Monday, June 11, 2012

Fès Festival - A Night in the Medina - first night

The first of the Nights in the Medina was received well by almost all patrons of the festival. Many commented on the fact that the venues were well-signposted and thought that the candles lining the streets enhanced the atmosphere.

Other comments noted the impressive security presence and immaculate streets. Local residents said “it would be nice if the streets were this clean and felt this safe all the time – if they can do it during the Festival, why not all year round?”

Negative comments from attendees highlighted the fact that it was impossible to buy a ticket to a single concert and some were forced to pay for three that it was not possible to actually use. This is a valid point and one that hopefully the festival will address next year. It should be possible to buy tickets to each individual concert. Especially as to see all three concerts is very rushed, particularly when they don’t start on time. Efficiency with this type of schedule is paramount and it just wasn't possible to see all the concerts without missing some parts of the performances, or arriving late and being unable to find a seat.

Dar Mokri - Vahdat sisters from Iran

The Vahdat sisters, Mahsa and Marjan, from Iran, presented mystical poems with Pasha Hanjani playing the ney.

The sisters, belong to a new generation of musicians; university educated and totally dedicated to the cause of art, expressing the continuity of a tradition while facing the problem of identity in modern Iran. Ancient miniatures and antique paintings show that women in Persia have performed both in court and in public life. Though, "âvâz" was music more for men and showcasing classical poems, the tasnif, repertoire of songs is more commonly performed by men and women.

Persian music, in its ability to constantly regenerate itself, is part of a unique phenomenon in the East. More than being faithful to a pure historical transmission, it favors an authenticity of emotion. Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat bring graceful and proud Persian poetry to new and open spaces.


The gentle introductory music on the ney (wooden flute) was absorbingly evocative; painting often bleak windswept landscapes. The sound, so gentle and breathy, was reminiscent of the Japanese shakuhachi, yet once the voices of the Vahdat sisters entered that landscape they transformed it into a realm of love, longing and devotion.

This was music of the heart;  soft, soothing and transporting. 

However, the venue Dar Mokri, has a serious sight-line problem, exacerbated by the phalanx of TV cameras. Two-thirds of the audience had little or no visual contact with the performers.  Thankfully the photo-journalists were able to crouch beneath the central courtyard fountain and thus not impede the view. 

The concert was superb and hopefully in future years we may get a chance to experience the Varhdat sisters in a more suitable venue such as the Batha Museum.

Batha Museum - Mory Djely Kouyaté and Jean-Philippe Rykiel - France-Guinea


This evening was a perfect combination of factors - a balmy night, a great venue and superb musicians. While the program notes spoke of Mory Djely Kouyaté's trademark deep voice having the ability to convey "grave and broken emotions and his vocal intensity portraying the dramatic forces of nature and suffering of exodus", the program forgot to mention his sense of humour and exuberant joy. Mory Djely Kouyaté is a Mandingo griot from Conakry in West Africa and, as such, is first and foremost an entertainer and storyteller.

Teamed up with the extraordinary talent of Jean-Philippe Rykiel, a pianist steeped in African influences, it was a marriage made in heaven.

Alec Schweikert from Seattle told The View From Fez that he really enjoyed the performance. “I thought it was an interesting mix of classical Western piano and African singing – I was surprised that they melded together that well. The two of them had a great rapport which made it work.”

It is not really a surprise that West African music and jazz should combine so perfectly, given that Africa was the home address of jazz.  Yet, the jazz that Jean-Philippe Rykiel brought to the union was a jazz that had strayed far from its roots.  As a pianist he is a follower of both the electronic explorations of Pierre Henry and the bebop of Thelonious Monk. Jean-Philippe has also played alongside Lokua Kanza, Salif Keita, Papa Wemba, Youssou N ' Dour and the Super Rail Band.

Kouyaté dominated the stage with great presence, a huge voice and a theatrical performance style that was reminiscent of an opera singer. Pacing with the microphone, flinging his arms wide, holding the high notes and posing for the cameras, he quickly won the hearts of the audience who readily joined in clapping and singing. In deference to the program notes about his gravitas, he was also able to bring the emotion down tempo; singing some slower numbers with great feeling.

