Tonight at Bab Makina, the Fes Festival experienced something very special. Joan Baez produced a concert that was a celebration of music, spirituality and political bravery. It could have simply been a nostalgic look back at an illustrious career. But Joan Baez made certain that it was not the case. Sandy McCutcheon and Vanessa Bonnin report.
In a two hour set, Baez showed why she is worthy of being the world's best known female folk singer. Dressed simply but elegantly, with a dramatic flowing red scarf, Baez looked to be in fine form; slim, her silver hair cropped. There was no great show-biz flare, no dramatics, but rather a set of music that was as skilfully crafted as it was delivered.
The Fes Festival of World Sacred Music aspires to deliver what its name says; sacred music. Baez was right on song with her first offering; Steve Earle's reflective God is God. The audience were rapt. This was Joan Baez and she had lost none of her distinctive vocal purity. If anything her voice had, like matured wine, grown more interesting. Her guitar playing was as good as it has always been.
Two favourites followed. Baez gave a heartfelt rendition of Christopher Logue's song about mortality, Be Not too Hard, and Dylan's Farewell Angelina, before her "little band" joined her on stage. The two member band comprised her son, Gabriel Harris, on percussion and cajon box drum and the very talented multi-instrumentalist, Dirk Powell. During the evening Powell switched between, accordion, banjo, mandolin, and keyboards.
The only traditional song of the evening, Lily of the West, was accompanied by drums and banjo.
At this point there came a subtle change in the texture of the evening. The songs became more consciously political. "The most beautiful anti-war song I know, plus belle" Baez said and launched into Dylan's God On Our Side with Dirk Powell on accordion.
So now as I'm leavin'
I'm weary as Hell
The confusion I'm feelin'
Ain't no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
If God's on our side
He'll stop the next war.
Aware that many in the audience were Francophone, Baez very considerately used a lot of French, not only in her introductions, but with the next song - another Dylan, Don't think Twice it's Alright - she changed the chorus to French: “Ne pense plus, tout est bien.”
Never afraid to go out on the edge, Baez then delivered a powerful and moving rendition of Richard Shindell's risky Ballad of Mary Magdalene. The audience lapped it up.
However, it was the next song that won over the crowd completely. There was an audible gasp as Baez launched into Steve Earle's Jerusalem.
But I believe there'll come a day when the lion and the lamb
Will lie down in peace together in Jerusalem
And there'll be no barricades then
There'll be no wire or walls
And we can wash all this blood from our hands
And all this hatred from our souls
And I believe that on that day all the children of Abraham
Will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem
Baez demonstrated a tremendous raport with the audience. Never once did she (as Bjork had done the previous night) perform at the audience. Baez engaged totally and won hearts with her generosity of spirit. This was beautifully demonstrated when she stopped and invited a child up on stage.
“Do you want to come up here and sing? This is my friend from last night, she had lots of questions: do you like to sing, do you write your own songs, what will you sing?” Unfazed by the huge crowd watching, skipped up and greeted Baez. A heartwarming gesture by Baez.
The next song was a surprising inclusion; Hard Times Come Again No More, written by Stephen Foster and first published in 1854.
Then it was back to familiar territory with Donovan's Catch the Wind, beautifully delivered with harmony vocals from Dirk Powell.
Baez paused to dedicate the next song.
“I want to dedicate this song to the people around the world who take risks. People ask me can music change the world? My answer is yes, if those musicians take risks.”
She then recounted the story of being sent a song from a church during the 1960's civil rights movement. The song was Swing Low Sweet Chariot.
Heading back into turbulent political waters, Baez announced she would sing a song she has been singing for forty years. The song, Le Déserteur (The Deserter), written by Boris Vian and Harold Berg, is another anti-war classic. The crowd loved it.
refusez de la faire,
n'allez pas à la guerre,
refusez de partir.
S'il faut donner son sang,
allez donner le vôtre,
vous êtes bon apôtre,
monsieur le Président.
Si vous me poursuivez
prévenez vos gendarmes
que je n'aurai pas d'armes
et qu'ils pourront tirer.
After the applause finally died down, Baez was joined on stage by a young singer, Marianne Aya Omark from Montpellier and together they sung a duet, before the Marianne vocally reproduced the sound of a trumpet and launched into an up-tempo Spanish number. Baez danced and the crowd went wild.
|Mother and son|
|Marianne Aya Omark|
The music kept coming; House of the Rising Sun, her historic Woodstock song; Joe Hill and Cohen's masterpiece, Suzanne, which she interpreted in in own inimitable way - perfect.
There is always a catch in Joan Baez's throat when she introduces the song about her relationship with Bob Dylan. "Check this out ... 50 years ago I bought you some cufflinks." The emotion she displayed suggests that time does not heal all wounds. The song, Diamonds and Rust, brought the crowd to their feet.
The concert was supposedly over, but the crowd would not let her go. The encores built one upon the other as the people surged forward, some even dancing on stage.
Gracias a la Vida, We shall Overcome, John Lennon's Imagine and Blowing in the Wind, all became mass anthems.
What was so refreshing was that tonight security let it happen. The crowd, including Festival Director Faouzi Skali, came forward and celebrated. It was a magical evening. The Fes Festival is to be thanked for the superb programming of Joan Baez and Joan Baez is to be thanked for putting the "festive" back in "Festival".
|"The best concert of the festival" A standing ovation for Joan Baez from the huge crowd|
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Reporting: Sandy McCutcheon and Vanessa Bonnin
Photographs: Vanessa Bonnin, Suzanna Clarke, Sandy McCutcheon
The View from Fez is an official Media Partner of the Fès Festival of World Sacred Music