Saturday, June 09, 2012

Fès Festival of World Sacred Music - Archie Shepp

The Archie Shepp Gospel & Blues Ensemble from the USA gave the audience at Bab Makina a rare treat - a world premiere. The new work - To the roots of Blues and Gospel - delivered exactly what the name implies and did so with effortless grace.

Archie Shepp

“As we say in the church ‘we may not all be able to talk together but we can all sing together,” Archie Shepp told The View From Fez.  And the uniting power of music, crossing languages, cultures and heritage was at the forefront of the musical message being delivered at Bab Al Makina tonight. “Music represents our heritage, it tells the truth, it goes very deep. We have a responsibility to our African American heritage – it goes back to slavery and our survival from very trying circumstances,” Shepp told The View From Fez.

Shepp comes across as a humble man who never parades his deep musicological knowledge nor his strongly held political views about the plight of African-Americans. In his pre-concert press conference he touched on the history of the Civil Rights movement, "Our heritage goes all the way back to slavery, and our music speaks of our survival... Black music speaks to personal problems and also to those of the whole world."

"They say in church we may not be able to talk together, but we can all sing...Sacred music is a way of affirming a heritage. Music lifts me up, it elevates me. Music enchants me, as I hope to be able to enchant others." - Archie Shepp.
What he and the seven member ensemble gave the audience began with some wonderful jazz, but as the night progressed the music morphed between fusions of jazz, blues and gospel.

Amina Myers

Shepp was well supported by the ensemble, and in particular by Amina Myers, who sat at a grand piano resplendent in an African print dress and head scarf, skinny dreadlocks cascading to her bottom and her soulful voice complimenting Shepp’s more gravelly tones.  Myers stage presence is matched by her talent; a gifted pianist with a voice that was born to sing gospel and blues. To hear the two of them trading riffs on a sumptuous extended version of Motherless Child was exquisite.

The choice of music for this offering was perfectly pitched for a sacred music event. “I know the depths of your suffering and I know it’s all you can bear, so rest, rest enough your troubles and your cares. You’ve done your share,” they sang.

Even chandeliers get the blues - great lighting design

A tribute tonight should be paid to the lighting designers and technicians, the mood changes were subtle and yet enhanced the performance so that the audience were transported. The stage was wreathed in smoke reminiscent of a jazz club, and melancholy lighting during the slower numbers meant that even the chandeliers had the blues.


Archie Shepp is a great figure in Black American jazz and blues, music that he carries deep within his soul. Born May 24th, 1937, Archie is best known for his passionately Afrocentric music of the late 1960s, which focused on highlighting the injustices faced by the African-Americans, as well as for his work with the New York Contemporary Five, Horace Parlan, and his collaborations with his "New Thing" contemporaries, most notably Cecil Taylor and John Coltrane.

Master saxophonist, Archie Shepp is recognised as a pioneer of free jazz, signatory of the 'New Thing' manifesto of the 60s, Shepp takes his music beyond the label 'jazz', cognisant of the historical and sociological ramifications at the heart of Black American music.

When Archie Shepp played the Pan-African Festival in Algiers on 19 and 30 July 1969, his militant spirit sang, "We are still back, and we have come back. Nous sommes revenus ! " then : "Jazz is a black power. Jazz is an African power. Jazz is an African music ! alors qu’il se fera accompagné sur scène par des gnawas et des touaregs algériens. (So it should be accompanied on stage by Gnaouas and Algerian Tuaregs.)

Behind the great school of Black American song that is the gospel of today, lies the rural world of the Mississippi and of an Africa imprisoned in the the cotton fields of the South. At that time, the blues of the hopeless daily grind and the first glimmerings of a liberating gospel crossed paths between the bar and the little village church. The work songs and the shouts (ecstatic stomping of feet and clapping in a circle), truly poetic African declamations, gave a hint of the negro spiritual to the 18th century and became a form of music symbolising hope and dignity.


Tomorrow's Programme
Daily Digest – Fes Sacred Music Festival – Sunday June 10th

9.00 – 12.00 @ Batha Museum
Fes Forum: Giving a Soul to Globalisation
Theme – The Future after the Arab Spring

16.00 @ Batha Museum
Sheikh Yasin al-Tuhami (Egypt)

20.30 @ Bab Al Makina
Sama’a, Spiritual Songs, from East to West

22.00 @ Bab Boujloud Square – free entry
Festival in the City
Dekka of Marrakech (Bâna)
Poets, musicians and Sufi songs from Rajasthan

23.00 @ Dar Tazi – free entry
Sufi Nights
Cherqawwiya Brotherhood (Bejaad)


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, Sandy McCutcheon, Vanessa Bonnin

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


No comments: