Monday, June 06, 2011

A Wet Night In The Medina

It is not very often in the history of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music, that the elements have conspired to rain on our parade. That it should happen on the night when the concerts were being held at different venues within the Medina is a double blow. The number of people willing (or silly enough) to brave the weather was, as expected, far fewer than would have attended under normal circumstances.

However the folk from The View from Fez are made of sterner stuff, and so, trusty brolly erect, we took the plunge (we use that word advisedly) into the dark, damp, wet Medina.

Sadly, what we discovered when we arrived at the first of our planned concerts for the night was less than encouraging. The thunder crashed overhead and the Batha Museum was drenched. Thankfully a few tents had been erected and some hardy souls were sheltering from the rain.

Batha Museum in the rain
However, when we found a seat, it was soaking wet. On the screen in front of us was an intriguing black and white still from Prem Sanyas - known as the Light of Asia. The enjoyment was short-lived as the light went out, the screen went black and someone in the know whispered, "Change of venue". The film, we were told would now be screened at the Prefecture Hall across the street. Perfect.

Well, not quite a perfect plan. As any army officer will tell you, a plan only survives until the first contact with the enemy. In this case the enemy appeared to be a certain lack of a contingency plan. The audience drifted over and found a gate to squeeze through. However, the technical types had to pass cables and microphone stands through holes in the fence. Keys to gates and to the hall itself were in short supply.

Steve Watson waits in vain for the keys

A good sign of progress was the arrival of the courtesy tea man who dispenses tea to the patrons. He arrived, set up and started boiling his kettle. Then, just as all the heavy sound gear arrived the next obstacle presented itself. There was a queue of patrons outside the door, standing in the rain, there was a queue of technical types with screens and sound equipment outside another door... but, mmm... no keys.

Steve Watson, the chief sound engineer sighed, "It will only take twenty minutes to set up... if we can get in." It never happened. A quick huddle of officials with phones provided no answers as to when the keys would arrive. The answer appeared to be ... maybe tomorrow.

Eric Loots, the Assistant Sound Manager in "discussions"

News filtered through that some other venues had also cancelled. The patrons grumbled and went off wherever grumbling patrons go and the Rajasthani musicians shrugged and drifted off into the night.

The last forlorn sight was the tea man... "Ah, khoya (brother)" he said, "the tea is ready now."

Anyone for tea?
And, elsewhere in the Medina, our intrepid team members were having their own special moments. Our resident musicologist, Chris Witulski sent this report:

This afternoon, my wife had to give some security guards directions to Dar Adiyel. (We live nearby there.) After the wonderful flamenco concert, I was told by another journalist (whom I had met earlier, he wasn't an official) that the Alemu Aga concert scheduled for Dar Adiyel was moved to the Prefecture Hall across from the Batha Museum. When we got there, there were two lines (and a large crowd of confused attendees, plus a small group of similarly confused musicians). Despite the plethora of security and staff, no one realized that it would be a good idea to stand and yell "This line is for Prem Sanyas and this line is for Alemu Aga."

As a result, everyone just had to pick one and start a conversation with their neighbor, asking what they thought it was. The number of absolutely identical discussions was pretty astounding. When it was claimed to be cancelled, the news came, not from a staffer, but from a tourist who told her friend, who told her friend, who told the person standing next to her, who told..., it was a game of Chinese whispers.

We spoke with someone in a suit who was standing nearby looking official. He said that events were happening in Adiyel, Tazi, and Mokri. Really? Well, the rain was slowing, so perhaps. As I said before, Adiyel is nearby my house, so we walked over that way only to find a locked door and a Moroccan using the giant door knocker. Lights were on inside, but there was no answer. I returned home, but the two friends who traveled the journey with me decided to go check out the second of the two scheduled flamenco shows. Then, a few minutes ago I received a text that Alemu Aga was playing at Riad Mokri instead of Adiyel! That's a frustration, but hopefully that will be one of the shows that's rescheduled for tomorrow.

Then again, we are probably not as relaxed about this as some of our Moroccan friends. As one man said. "At least it is nice rain, humdullilah".

Update from friends at Riad Mokri... Aga played a short set and last we heard, it looked as if they were setting up for the second flamenco show.

Watch this space: Tomorow morning we will post a revised schedule of some of the concerts, insha'allah.

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