Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tangier Jazz Festival, TanJazz - Wide Definitions

The 2012 TanJazz Festival is over - The View from Fez's resident musicologist Chris Witulski reports from Tangier.

As we walked from the Tangier train station to the medina, along a beached lined with dance club advertisements and children playing in the sand, we crossed a group of men in ties holding dixieland brass band instruments. The sousaphone stood out as an anomaly in the Moroccan sun, and when I heard the banjo strummed, the electric guitar sound that came out of the attached speaker was startling.

This was Friday afternoon at the Tangier Jazz Festival, TanJazz. Batunga and the Subprimes  spent much of the time wandering the streets in old New Orleans style, but these Parisians kicked out some Afro-Cuban sounds that sat perfectly alongside the rest of the festival's entertainment. They deserve a listen.

Gnawa Express
Saturday night, we settled into a spot on the port stage, situated on the long coast, with the old medina perched high above us. The Gnawa Express opened the free concert evening, performing barely-stylized music from the Afro-Moroccan ritual. The now famous Gnawa tradition's music animates ritual evenings that last until the following morning's sunrise, but this group led us through what can be considered the "greatest hits." These songs have become widely know across Morocco's population, symbolizing the dramatic rise in stature for this music and religious practice. What was once confined to heavy private evenings now makes up a repertoire that simply cannot be ignored in Moroccan music festivals. Gnawa Express, led by Maalem Abdelmajid Domnati, is based out of Tangier and their sound lacked the jazz fusion embedded into the music of other Gnawa groups throughout the weekend, but the group's grooves and the music's popularity alone were enough to get them an invite to the jazz festival. (For an example of another group from the weekend's events that features heavy jazz fusion with Gnawa music, see Majid Bekkas's "African Blues")

Keeping the focus on groove instead of esoteric harmonic exploration, Bebey Prince Bissongo and his ensemble took the stage. A native of Burkino Faso, Bissongo's set was tight and simple. The music, perhaps, could best be described as fun. His palm-muted guitar sound, the tasty trumpet, and the thick African hand drumming sat atop a tight and percussive organ and an infallible electric bass/drum set team to drive the energy from start to finish.

These types of groups, charged to perform at the large public (read: free) outdoor venues, demonstrate just how widely the net of "jazz" can be cast. Nowhere to be found was the 1950s Manhattan sound, let alone the quartet-driven melodic explorations of the 60s and 70s. Gnawa music, lifted straight from the ritual and placed on a stage sat alongside some contemporary Afrobeat funk inspired by hot nights of dancing with a beer in hand to represent two distant (yet surprisingly complimentary) ends of a spectrum. The TanJazz festival had much more to offer, of course, with club-like intimacy in small venues for 200-300dh per night. But for the majority of people in Tangier during these evenings, the jazz that animated their evenings was diverse, accessible, and unbelievably... well... fun.

Photos: Tyler Martinson


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