Monday, July 04, 2011

National Geographic on Fez

The latest edition of National Geographic on line ( carries an extensive feature on Fez and its Sacred Music Festival, written by Evangeline Kim.

"Where but in Fes," asks Kim, "Morocco's renowned spiritual, cultural, and intellectual center so imbued with powerful Sufi saints' histories over 1200 years, could such an event take place?"

"Giant keyhole-arch palace gates, museum interiors, riad courtyards, and restaurants in the Medina burst with arabesque patterns in intricate mosaic zellij tile work, finessed plaster carvings, and interlacing polygonal geometric or flowering patterned cedar woodwork. Andalusian gardens bloom with fragrance in cooling foliage. By moments, an almost palpable crystalline light seems to illuminate the air while it materializes in the gentle yellow ochre shade covering palace walls and older buildings. Five times a day, polyphonies of the muezzin call to prayer roll across the city."

In two finely-crafted, in-depth articles, Kim gives an excellent overview of the Festival, from the afternoon concerts at the Batha Museum, to the evening events at Bab al Makina, as well as the Festival in the City concerts at Dar Tazi and Bab Boujloud (read the full article here).

It often seems that journalists covering the Festival attend a concert or two and then disappear to submit one short piece. But Ms Kim, it seems, not only explored the Festival and the city itself, but also took the time to meet local people and investigate local institutions.


Cherif Brahim Tijani (photo: Evangeline Kim)

"Part of Morocco's great charm, interest and attraction lies with her people", explains Ms Kim. "We met the young scion of the great Tijani Brotherhood, Cherif Brahim Tijani. It was his great grand-father the venerable Cheikh Ahmed Tijani, who inspired the spread of Sufism in sub-Saharan Africa and all over the world.

Youssou N'Dour's concert was a tribute to this brotherhood. In his press conference, when urged by the Moroccan radio Chaine-Inter's incisive journalist/producer Aziz Hachimi, "Tell us in one word what Fes signifies for you, Mr. N'Dour? His answer: "Fes Tijani." And, in the medina neighborhood souks surrounding Cheikh Ahmed Tijani's mausoleum, business cards of the redolently aromatic Univers des Herbes (the local Berber pharmacy) and of a great traditional tailor of djellabas and robes, Abdelaziz Cohen, proudly proclaim their addresses as "next to Sidi Ahmed Tijani."

Cherif Brahim is an intriguing Sufi leader for the future. Although still young, he is well-versed in the cultural and spiritual history of the Tijani order, and quietly ponders his forthcoming responsibilities and hopes for Fes and Morocco. With a keen intellect and wisdom far beyond his age, he was in constant demand for interviews about his pride in the festival. He is well worth seeking out for greater knowledge about Sufism and its profound significance in Islam."

The National Geographic team also visited this Centre in Batha that was opened in 2009. Ms Kim reports:

"We met with the center's director, Ahmed Aboujaafar, whose enthusiastic and very careful management planning within the region's first apprenticeship program for artisans promises a greater, ensured socio-economic and cultural future for Fes and Morocco. The center has recently entered into a cultural exchange program with the UK under the auspices of Prince Charles. And will soon open another center in Casablanca. Mr.Aboujaafar has great hopes for and seeks to encourage increased international exchange programs.

The center was established to halt the decline in artisanal training since the beginning of the last century. Craftwork provides work and income to more than 53,000 artisans and a living directly or indirectly to more than 260,000 people in Fes, or 27 percent of the city's total population and 70 percent of the medina's population. It is a critical institution. To have visited the training ateliers and watched the crafts men and women at work was essential to a deeper appreciation of Fes' spiritual environment - especially during the festival.

According to Mr. Aboujaafar, a team of the center's master craftsmen of arabesque zellij, carved woodwork and plaster are already at work here in New York in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In early November this year, the museum will unveil a whole Moroccan royal courtyard as centerpiece in the Islamic Arts halls. It will be breathtaking in visual splendor and the scope of its ingenuities, a true homage to the arts and culture of Fes." (See our story here.)

Ms Kim sums up her visit to Fez as follows:
"The mark of a superb festival must lie in its capacity to make one long to attend the next edition, to seek answers to lingering questions long after its conclusion - especially about Sufi symbolisms embedded in the ancient decorative arts of Fes. To wish to experience once again the extraordinary beauty of Fes' spiritual culture as it welcomes musicians and visitors from far and near, now remains part of a supreme memory."


Tom Pryor, Editor, Nat Geo Music said...

Hello and greetings from National Geographic Music! We just wanted to thank you for reposting this piece and for your kind words - we´re always thrilled when we get positive feedback from the places we visit. But I just wanted to clarify one thing - Evangeline´s story actually appeared on the Nat Geo Music website (, not the latest edition of National Geographic magazine. It´s an easy mistake to make - we´re a big organization with a lot of different platforms and sometimes it gets confusing (even to us!). But we would hate to have your readers looking in the wrong place to find this article. That said, thanks again for your kind post and we hope we can see you next year in Fes, a city that we all hold close to our hearts here at Nat Geo Music.

Sandy McCutcheon said...

Thanks Tom - I have edited the info into the story.