Monday, June 10, 2013

Fes Festival Nights in the Medina ~ Part One

The first Nights in the Medina took place on a balmy evening in Fez and was judged an overall success. This year more attention had been paid to signage and it was pleasing to see that the locals had given the streets a good sweeping. As local, Samira (20), told The View from Fez, "This is our city, we love to share it and want it to look its best".

First time visitors to Fez can often be daunted by the prospect of finding their way in the Medina, but help was on hand with security, police and army, stationed along candle-lit routes to the venues.

Confusion between Dar Mokri and Palais Mokri was a trap for some, but of more concern was the incorrect time in the programme for one of the concerts. Although the French Institute had done what they could to alert people to the time of the piano concert, a large number of people missed the event. That aside - it was a great first night in the Medina. 

Pandit Shyam Sundar Goswami - Northern India
Khyal Song

Pandit Shyam Sundar Goswami – chant
Samir Kumar Karmakar – flute
Prodyut Kumar Mukherjee – tabla
Bandana Jalais - tampura

The Raga or The Measurement of Time

“This is my first time in Morocco and I am honoured to be here. I will sing some ragas and I would like you to listen – you are my friends, my fathers, you are welcome. Namaste.”
With this humble introduction, we embarked on tonight’s journey to Northern India, led by Pandit Shyam Sundar Goswami singing the khyal.

The music began with slow and hypnotic sounds that lulled the listener into a meditative state, setting in motion a subtle drawing in of the crowd as the rhythm of the tabla picked up and the music cast it’s spell.

To the right of Goswami sat Bandana Jalais, perfectly still and Buddha like, eyes closed, the only sign of her playing being the slight movement of the fingers of her right hand delicately plucking the four strings of the tampura.

As the music picked up, she remained a still point in contrast to the increasingly energetic movements of Prodyut Kumar Mukherjee on the tabla, Samir Kumar Karmakar on a wooden flute and Goswami.

His voice soared and dipped from mournful to ecstatic, from pleading to praising, his performance expressive not only through singing but with his face and hands. He gestured by turns – hand on heart, palms together in prayer, arms outstretched to the heavens, to the audience, to his musicians, bringing all the elements together, his head nodding and shaking as he drew out the notes, vibrating in both body and sound.

The ragas were long pieces of music, both about 20 minutes each, which allowed the listener to become swept up in both the soundscape and the imagination. It was not necessary to understand the words to feel the deep spiritual meaning and be transported by the music which was both ancient and timeless.


The raga (derived from the Sanskrit root meaning ranj 'which affects or colours the spirit and provides pleasure), in the Vedic concept, as well as in the minds of the ancients, is the embodiment of a time both cosmic and divine that determines the laws of nature, the seasons and times of day. Each note torn from silence carries the resonance of the universe. Music, born from Shiva himself, is a mirror of nature and life in all its forms, by turns passionate and dark.

About the raga, Pandit Shyam Sundar Goswami customarily explains this to his students: "Take a rossogolla – the favourite Bengali dessert – a sweetened white ball drenched in syrup. If the ball and syrup is separated, the rossogolla loses its charm, its true taste, his identity; to be a perfect rossogolla the ball and syrup should be together, dipped into each other, soaking each other; the raga should not be split – the melody, the tones, the vistar make a whole, all blended like rossogolla in its own juice. "

Text and photographs: Vanessa Bonnin

The Lyannaj Bélé Ensemble of Martinique - France
A tribute to Aimé Césaire

The kingfisher pecking at the golden banner wisp by wisp makes himself a dawn of drunken sun, Hello kingfisher you great drummer! Drum - cockerel. Drum - toucan. Drum - kingfisher. Drum! I can hear my blood! Keep time, heart, beat! My hounsis! My children! When I'm dead, the great drum will no longer sound. As long as it beats, as it beats, the great drum, as it beats a river of blood, a hurricane of blood and of life. My body! Papa Sosih Baderre, thank you, my valiant name! -extract from The Tragedy of King Christophe - Aimé Césaire

The Fez Festival held one of its first 'Nights In The Medina' concerts at Dar Mokri.  Finding Dar Mokri should not have been an issue as it was well signposted.  However there happens to be Palais Mokri and some journalists and attendees went there only to find bemused locals shrugging their shoulders and commenting that, as far as they knew, there was no music event inside.

