The View from Fez music correspondent reports from the musical front line about two totally different groups. One is a Moroccan favourite, the other is a Sufi Brotherhood with their own strong following. Chris Witulski reports...
Last night an electric crowd, people climbing on each others back in an attempt to get just inches closer to the music, chanted "Omar! Omar!" They were encouraging Nass al-Ghiwane to take the stage. The group can easily be described as Morocco's first popular music group. Starting in the 70s, Omar Sayyid and his friends from the slums of Casablanca drew upon the language and sounds of their parents and grandparents. They laid the groundwork, defining what Moroccan popular music would sound like over the coming years. And now, because of this, they are revered and loved.
As the musicians climbed the stairs, the guests (lending the sounds of the Gnawa and Hamadsha) played rhythms that align closely with the introductions to their respective ritual ceremonies. These statements brought the energy of the crowd into a ritual, a spiritual space where the group's music could energise the audience. (When a banjo string broke, they simply dropped into a Gnawa jam with acrobatics as the group waited for a fix.)
The concert was a greatest hits performance, with the entirety of Boujloud Square soaring into some of Nass al-Ghiwane's most famous songs. "Feen Ghadi biya Khuya" ("Where Are You Taking Me, Brother"), a song questioning the future of Moroccan society while nostalgically remembering the past and "Es-Saniyya" ("The Tea Tray"), another which describes the complex and diverse world of this nation through the individual elements needed for the preparation of mint tea - these two songs in particular gave the musicians a moment to allow for the onslaught of screamed lyrics from the large audience.
As always, a short walk brought us to the comfortable and relaxed Dar Tazi, another world away from the ruckus of Boujloud. Sadly, though, all of the events for this festival seem to start late except for these Sufi nights, forcing listeners to pick and choose what and when they have to leave early! I'm sure that tonight's "Night in the Medina" will be the same way, but hopefully I will be proven wrong!
The Darqawiyya Brotherhood from Essaouira had already taken the stage when I made it over there. The ensemble featured a number of powerful vocalists, men who were able to push their texts into the night air with a strain of focus that, frankly, highlights the differences in vocal training and traditions between that of Western classical and Inshad (one of many names for this type of recitation). Also on stage were a handful of talented instrumentalists, like we saw with the previous evening's performance. A qanun (lap zither, if that helps) and rabab (see the photo below, sitting next to the 'ud and violin) gave a distinct sound to these adherents as remembered Allah's place in their lives.
Tonight's events throughout the medina will surely keep everyone busy. If, however you find yourself without a festival pass and/or the 300dh it costs to make the series of walks, then check out Bab Boujloud, where the La'abi Brothers Orchestra will be playing, well, basically Moroccan party music (sha'abi). They are the type of group that would bring their massive collection of large frame drums and other percussion, along with some violins, uds, etc., to a wedding, entertaining guests until the wee hours of the morning. If you've had enough sitting and listening, and you feel the need to get up and move around, consider stopping in to hear the music that actually pervades Fessi popular culture.
Photographs by Chris Witulski