Last night saw the opening concerts of the Amazigh Festival. Chris Witulski was there for The View from Fez. Here is his report.
|Hamdallah Rouicha, singing many of his father's hits|
I entered Bab al-Makina a bit after 9pm, catching the end of the sound check. I was disappointed to see a sparse audience. Those who knew about this event and made it, however, were rewarded with a great show full of music that was, quite simply, fun.
Since I heard that Mohammed Rouicha's son was going to be in town, I started to notice his music pervading the medina more and more frequently. For example, I heard "Inas Inas," probably his biggest hit, three times on Thursday. I even had a long conversation with the girl who ran the cybercafe in Rcif about how much she loved his music. Mohammed Rouicha, who passed away this January, was a Tamazight singer who also performed in Arabic. He played the lotar, a large pear-shaped string instrument that appears in a few other popular and spiritual genres.
The event at Bab al-Makina featured his son, Hamdallah Rouicha, singing many of his father's hits. While you got the feeling that this group was still becoming used to the new lead performer, Hamdallah demonstrated virtuosity on his instrument. His singing carried the same nuance as his father's, though younger. This is not a music for subtly, however. The three women who responded in chorus to the young Rouicha's verses launched their refrains in a treble unison. Their high vibrato almost never lined up, giving the vocal lines the same aural quality as the ghaita (oboe) players in an 'Aissawa troupe processing toward a wedding or circumcision.
Where Hamdallah Rouicha fumbled a line or two, and the communication between him and the backup singers to his right tripped, the consistently interesting polyrhythmic grooves of the three bendir (hand held frame drum) players glued the performance together. Their interlocking rhythms rolled out patterns that shifted (subtly) between unwinding 3-beat patterns and high-energy 2s. The audience clapped excitedly along each time the beat dropped, concluding the elegantly forceful lotar introductions.
|Zina Daoudia and her band|
But this performance from a young artist was only the opener. Zina Daoudia took the stage to chants from the crowd, wearing a caftan in front of her band, who were sporting suits and popped collars. This was not the traditional dress featured in Rouicha's group, which is appropriate since this was not traditional music or folklore. Daoudia stepped one leg up on a speaker, picked up her violin, set it on her knee (holding it upright) and her group immediately started into a high energy sh'abi groove.
With shouts of "Kul shay m'aya!? Tout le monde m'aya?" ("Everyone is with me!?") she brought the audience into her atmosphere of celebration. Sh'abi music is for dancing, especially when at weddings, and many from the crowd stepped to the wings, smiling and laughing, and partied. Everything is loud and rhythmic: the violin has a distinct electronic sound to it as she saws away; increasingly short and agile text is passed between Daoudia and her percussionists, starting as lines, then half-lines, then words, and finally yells. She even sneaks Fez into the lyrics more than once, and is rewarded with a roar each time so does so.
The wedding feel continues throughout her concert. Daoudia incites the crowd, getting them to chant the line that you've heard hundreds of times if you've made it to a celebration here in Morocco: as-slaaaaah was-salaaaaaam 'ala rasuuuuul Allllllah… The sound of ululations are programed into the keyboardist's array of samples, filling the space between songs. The crowd was singing along and dancing in no time, having tons of fun. It was hard not to walk home with that off-beat rolling sh'abi hiccup clap guiding the pace of my steps. (If you've ever tried to clap along with sh'abi music, you know exactly what I mean…)
Review and photographs: Chris Witulski
Tonight, the music continues with a pair of free shows. The first, at 7pm, is in the new city. The Hourriya complex, an auditorium with a stage and raised seating, features two Moroccan groups. The first is Groupe Ras Derb, who is opening for Hassan Angmar. At 9pm Bab al-Makina kicks it up again with the Algerian Rock Berbere Abranis and the Moroccan Bouazza Larbi. Rouicha did not take the stage until 10pm, so I would not expect that these times will be firm tonight. This may be so that you can catch both events with the help of a quick taxi ride.
AMAZIGH FESTIVAL PROGRAMME - HERE