"I made it here. I made it here. Now my life can begin." - Ben Harper
For those few in the audience who had wondered how Ben Harper would fit into the spirit of a "sacred music festival" - the answer was "beautifully". From the moment he walked on stage and said "shukran" (thank you) to the last fading chord, Harper had Fez in the palm of his hand. His Moroccan t-shirt, with the word "Fez" emblazoned across it, was hugely popular with the audience and his music even more so.
To the surprise of some, Ben Harper elected to do a mixed set - acoustic, soul, gospel, rock. What he delivered was perfect for the Fez Festival and confirmed why Harper is considered musical royalty in France. Yet there was no ego on display. When he ripped out a solo on slide or acoustic guitar, it was because the music demanded it, not the musician.
Seated alone on the big Bab Makina stage, he played some extraordinary arrangements of traditional folk tunes. He teased out the melodies, squeezing sweet notes out of the slide guitar on his lap. Then, just as notes dripped like honey, he would bang the guitar producing a deep, dark bass response. It was a superb start.
Then changing instruments (the first of many changes) he began to sing... "Life is much too short to sit and wonder who's gonna make the next move and will slowly pull you under when you've always got something to prove". The audience erupted. The song was "Lifeline". Harper immersed himself in the lyrics, his eyes closed; transported. Then there is the voice, described by critics as "a mesmerizing godsend". He swoops amid highs and lows, falsettos and bass. Harper propels his voice like wings and the vibratory effect is truly uplifting.
From there it was on to the aspirational "With My Own Two Hands" and the tender "Don't give up on me now."
Then he paused and, mindful of the disappointment caused by his failure to appear at last years festival, acknowledged the fact by saying "I made it here. I made it here. Now my life can begin." This received ecstatic reaction from the standing room only crowd.
His next song was an echo of previous festivals - a Blind Boys from Alabama number - There Will be a Light. Again Harper poured himself into the song and brought it to life as if it were not an old song, but rather a moment of revelation. From that point on, Ben Harper could do no wrong.
Joined on stage by three members of his group, Relentless7 - the wonderful Jason Mozersky on lead guitar (pictured above), Jesse Ingalls on bass and Jordan Richardson drums - the party kicked off into rock and worked its way steadily to become one of the most successful concerts to ever close the Fez Festival. The closing moments, audience taking to the stage was a delight to everyone.
|Photo: Ben Harper website|
i don't want to wait a lifetime
yours or mine
can't you see me
reaching for the lifeline
Review and photos: Sandy McCutcheon
Click images to enlarge