Monday, May 16, 2011

Fes Festival Update no. 5: African afternoons at the Batha Museum

Two very different African performers feature on the Fes Festival's programme on the afternoons of 8 and 10 June at the Batha Museum - Urbain Philéas of Reunion and Doudou N'diaye Rose of Senegal.

Urbain Philéas (pictured above) hails from the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean, part of France. The island is a microcosm of Africans, Asians, Indians, Arabs and Europeans – it’s a symbol of the cross-fertilisation of beliefs and communities that live together. The island expresses itself through the maloya, with influences from Indian Dravids, Malagasy possession rituals (servis kabaré) and African slave heritage.

The word maloya comes from the Malagasy maloy aho, maloy meaning to speak out, to say what has to be said. In effect, just like American Blues, the maloya is a protest song, originally sung by slaves who were homesick, or complaining of maltreatment by their masters. Long kept secret, indeed forbidden by the colonial administration and slave owners, this music almost disappeared. It was rediscovered and reinstated some forty years ago by writers/composers such as Danyèl Waro.

Associated with a culture of slavery that some people would like to forget, the maloya was at the political heart of the island. In the 1970s, the Communist Party of Reunion assisted in the production of the first albums by Firmin Viry and Granmoun Lélé who was Urbain Philéas’ father. Today it’s Philéas who is continuing in this ritual practice of the ancestors, making sure that it is transmitted from generation to generation. His concert on 8 June is entitled Voice of the Ancestors.

The Senegalese performer Doudou N'diaye Rose (pictured above) will appear on 10 June, accompanied by his ensemble of sabar drums and the Chorale of St Joseph of Medina.

Rose and his sons bring a percussive element to this chorale that expresses the animated spiritual soul of Africa. The Catholic chorale from Dakar reminds us of Gospel music drawn from the traditional repertoire of this Serer society.

Doudou N'diaye Rose is a griot who takes the Wolof musical tradition of the sabar drum to new heights. Having composed the national anthem of Senegal, he is part of the cultural history of the country and was designated a ‘living treasure’ by Unesco in 2000. He has revolutionised traditional custom and found new ways of presenting ceremonial drumming, taking his art all over the world.

The Ensemble is made up of conical drums of different sizes as well as the ndeer, the solo drum. They play a mixture of new rhythms (ba’kk bu bees) and ancient ones (ba’kku cosaan).
This alliance between voices and drums promises a performance of powerful earth-shattering rhythm alongside fervent Gospel that is profoundly African. It also tells of the encounter between Christians and Muslims of the two communities, Serer and Wolof.

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