Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Sufi Festival - Audience have their say...

As the Festival of Sufi Culture concludes for another year, instead of our normal Festival Wrap, we have decided to let members of the audience to have their say. Our reporter, Alice Price, took time to speak to individuals across the week about their experiences and perspectives on the 12th edition of the Festival.

The most common complaints are, sadly, not new. For years patrons have commented on the lack of English language introductions and programmes. In 2019 any festival that aspires to be an international one, must, out of courtesy, provide information in English.

The festival was unable to communicate with its audiences about venue changes due to rain. A simple festival app would overcome this problem. The festival needs to have an information line. Patrons who rang the office found that the staff were not aware of venue changes.

The alternate venue (Commune de Fez pictured below) was acoustically unsuitable and criticised for being a long way from the Medina where a majority of patrons were staying. Many taxi drivers had no idea of the venue's location.

"An unfortunate venue"

Hariya, Fez: “​I have been coming to this festival for 12 years now it still remains one of the highlights of my year. I come for the magnificent musical performances and to immerse myself in the true meaning of Sufism. As someone who has attended the festival since it was founded, I have personally noticed an increase in people attending this year, in particular the musical concerts”.

Salima, Rabat: “​I am a journalist and this marks my first time at The Sufi Festival. I believe that the festival is a wonderful thing, as it allows you to learn not only about Morocco but the rest of the world. For instance, through learning about Sufi poetry and the significant influence that other countries such as Spain had in its creation. Most importantly, the festival allows people to discover new forms of spirituality and makes the beliefs and ideas of Sufism available to all”.

Mathew, UK: “​This is my first visit to the festival and I have mixed feelings. The music and lyrics never fail to touch me. However, my main fear is that the Sufism of Fes finds itself a museum piece. I attended a performance by the musical trio at Dar Batha and I personally found the performance to be a weaker version of Coleman Barks. I also attended the Azzedine Alouie concert held at the Commune de Fez that evening, which I failed to connect with at all”

Marionne, France: “​I am here in Fez for a short while and I decided to take this opportunity to go to some of the events across the week. I attended the Tariqa Sharqawiya concert, and although i enjoyed their performance I thought the Commune de Fez as choice of venue was unfortunate, as it lacked atmosphere and energy. However, I found the events held in the Jnan Sibl garden to be beautifully atmospheric and had a real impact on the receptivity of the audience to the music and ideas presented”.

Hussain, Canada:​ “The festival represents a place where regardless of religion, people can come together to gain a deeper understanding as to the what Sufism really means to the individual. However, from my deep understanding and knowledge of Sufism, the festival represents a beach whilst Sufism itself is an ocean. This is not necessarily a criticism of the festival, but reflective of the depth of Sufism as concept. Having also attended the festival for many years, I have noticed a reduction in numbers attending this year”.

Prianka, India: “​Having worked for the festival in the past, I will admit that the festival has too much of an intellectual focus and I would like to seem them adding more interactive elements in the future. I did however, appreciate the addition of the cultural tour and also the perfume master class as it allowed for some variation. In coming years, I would like to see more focus on the community of Sufism, with possibly the addition of a tea service after each of the events to allow people to engage with each other and expand their mutual ideas”

David, Australia: The lack of info in English is a real problem. The round tables are a tired format with many of the same people year after year. While some concerts such as Tariqa Sharqawiya were superb, the opening night was in need of theatrical direction to make it more than a flat presentation of people reading from books. Where was the dynamism?

Overall, while it is evident that the festival still remains an important event for people to expand their understanding of Sufism. However, it is equally clear that the ways in which Sufism is celebrated and promoted need to be diversified and brought into the modern world  - as was indicated by the Festival's theme - "Sufi Culture - Spiritul Humanism for our Time".


Sunday, October 27, 2019

Festival Of Sufi Culture - Final Night

Saturday evening brought the closing ceremony of the festival to Jardin Jnan Sbil, where a large crowd was offered a varied performance of Sufi music to end this year’s festival on high

The Secret Language of Flowers and Perfumes

The opening’s event centred itself around the theme of “The Secret Language of Flowers and Perfumes". This theme was emphasised at the start, with individuals, all in white gracing the stage to speak in overly emotive tones, as to the significance of this theme in Sufi culture. Unfortunately it came across as slow and indulgent and with little stagecraft other than by Leili Anvar, who is always a standout. It was surprising that, despite the short script, all the performers had to read their lines.
The opening sequence was lifted by the performance of the superbly talented Amal Ayouch, an actress with a list of films to her credit. It was a pleasure to see such professionalism. Ayouch gave a great example of how "being in character" makes a great performance

Amal Ayouch - Consumate professional

Born in Casablanca in 1966, Amal Ayouch showed interest in acting from an early age, performing on stage at high school. When she was 18, she arrived in Montpellier where she studied to become a pharmacist. While at university, in 1987 she joined a theatre group attached to the French literature department.

Leili Anvar'- a great voice and a sense of stagecraft

Despite this slow start to the night, Fatima-Zohra Qortobi proved a welcome addition to the stage, with her beautifully powerful and versatile voice fixing the audience attention. Fahtima’s performance must be remarked by her consistent engagement with her audience, as she encouraged them to clap, dance and sing along with her music. This is in turn proved significant for audience members, as it showed that Fahtima was not there purely to sing, but to share and celebrate Sufism in its entirety. The highlight of her performance was her ability to change the pace of her singing for added effect, which saw the orchestra and audience respond to her enthusiasm.

Fatima-Zohra El Qortobi

Born in Oujda, the capital of the Oriental, Fatima-Zohra El Qortobi grew up in a family attached to the traditions of Eastern Morocco musical heritage. At the age of 17, she won the prize for the "most beautiful Gharnati voice" festival in Oujda. Fatima-Zohra El Qortobi is an aviation engineer by profession, but her passion for singing and music that rocked her childhood and adolescence remained intact.

Burak Bildik 

For many, the stand out performance undoubtedly came from Turkey's “Whirling Dervishes”, who filled the stage in a display of grace and tranquility, which received a powerful reaction from the audience, with much clapping, dancing and whistling along the spectacle. For many years Burak Bildik has been a regular performer with the Turkish Brotherhood and was warmly welcomed back to Fez.

Festival Director Faouzi Skali - happy with the festival

Through the varied and diverse performances, the night itself successfully embodied the meanings and significance of Sufism within not only Morocco but across the world, with the audience already left anticipating the return of the festival next year.

Reporting: Sandy McCutcheon & Alice Price


Saturday, October 26, 2019


FISHING 4 FISHERMEN Concert Wednesday, 30 October, at 7 PM ALIF Riad, 6 Derb Drissi, Batha

“Fishing For Fishermen” is a collaboration of three New York City artists, Amanda Homi, Eugene Ruffolo and Gary Schreiner - three friends whose musical paths have crossed throughout their varied careers. Together they create a singular sound with silken harmony vocals, chromatic harmonica, acoustic guitar, accordion, and a potpourri of percussion that is sure to stir your imagination and satisfy your soul.

Here’s an example of their music:

This concert is free and open to the general public.


Fes Sufi Festival - Perfume Master Class

The return of the good weather on Friday allowed for all festival events to be rightly held in the Jardin Jnan Sbil, which proved the perfect location for the evening’s perfume master class to take place. Alice Price reports...

The master class was led by Abderrazzak Benchaabane, the Marrakech based Botanist and Master Perfumer who’s extensive career in the industry has seen him establish a notable mark on the perfume world, from founding festivals such as Festival Jardin Art, to more notably working alongside Yves Saint Laurent at the world renowned Jardin Majorelle.

Despite his successful career, Abderrazzak maintains that his motivations have always been purely spiritual, in emphasising that the role of a master perfumer goes deeper than the knowledge of the scents themselves, but that of the knowledge of their spiritual significance and associations.

Abderrazzak brought our attention to the spiritual significance of not only Morocco, but Fez itself within the perfume world. Despite many associating places such as Paris to be the perfume capital, Abderrazzak enlightened us as to the diversely rich scents and spices that are unique to Morocco. For instance, when it comes to creating a perfume that incorporates solely Moroccan essences, the master perfumer informed us that scents such as orange flower, rose and saffron form the key ingredients, with these particular scents harbouring superior qualities.

Rose for instance, is considered to be at the heart of a good perfume, with the Moroccan and Turkish roses being the most highly sought after.

Perfume and sunset in Jnan Sbil Gardens

Abderazzak emphasised that the key to a good perfume does not only rest in the smells it emanates, but the feelings it incites from the individual. According to Abderazzak the effect that perfume has on the human body is incredibly profound, with human beings making strong personal and emotional associations with smells that remain ingrained in their memory for life.

Overall, the evening proved to be an atmospheric and spiritual breath of fresh air for the Sufi Festival, with audience members having maintained very positive reactions as to the information and smells they were met with.

Photographs and text: Alice Price