This was a sparkling and elevating evening of music performed by a couple of musicians enjoying themselves and transmitting their joy and playfulness to the audience. If there was a "suffering of exodus", it was that the concert ended and we had to wend our way home.

Congratulations to the Artistic Director for this superb programming.

*Celebrity buffs take note: spotted at the concert was Bjork who is performing this Friday. She slipped in wearing a blue hat and blue dress and watched the concert for an hour from the back, before being whisked away by a small entourage.

Dar Adiyel - Ihsan Rmiki and the Zaman Al Wasl Ensemble Morocco 

The performances of Ihsan Rmiki of Sama'a and Madih have been described as "wine to drink for a soul in search of ecstasy". She owes her musical knowledge to the teaching she received in the conservatories of El Qasr Al-Kabir in the north of Morocco and in Marrakesh.

Ihsan Rmiki loves singing mouwachahates Al Andalus, an Arabic musical tradition that evokes the mythical cities of the East: Aleppo, Damascus and Cairo. Her inspiration is inhabited by the "Bustan" - the garden symbol of Arab-Andalusia.

In Morocco, the garden has a secular history that begins in the twelfth century and has its roots in the Persian Islamic tradition. At once sensual and mystical, the Arab-Andalusian garden, often jealously guarded by walls that cut off the noises of the world and abrasive intrusions of the sun, seems to want to echo a vision of paradise.


Seven black clad musicians took to the stage and waited in silence forthe main attraction – Ihsan Rmiki – to arrive. Suddenly they stood to attention as Rmiki, wearing a red, black and gold caftan with heels so high she had to be helped onto the stage, took her place.

The silence was broken by her reciting a poem in Arabic, accompanied by the gentle plucking of the zither strings and the tinkling of the central fountain at Dar Adiyel.

Then, as she began to sing with evident emotion, it was apparent that her voice didn’t need the added stature provided by the high heels. Clasping her hands as if in prayer, her flawless melodical voice soared and dipped like the swifts over the Medina ramparts at dusk.

Adding to the atmosphere was the intimate venue, with the audience sitting barefoot on carpets, surrounded by beautiful carved plaster and cedar wood moucharabia balconies.


Tomorrow's Programme
Tuesday June 12th

9.00 – 12.00 @ Batha Museum
Fes Forum: Giving a Soul to Globalisation
Theme – Financial crisis or Civilisational crisis?

14.30 – 18.30 @ Houria Cultural Complex
Children’s Activities
Expressions of Body and Soul / Calligraphy / Theatre

16.00 @ Batha Museum
Classical performance in collaboration with the MITO Settembre Musica by Guillaume Dufay (Italy)

20.00 @ Dar Mokri (Nights in the Medina)
Rabbi Haim Louk and the Arab-Andalus Ensemble of Fes, directed by Abderahim Souiri – The Art of Matrouz: Arabic and Hebrew poetry

20.00 @ Dar Adyel (Nights in the Medina)
Cherifa, Berber poetess of the Middle Atlas Mountains (Morocco)

21.00 @ Batha Museum (Nights in the Medina)
Nour Ensemble – Christian polyphony and Persian mystical song (France & Iran)

22.00 @ Dar Mokri (Nights in the Medina)
Rabbi Haim Louk and the Arab-Andalus Ensemble of Fes directed by Abderahim Souiri – The Art of Matrouz: Arabic and Hebrew poetry

22.00 @ Dar Adyel (Nights in the Medina)
Cherifa, Berber poetess of the Middle Atlas Mountains (Morocco)

22.00 @ Bab Boujloud Square – free entry
Festival in the City
Badr Rami (Syria)
Fouad Zbadi (Morocco)

23.00 @ Dar Tazi – free entry
Sufi Nights
Machichiya Brotherhood (Tangier)


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

Reporting: 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


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