00 - Venue: Synagogue

SVETLANA SPAJIC VOCAL ENSEMBLE AND CHERIFA KERSIT – SERBIA & MOROCCO - 19:00 Venue: Dar Adiyel

WORLD YOUTH BAROQUE ENSEMBLE - 20:30 - Venue: Jardin Jnan Sbil

OBINI BATÁ – CUBA - 22:00 - Venue: Complexe Ben Youssef

Weather: Partly cloudy and 31 Celsius


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Monday, June 17, 2019

Fes Festival Review - June 17


An odd day at the Fes Festival  - an afternoon launched with a soundtrack of cars, insects and bells followed by an evening starting with chaos, long delays and over zealous security guards - yet ending with the audience dancing

Review

Bahariyya- Azerbaidjan

There was a slightly smaller crowd today in the gardens of Jnan Sbil, perhaps given the sweltering heat and the measly breeze. The seats filled up slowly as another late start was on the cards, the audience melting slowly as they waited for Azerbaidjan’s ensemble ‘Baharriya’.


The artists eventually filed onto the stage solemnly, carrying a range of traditional instruments popular with the Mugham tradition: the tar (an Iranian long-necked string instrument) the kamancheh (an Iranian violin-like string instrument), the daf (a Kurdish drum covered with fish skin), the balaban (an ancient 8-fingered Azeri wind instrument), and a single closed drum that has its origins in Turkey. Additionally, one member of the team sat at the back managing the electronic synthesiser.

In what was an bizarrely eery introduction, they began tuning their instruments whilst a soundtrack played the noise of cars, insects and bells. This eventually diminished as the balaban player trumpeted his arrival. After a hypnotic opening that showed off everyone’s talents, especially the vocalist and daf player, the song abruptly ended as an electronic soundtrack began. The kamancheh player, his purple shirt bringing out his green eyes, strummed away as he improvised with the backing track.


The Mugham musical tradition is so unique to Azerbaijan that UNESCO declared it a ‘masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity’ in 2003. Welding together classical poetry with musical improvisation, it is a musical practise that celebrates spontaneity, spiritual connection and inclusivity.

Different from other schools of musical improvisation, the Mugham tradition uses not just modal scales as its ingredients but also melodies that have been orally transmitted across generations. With its origins in the 9th Century, it evades a Western interpretation of ‘improvisation’ as, although devised on the spot, it follows strict rules and structures.

This fusion of rigidity and impulse was evident in the artist’s manner of performance. At once appearing fluid and yet deep in concentration. Each artist had the chance to show their best, taking turns to give solo performances that would eventually include the entire ensemble.

The banaman player moved his hands and mouth so quickly the instrument wobbled between his lips as if he was gnawing it. The sound was unique, giving a deeper and more varied sound than a normal flute.


Although each artist was a clear master of their instrument, the vocalist could have held the show alone. He bounced between notes with an inhuman control, creating a sound that was a cross between yodelling and singing. Possibly the strongest, and definitely the most original, of all the performances in the festival so far.

 The vocalist could have held the show alone

Michelle David and The Gospel Sessions

With no concert tonight at Bab Makhina, festival-goers were back in Jardin Jnan Sbil, but thankfully in much more pleasant temperatures. However, trouble was afoot with the concert having several false starts.

Michelle David 

After being kept waiting outside until after the start time or 1930, the audience was eventually admitted into the gardens. They sped en masse in a battle towards the best seats, but alas, were joined by sprinting security guards halting their entry. Unable to keep up with the determined ticket holders meandering through the various paths of the gardens, the security went into panic manning each entry point like the goal in a World Cup final.

At last getting it together, the staff gathered at the final frontier, making a human wall at the stairs before the stage. Things were beginning to feel more like a demonstration than a concert. No explanation was given as the audience grew more frustrated, slowly being eaten alive by mosquitoes. Rumours of missing instruments began to swirl, but all unconfirmed.

Punctuality has always been an issue in Fes Festival, with clear organisational issues emerging again and again. For example, in Jardin Jnan Sbil there are delicious home-cooked Moroccan meals and treats available, as well as tea served by a cheerful man in a blue djellabiah. The audience is only ever allowed entry to the venue as the concert is due to start, and so they buzz past all that's to offer.

If the staff had made it clear there would be over a half an hour delay, the audience would have been able to relax and enjoy both the gardens and the food, rather than stay confined between security guards.

What is unfortunate is that tonight's concert was a full-house, and the crowd was eager for something quite different from the rest of the Fes Festival programme.

Luc Janssen on trumpet

Dutchmen Paul Williamson and Onno Smit, both guitar and bass players began the vision that is The Gospel Sessions ensemble, after going on a quest to the origins of soul, rhythm and blues: New York City. But their group was incomplete. Touring gospel churches across the city, they discovered a young Michelle David, who had been singing since the age of four.

Almost an hour after its start time, there was finally an announcement that due to a lost instrument we would have to wait another half an hour. After that has passed the men of the group took to the stage and started to play without an apology.

If it wasn't for the energy of Michelle, the wait wouldn't have been worth it. But from the minute she landed next to the microphone, she was non-stop joy. Starting with a jazzy gospel rendition of "I'm a soldier of the Lord" she welcomed the audience, declaring:

"We're in a no-judgement zone where dancing is encouraged, because isn't it great to be alive?"

Not one artist stopped moving for the duration of the performance, constantly rocking their hips and bouncing up and down. Satisfied despite the delay, the audience cheered and clapped.

"Things are about to get funky," Michelle said with a smirk, taking off her big hoop earrings showing she means business.

"Give it to Jesus, give it to him, just trust him, he can work it all out."

Her moves were as impressive as her vocal range, and her charisma electric:

"We may have had a heck of two days, but I will not let anything take our joy. If someone has taken something from you, your love, your job, your money- YOU GOTTA TAKE IT BACK!"

Bas Bouma on drums

Joining Michelle and the original duo Paul and Onno on stage was Bas Bouma (percussion), Luc Janssen (trumpet), Lucas Van Ee (tenor sax) and Dirk Zandvliet (baritone sax). Oozing with style, they brought a very different energy to the stage. However, they had one thing in common with their fellow festival-performers: an appreciation of music as sacred, as a tool to connect, elevate and find peace.

Soul, funk, blues and jazz all have their roots in both suffering and resilience, built on a history of enslavement, revolt, and evangelism. The conclusive message of hope and resilience was echoed in each lyric and each of Michelle's inspirational interjections.


By the end the audience were all on their feet, dancing and throwing their hands in the air with a sense of liberation not seen yet at the Festival.

Before finishing with a slow and sensual love song to God, she teared up whilst thanking the audience for sharing themselves with her. For those who were too impatient to wait- you missed out!

Reviews and photographs: Venetia Menzies

Tomorrow at the Festival



CANTICUM NOVUM – FRANCE - 16:30
Venue: Jardin Jnan Sbil

DHRUPAD FANTASIA - 19:00 - Dar Adiyel

CARLOS NÚÑEZ, MASTER OF THE GAÏTA BAGPIPES – SPAIN -  20:30
Venue: Jardin Jnan Sbil

MEERA – INDIA - 22:00
Venue: Complexe Ben Youssef

DHRUPAD FANTASIA -  22:00
Venue: Dar Adiyel

Weather: Sunny and 33 Celsius

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