Friday, May 06, 2011

Fez Festival of World Sacred Music: Highlights #2

After the success of the first Night in the Medina at the 2010 Festival, two such evenings are planned for this year's event. Artistic Director Alain Weber's laudable idea is to bring the Festival into the heart of the medina, making use of the gracious palaces and riads of the old city.

"On two evenings," explains Weber, "the spirit of the festival pilgrim will wander into the medina, pausing at a medersa, a fondouk, a fountain or a palace to discover some traditional jewels: be it the bèguèna lyre of Ethiopia, the Afghan rubâb of the famous Homayoun Sakhi, the Italian baroque harpsichord, the harp of the Paraguay Barroco d’Asuncion Ensemble or the Andalous vocals of Naziha Meftah and Mohamed Amin El Akrami from Tetouan."

The View from Fez takes a look at the first Night in the Medina, planned for Monday 6 June. Each evening costs 28 Euros, and you choose which concerts to attend. It takes some planning!

DAR MOKRI at 20h00 and 22h00: Jesus Corbacho (Spain) Saetas, songs of worship

Jesús Corbacho Vázquez’ passion for flamenco was born at La Peña Flamenca de Huelva. He is skilled in the emotion involved in duende, which is to flamenco what tarab is to Arab music: a state of grace, pleasure or ecstasy that the listener can access with cante jondo or in jaleos … where the self is transcended in that moment of physical, intellectual or spiritual emotion that touches our deepest consciousness.

In the saeta, the flamenco singer declaims his devotion to the Virgin during the grand processions of Seville.

Dar Mokri is a palace situated in Oued Sawwafine. It was built at the beginning of the 20th century by Driss Moqri who was Mohtassib of Fez and brother of the Grand Vizier Lhaj Mohammed. There are several pavilions arranged around an open courtyard. For some years the palace has housed the Institute of Traditional Building Techniques and is used for training artisans in the restoration of traditional buildings.

DAR TAZI at 20h30: Salah Arhili (Iran): Poetry of Djalal ad-Din Rumi

Based as it is on musical composition, the poetry of Djalâl ad-Dîn Rûmî (1207-1273) makes our imagination soar. The vocal technique of Salah Aghili lies somewhere between restraint and forcefulness, perhaps even better than the great masters of old such as Mohamed Reza Shajarian or Shahram Nazeri who were in Fez for the 2010 Festival. Aghili has the specific determination necessary for Persian singing. It is this quality that will transport us from suffering to ecstasy.

Dar Tazi, with its beautiful gardens, was built in 1900 and served as the Governor General’s Residence from 1914-1956. After independence, it was home to two Fez Governors and then the Pasha who lived there until the end of 1986. It then became the headquarters of the Fès-Saïss Association. The Sufi Nights take place here after the concerts at Bab Al Makina, and there’s a Café Littéraire.

BATHA MUSEUM at 21h00: Prem Sanyas - Light of Asia (North India)
This evening takes the form of the film screening of a major work of the silent screen made in 1925 by German filmmaker Franz Osten. It is based on a poem by Edwin Arnold and set to music by the Manghaniyar and Langa musicians of Rajasthan, with artistic direction from Alain Weber.

Prem Sanyas, known as The Light of Asia, evokes the first years of the Buddha, when as Siddhartha Gautama, he was the long-awaited son of King Suddhodana. Growing up in a closed and protected world, the young man escaped the palace and discovered suffering, illness and death. A hermit revealed the path to enlightenment.

This film shows us the sumptuous life and traditions of the rajahs of the time, living in the fortresses that you can still see in Rajasthan.

The greatest musicians of the Manghaniyar caste of Rajasthan, formerly in the service of their Hindu lords, recreate the original music for these images from another time.

The Batha Museum is a former palace was built by Moulay Hassan (1873-1894) and enlarged by Moulay Abdelaziz (1894-1908). It was used for royal audiences during the summer months. In 1915 it was transformed into a Museum of the Arts and Traditions of Fez, and was listed as an historical monument in 1925. The barbary oak in the courtyard is several hundred years old.

DAR ADIYEL at 21h00 and at 22h30: Alèmu Aga (Ethiopia) Sacred song with Beguena lute

Alèmu Aga was born in 1950 into a modest family in the hills around Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Next door lived a most venerable bèguèna master, Alèqa Tèssèmma Wèldè-Emmanuel. Young Alèmu fell in love with this imposing instrument and convinced the master to teach him how to play. Some 40 years later, he is never without his harp and whenever people visit the Piazza, in the commercial centre of Addis Ababa, his harp is always at the back of his souvenir shop. Some friend or pupil will always be plucking the strings.

Alèmu sings songs of religious inspiration as well as fables of popular tradition. He also writes his own poems: prayers to God, songs about love or politics, and the words are so versatile that they can all be used to illustrate the vanity of existence or the hazards of social life.

Bèguèna music can be meditative, devotional and uplifting for some, or even mind-blowing for others – it’s certainly an extreme experience for Western ears. The crystalline notes of this lyre (also known as King David’s harp) and the recitative songs of Alèmu Aga take us back to the psalms of King David. Both meditative and therapeutic, the songs have an ancient quality that seem to embrace the very essence of a lost serenity.

Dar Adiyel was built towards the end of the 18th century and at the beginning of the 19th. This palace has been used for several official and public functions: as a mint, as the kingdom’s treasury, as a museum of traditional craft and, after independence, as the Music Conservatory of Morocco for Andalous and Malhoun Music. Today, after restoration, the palace continues its function as a music conservatory providing academic teaching of the traditional music of medieval Andalusia.

DAR TAZI at 23h00: Sheikh Taha (Upper Egypt) Sufi songs

Taha is a young sheikh leading a mystical life – he lives alone in a small zawiya (shrine), some few hundred metres from Luxor. A profound simplicity emanates from him, making him one of the new heralds of Sufi song. As soon as he appears on stage, his face takes on the mask of an old tragedian.

Theatrically, he seeks out the harmony through suffering, a suffering shown in his voice that is broken with the emotion of a thousand sleepless nights. He uses his voice to chant the words snatched from real-life Islam. This is the Islam of the streets, of the villages, of gallabiyas and chichas, the Islam that is the last refuge of the poetry of the people of the Nile.

The View from Fez will publish a map of the medina showing the concert venues.

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