Friday, June 08, 2012

Fès Festival of World Sacred Music - Opening Night

Photo: Suzanna Clarke

The glitterati of Fez sparkled like the crystal chandeliers swinging in the evening breeze over the stage at Bab Al Makina. Outside, the Moroccan flags stood crisply to attention, inside, white uniformed guards formed an orderly line, welcoming the crowds as they streamed through the grand gates. Three regal storks perched on the parapets and overlooked the scene.

Photo: Philip Murphy

All of Fes was on show to open the Sacred Music Festival, but also, perhaps more importantly to be in the esteemed presence of Princess Lalla Salma. Security was tight and photography forbidden as she swept down the red carpet and took her place in front of the stage. Now the musical part of the ‘show’ could begin.

Princess Lalla Salma greets the audience 

The opening concert promised all that the festival will deliver over the coming week – a mix of musicians from diverse countries (in this case Iran, India, Egypt and Morocco), a spiritual atmosphere enhanced by chanting, drumming and rapturous voices and elements of Sufism.

Photo: Suzanna Clarke


Over the years, opening nights of the Fèz Festival of World Sacred Music have offered a wide range of music; usually very good and sometimes not so. Tonight, however, Tony Gatlif took the capacity crowd to familiar territory - a magic carpet ride on the music of their world.  While the festival's goal of re-enchanting the world is a huge task, Gatlif succeeded in enchanting the crowd.

Photo: Suzanna Clarke

The stage design, while not as bold as last year's multi-level extravaganza, was both simple and elegant. Above the stage were hung a number of small chandeliers, while hanging centre-stage was a hooped cone draped in white fabric. While the chandeliers remained mysterious visitors from another reality, the hanging cloth's purpose was soon revealed; the most arresting image of the night - a ghostly whirling dervish, which spun and fluttered like a living spirit throughout the concert and reached its peak when accompanied by a spinning human form below. It was extremely effective.

Photo: Suzanna Clarke

The music took the audience on a journey across East, West and Central Asia to Iran and Egypt. Its presentation was flawless. The entire ensemble sat in a semi-circle across the stage and from their ranks singers emerged to add their voices to the at times delicate percussion and instrumental performances.

Dervish photos: Suzanna Clarke

Then, just as the rather static nature of the staging felt it needed a lift, a Sufi whirling dervish began a remarkable three-skirt performance that had the audience gasping.

In his films, Tony Gatlif is a master of capturing the emotion of oriental and Sufi music. To do so on a large stage in a big venue without the tools that create cinematic magic, is a big ask. Yet, the audience were convinced.

Photo Omar Chennafi

The Tribute to Omar Khayyâm was produced in collaboration with Faouzi Skali, Director General of the Spirit of Fes Foundation, and Alain Weber, the Festival's Artistic Director.

"Be happy for this moment;  for this moment is your life." - Omar Khayyâm
The Persian writer and sage Ghiyath ed-din Abdoul Fath Omar Ibn Ibrahim al-Khayyām Nishabouri, better known as Omar Khayyām, was born on 18 May 1048 in Nishapur, Persia (today's Iran).
Son of a tent-maker, Omar Khayyâm, became known from 1074 as a great mathematician and astronomer throughout the East. His work in algebra, cubic equations, astronomical tables and his reform of the Persian calendar, made him a great sage of his time.

At a time when science was inextricably linked to the spiritual, Omar Khayyâm was filled with a mystical quest and gave us his vision of existence, of God and of eternity in his poems. The hauntingly beautiful quatrains of his famous Rubaiyat are still relevant now after so many centuries.

Faced as we are today by the quest for power, by anarchy and dark deeds, Omar Khayyâm gives us a serene and pleasant philosophy for a life focussed on the now and on the light.


"It;s going to be a fine day"  Photo Philip Murphy

Tomorrow's Programme
Daily Digest – Fes Sacred Music Festival – Saturday June 9th

9.00 – 12.00 @ Batha Museum
Fes Forum: Giving a Soul to Globalisation
Theme – The Poet and the City

16.00 @ Batha Museum
Gipsy Sentimento Paganini Ensemble, directed by Gyuszia Horvath (Hungary)

20.30 @ Bab Al Makina
Archie Shepp – Gospel and Blues Ensemble (United States)

22.00 @ Bab Boujloud Square – free entry
Festival in the City
Yulduz Turdevia (Uzbekistan)
Idir (France/Algeria)

23.00 @ Dar Tazi – free entry
Sufi Nights
Sekiliya Brotherhood – Night of Sama’a with Haj Mohammed Bennis (Fes)


Festival Programme
Festival in the City
Sufi Nights
Festival Forums
Festival Eating Guide
Art during the Festival #1
Art during the Festival #2
The Enchanted Gardens of Fez
Last Minute Accommodation

Text contributors: Vanessa Bonnin, Sandy McCutcheon
Photographs: Suzanna Clarke
Additional images: Omar Chennafi, Philip Murphy

The View from Fez is an official Media Partner of the Fès Festival of World Sacred Music


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