After a quick change of bearings Dar Mokri was located. As has been commented on in previous years, it is not an ideal venue;  the traditional fountain at the centre of the venue forces the audience to moved awkwardly around the large star-shaped structure in an attempt to face the main stage. And, as in the past some gave up and simply sat in the empty fountain.

Finally, twenty minutes behind schedule, there was a brief introduction, and a deep, gravelly voice filled the main salon. Slowly, one by one, the Lyannaj Bélé Ensemble of Martinique appeared, barefoot and swathed in white, with the two female chorus members revealing a layerof lime green and fire-engine red beneath their white ensemble.

In deliberate, considered movements they took their places; the deep, sombre, chant-like vocals continuing without an agent. Just as the audience was about to write-off the vocals as pre-recorded, James Earl Jones' doppelgänger emerged from stage right, relying heavily on a crutch.

As he centered himself and bellowed into the microphone, the two women of the Lyannaj Bélé Ensemble responded vocally and physically, dancing energetically, lifting the ends of their prairie skirts to reveal brightly colored fabric beneath. They were accompanied by a member playing the ti bwa (drumsticks that provide rhythm by beating the back of the bélé drum) and the tambouyè (bélé drum artist), both playing thoughtfully and with a certain forceful concentration. This was a dialogue, not a polished musical symphony.

The tradition of bélé in the eastern Caribbean island of Martinique was one of many musical forms introduced by slaves, and was not merely light entertainment, but a means of expression for long days working on sugar plantations and also, at different times, a form of protest and even combat.

At this evening's event, the discord between the rhythms, the soloist's vocals and chorus was, at times, an unsettling experience (venue logistics only adding to this) but highlighted bélé as a discussion or outcry rather than a smooth musical soiree. Unfortunately, some of the audience had failed to do their homework, and left after the first piece. Much to the Ensemble's director, Manuela Andéaol's credit however, after the first few pieces, each different form of bélé was explained to the crowd, making the evening more an educational showcase rather than a just another concert with music and dancing.

Specially assembled for the Fez Festival, the Lyannaj Bélé Ensemble payed tribute to one of Martinique's most prolific artists; poet, politician and author Aimé Césaire. Césaire (d. 2008) was passionate about civil rights and independence and bélé encompasses these in its musical and spacial language. During the third piece, a powerful, capoeira-like dance called kalenda was performed by the two women, with audible ooo's and ahh's coming from the thinned crowd. With bent knees, flat feet and deliberate, precise movements, the women expressed the hardship, anger and disillusion of oppression through their commanding display.

It was unfortunate that there weren't more in attendance to witness this powerful assertion of emotion through dance.

Towards the end of the evening, the Lyannaj Bélé Ensemble encouraged audience participation, performing rhetorical question and response style chants. Those left in the crowd were only too eager yell out "Owa!" in response, and Dar Mokri was alive with clapping and singing in response to the soloist and chorus. As the cries began to crescendo, so to did the dancers' bodies; upright with shoulders back, clasping the ends of their skirts and voices powerful.  As the soloist's voice dropped, the chorus softened and their bodies descended until they were almost kneeling on the floor.

Then, the most alarming point of the evening occurred. The elderly soloist - who up until then had either been grasping onto his crutch or seated, stood up and started dancing with the chorus members and drummers. To be honest, it was more frightening than entertaining to see someone so conspicuously hindered suddenly attempt the quadrille(square dance). Regardless (or, perhaps out of nervousness) the audience cheered.

Their second performance of the evening obviously benefited from the experience of the first. The crowd were asked to join in several call and response numbers early on - which was well received - and the third number involved audience members dancing on the stage as couples, much to their delight.

It was explained that the couples dance is a traditional fertility dance from Martinique, which is usually performed under the light of a full moon. We were also given a detailed introduction to the next number, which was a song traditionally sung during the preparation of manioc (cassava). Apparently this staple vegetable is cooked and rubbed vigorously to remove it's toxic juices and then dried and turned into a flour which is a base to much of their cooking.

As well as the infectious rhythms and spectacularly energetic dancing of the women, the performance was fascinating as a window onto the history of slavery and the traditions that have developed from that time. The audience for the second performance were engaged, enthusiastic and the smiles on their faces and spontaneous dancing at the back of the room evidenced an appreciation of the whole experience.

The Lyannaj Bélé Ensemble of Martinique wow-ed attendees with the power and thoughtfulness of their performance. Explanations of the different types of bélé performed - for work and protest as an expression of emotion and power- were invaluable in understanding the history of Martinique and Aimé Césaire.

