Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Aïcha Redouane and the Amazigh Tradition at Fes Festival

Aïcha Redouane and the Amazigh tradition - France – Morocco
PREMIERE - "Amam the Waters"

And we made from water every living thing”  (Qur'an, 21:30)

With a tear running down her cheek Aïcha Redouane sings for the first time in her own language in her own country

This afternoon's concert was celebrated as a "layering of syncretic cultures," melding the art of maqâm (the composition and modal system used in classical Arabic music) with the Berber Amazigh tradition.

In a jewel-toned kaftan encrusted with gemstones, and a bold fuchsia scarf, one of the so-called "Divas of Arabic Song," Aïcha Redouane stood before her audience, allowing them to drink in her glamorous presence. Paradoxic to her attire however, her eyes were dark and slightly distant, her gazed fixed somewhere beyond the crowd. Flanked by frequent collaborator, Arab percussionist and ethnomusicologist Habib Yammine, along with gorgeous three-man Amazigh ensemble Al-Adwâr and two talented ney (long wooden Arabic flute) and qanûn (horizontal plucked string instrument) players, Redouane smiled, but continued to look preoccupied as the crowd applauded.

With a single deep, drawn-out breath, Redouane began. Despite her imposing costume, the sound transmitted was whisper soft, her lips barely moving. As the ensemble and percussionist joined in, her voice broke into a melodic, exotic and almost wail-like croon. Lips still barely moving, her intensity increased vocally and emotionally, and Redouane began to weep. Later she explained that today was the first time she had the opportunity to sing in her "mother tongue in my birth country - it is an honour." It was a moving and endearing moment to witness.

The Amazigh Sufis

When the second piece began, it was as if the crowd had arrived at another concert. Spirited hand drumming accompanied by intonated chanting by Yammine and the three Amazigh amigos provided the perfect backdrop for Redouane's vocal gymnastics - high, powerful and frequently fluctuating. All the while, her lips only slightly parted, the power propelled from her diaphragm, she looked endearingly toward her percussionists and the Al-Adwâr ensemble.

The ensemble, consisting of three senior gentlemen from the village of Imilchil, a small town in the Atlas mountains, were completely absorbed in their lyrics, and jolted mechanically with knees dipping and backs arching, which visually transpired as something of an enthusiastic geriatric jam session. Cheikh Hammou Khella, Cheikh Mouha Ou Khella and Cheikh Imhli Ali were full of energy, and throughout the concert continued to eagerly and theatrically move to the beat and lyrics they sung. They were an absolute delight to watch, at times relaying their lyrical poems to the crowd like a grandparent might enthusiastically relay an adventurous (and perhaps slightly embellished) story to a small child.

Master of Arab percussion, Habib Yammine

The beat of the daff (Arabic hand drum) continued, and while Aïcha Redouane relaxed her vocals, Habib Yammine took centre stage. Yammine, a skilled percussionist and ethnomusicologist specializing in Arab percussion, has collaborated with Redouane for many years, and it's easy to see why. Picking up his riqq (Arabic drum with a double row of cymbals on the side) he stunned attendees, producing a range of melodic beats with maximum restraint and minimum exertion. Those familiar with drumming will appreciate the skill involved, as it rarely takes effort to produce a litany of sounds, but to create and keep a complex rhythm takes years of practise and skill.

Beautiful moments were abound at this afternoon's concert, including Redouane's spoken-word narratives praising Allah, and her explanations of the importance of water, aman, in the Berber Amazigh and Sufi traditions. Redouane explained, "There are many, many flowers, but water: there is only one". To the Amazigh, water is a source of eternal inspiration; it gives life, and is at once precious, vigorous, pure and refreshing. In Sufi Arab culture, water symbolizes the spiritual secret; it 'quenches the thirst of the devotee for his Beloved'.

Visibly relaxing throughout the concert, Redouane often chuckled and exchanged conversation with her percussionists, the crowd and even herself. Her velvety voice, combined with the exotic melody created by the ney, qanûn and various drums, transported attendees to a sublime, special place, with dappled sunlight under the centuries-old barbary oak.

'Aman' is a celebration and tribute to my grandparents who gave me their love, and taught me, with wisdom, to respect life. For my grandmother who let me taste the secrets of poetry and song; for my grandfather who gave me the humour and joie de vivre to accept what is.'
Text: Natasha Christov
Photographs: Sandy McCutcheon

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