Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sama’a - Spiritual Songs, from East to West

Sama'a - a little background

As Zeyba Rahman reminded the audience in her introduction, the word sama'a literally means "listening" and is part of a ritual of remembrance of the divine. It is also one of the most refined musical forms of worship.

The Sama'a of Fes differs in many respects from the Sama'a music of other regions because of the interventions of history. The Fez Sama'a was changed and enriched by the arrival of the Andalusian Arabs after their flight from Granada in 1492. The refugees included many musicians who came to Fez and into contact with oriental Arabic music. This musical fusion - beautiful Arabo-Andalous melodies and Moroccan Sufi chants - created an original musical genre that was both local and continuously evolving.

The scale of Moroccan Sufi chants stemmed from oriental roots which themselves came from other Sufi chants of the Arab world or elsewhere.

Sama'a groups can comprise from 8 to 40 members who are intitiated into brotherhoods and trained in this music. Even the term 'Sama'a' suggests that it is this very sound quality that is spiritual, without which music and poetry would have no sacred aspect. It is in fact called Sama'a for its psalm-like quality that is not instrumental, in comparison with the Andalous Nouba, although Sama'a does follow the great traditions of the Andalous Nouba. Hence it arises from a tradition of mystical alliance between the spiritual quality of music and the spiritual essence of ritual song.

Sama'a - the concert 
One thing a Sama'a concert guarantees is that the local Moroccans will turn out in droves - and so it was at Bab Makina tonight. On the bill were all the big names;  Said Hafid from Egypt, Omar Sabouni from Syria, Ibrahim al haj Kacem from Algeria, Mahmoud Frih from Tunisia, and from Morocco: Muhammad Bajdoub, Aderrahim Souiri, and Abd al-Fettah Bennis. Also in the 29 man lineup was the young Moroccan munshid, Marwan Hajji, a rising star in the world of Sufi Music.

Marwan Hajji, a rising star

There was a sense of expectation in the audience, but then the anticipated starting time of 8.30 pm came and went. The crowd became restive. By ten minutes to nine there was whistling and clapping. Then, as quickly as it had begun, it died away. Something special was about to happen and everyone in the crowd sensed it.

A cheer went up as a woman and a young boy came down the aisle. There, not more than a metre away was Princess Lalla Salma accompanied by the young Crown Prince Moulay Hassan. This was not the princess of the opening night with glamorous gown and huge security contingent. No, this was the Princess having a night out at the Fès Festival of World Sacred music with her son. The crowd loved it and, judging by the broad smile on Princess Lalla Salma's face, so did she. This time the security was minimal and she passed without fanfare to take her seat. Now, the concert could begin.

This performance opened with Allahu Akbar - the call to prayer. Eerily the sound seemed to come from the heavens, as none of the performers on stage were singing. As recitation of prayers - dhikr - was performed a sweetly perfumed smoke wafted out to the audience and with the notes of the song, hung suspended in the air before being blown away on the breeze. Then one singer chimed in on the bass notes, giving a human presence to the sound, but still layers of harmony reverberated around the audience.

The arrival of the singers

Finally, ten white-robed men filed out from the wings and continued to sing as they took their places on the stage. Later in the performance, during a quiet musical interlude on the lute, the actual muezzins of Fes sang out with the late evening call to prayer in the medina - the whole city becoming part of the performance.

The audience was treated to a wonderful cultural exchange between the Sama'a traditions of the various countries involved. Between the songs were instrumental introductions - short taqsim - each on a solo instrument; Kaman (violin), Qanun (zither) or Oud (lute). The notes, at times tinkled so sweetly that they reminded one of the sound of water falling from a fountain.

Of course the audience, and no doubt, the Princess and her son, enjoyed it. After all, Sama'a is Sama'a - what's not to like?


Tomorrow's Programme
Daily Digest – Fes Sacred Music Festival – Monday June 11th

9.00 – 12.00 @ Batha Museum
Fes Forum: Giving a Soul to Globalisation
Theme – Spirituality and Business

16.00 @ Batha Museum
Mukhtiyar Ali – Mystical and devotional songs of the mystic and poet Kabir (Rajasthan, India)

20.00 @ Dar Mokri (Nights in the Medina)
Mahsa & Marjane Vahdat - Mystical poetry with Pasha Hanjani – ney flute (Iran)

20.00 @ Dar Adyel (Nights in the Medina)
Ihsan Rmiki – The Art of the Mouwashahats of al Andalus (Morocco)

21.00 @ Batha Museum (Nights in the Medina)
Mory Djely Kouyaté & Jean-Philippe Rykiel – Voice meets Piano (France & Guinea Tinkiso)

22.00 @ Dar Mokri (Nights in the Medina)
Mahsa & Marjane Vahdat - Mystical poetry with Pasha Hanjani – ney flute (Iran)

22.00 @ Dar Adyel (Nights in the Medina)
Ihsan Rmiki – The Art of the Mouwashahats of al Andalus (Morocco)

22.00 @ Bab Boujloud Square – free entry
Festival in the City
Chrifa: Amazigh song

23.00 @ Dar Tazi – free entry
Sufi Nights
Hamdouchia Brotherhood


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

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


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