When a man with an exceptional voice, over 5000 song titles to his name, more than 3000 compositions and more than 60 years experience as a performer walks on stage, it is a special moment. And there is another factor that makes this man more than just an iconic singer; at the age of 91 Wadih El Safi is a phenomena. The huge, overwhelmingly Moroccan audience knew this and as Wadih appeared the crowd rose to they feet and applauded. He may be Lebanese, but tonight he was "their Wadih".
His greeting of the crowd was warmly received, as were his first and subsequent songs. The full orchestra and backing singers knew their stuff and their contribution was delivered with restrained precision.
El Safi, a classically trained baritone, has lost none of his musical ability, though his voice, understandably, no longer has there power of his younger years. Nevertheless, the audience knew they were witnessing something special.
Wadih's son Antoine (pictured above) also received a very warm welcome to Fez. His contribution of song and fine oud playing provided the link between the two great names on the bill.
If Wadih El Safi is the "Voice of the Lebanon", then Lotfi Bouchnak is Tunisia's "Pavarotti" Lotfi, an accomplished oud player and composer. When he began singing it was easy to appreciate why he is considered one of the best tenors in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Arab world.
His stage presence is deceptive. Dressed in a very sharp, but conservative black suit, he approaches the microphone with a broad smile. He has the air of a dapper bank manager about to grant you a loan. But once he sings, you know you are in the hands of a seasoned performer.
The orchestral accompaniment for Bouchnak's songs was more richly textured, with some beautiful violin work and vibrant percussion.
Seeing these two great performers on stage and watching the way the standing-room-only audience hung on to every note, was a reminder that the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music offers different experiences to different people. Tonight the Moroccan audience may not have been offered much of the "sacred" but they certainly appreciated the "festival".
Wadih and Lotfi dedicate the concert to the memory of Algerian diva Warda Al Jazairia, who died on May 17.
TOMORROW'S FÈS FESTIVAL WEATHER
Friday June 15th
14.30 – 18.30 @ Houria Cultural Complex
Expressions of Body and Soul / Calligraphy / Theatre
16.00 @ Batha Museum
Sanam Marvi – Pakistan Sufi songs from Sindh
20.30 @ Bab Al Makina
Björk – Biophilia: Somewhere between a nature extravaganza and a multimedia fantasy, this is a technological ode to the diversity of creation and the universe (Iceland)
22.00 @ Bab Boujloud Square – free entry
Tribute to Wadie El Safie and Lotfi Bouchnak
23.00 @ Dar Tazi – free entry
La Hadra Chefchaounia: Lala Rhoum El Bakkali
FÈS FESTIVAL QUICK LIST
Festival in the City
Festival Eating Guide
Art during the Festival #1
Art during the Festival #2
The Enchanted Gardens of Fez
Last Minute Accommodation
Reporting: Sandy McCutcheon
Photographs: Suzanna Clarke Sandy McCutcheon
The View from Fez is an official Media Partner of the Fès Festival of World Sacred Music