This ensemble has been specially established for the Festival under the direction of Manuela Andéaol.

Text: Natasha Christov, Vanessa Bonnin
Photographs: Suzanna Clarke

Sheikh Hamid Hossein Ahmad and Sheikh Ghanan from the village of Deir
At the heart of the Sufi Nile - Egypt
A ceremony in a village in Upper Egypt

Gérard de Nerval - Voyage to the Orient
Artistic production : Alain Weber
Images : Aurélie Chauleur
Technical direction : Bruno Madec
Produced by the Musée Quai Branly

Leaping Nile Sufis

The introduction to tonight’s performance by festival artistic director Alain Weber and Zeyba Rahman asked the audience to imagine we were in a village in Upper Egypt, a task made easier by a film screen depicting such a scene behind the stage.

The audience was transported to a village in Upper Egypt

The Sufis in their white turbans and black robes were already on the stage, some smoking pipes, others tuning instruments. At the beginning of the ceremony one of the men swung a smoking incense chamber around the stage, the distinctive aroma reaching right to the back of the Musee Bartha venue.

With musicians assembled stage right, the four corypheoi or zikktrs seemed to enter into a poetic frenzy, half tender and half wild. The hadra, the song of worship, was chanted alternately with the dhikr (remembrance in Arabic). The repetition of the different names of God and of certain ritual incantations are accompanied by a breathing technique and an intense rocking movement of the body that form the core of an ecstatic emotion.

Swinging their torsos left to right, the dancers actions became steadily deeper and stronger, eventually introducing a rhythmic stamp. Their arms were relaxed, following the momentum of their shoulders. At times it became more frenetic with the zikktrs knitting fingers together in front of their chests while swinging or clapping to the beat, making ‘whoop-whoop’ noises, at times hissing like snakes or barking, before repeatedly jumping on the spot, pogo style.

Moments of frenzy would be followed by quieter times, but as outsiders looking in the most apparent thing was the sheer joy on faces wreathed with smiles. They were enjoying themselves in the village in the Upper Nile - and we did too.

Text: Stephanie Clifford-Smith
Photographs: Sandy McCutcheon

Ykeda Duo - France Spain
Tamayo Ykeda and Patrick Zygmanowski
Piano concert presented by the French Institute in Fes

Crossing between France and Spain, the concert features works of the great composers from Debussy to Manuel de Falla, from Emmanuel Chabrier to Isaac Albéniz, from Joachim Rodrigo (of the famous concert Aranjuez) to Maurice Ravel.

These two elegant and sensitive artists are masters of this repertoire of original piano works written for four hands, which they present with refreshing conviction.

Programme Glitch

Sadly many people missed out on this concert - including one of The View From Fez reviewers. Unfortunately those who were following the Fes Festival program weren caught out by the listing of the Ykeda Duo's concert at the starting time of 22.00. In reality, it began at 20.30.

Although the time had been changed on the Fes Festival website, and the French Institute sent out a reminder email, the misleading information in the indispensable Fes Festival programs, handed out to in their thousands to audience members, would have been the cause of considerable disappointment for would-be attendees.

Coming up at the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music


Batha Museum 4pm
Aïcha Redouane and the Amazigh tradition - France – Morocco:
Aman, the waters - “And we made from water every living thing” (Qur'an, 21:30)

Nights in the Medina - Part Two

Dar Mokri 7.30pm and 10 pm
Samira Kadiri – Morocco: PREMIERE, Morocco – Spain – Italy – Greece – Armenia
A native of Essaouira, the soprano Samira Kadiri is a lyrical singer and musicologist specialising in Andalusian songs. She will sing the original work De Alpujarras a Arafat.

Dar Adiyel 7.30 pm and 10 pm
Rosemary Standley and Dom La Nena - France
Birds on a wire - Rosemary’s Songbook
A poetic and musical journey from the profane to the sacred, is presented by Moriarty singer Rosemary Standley and cellist Dom La Nena, including baroque music, songs by Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Dylan and Fairouz.

Batha Museum 10.30 pm
El Gusto - Algeria
A great orchestra of Algerian Chaâbi origin

Sufi Nights at Dar Tazi

11 pm Tuesday June 11th : Marouane Hajji
A charismatic singer with a huge local following

The Weather - Tuesday will be a warm 29 degrees Celsius (84 Fahrenheit) during the day and down to 12C (53F) at night. 

 Wednesday will be hot with 30 C (86 F) with night temperatures a couple of degrees warmer.

Fes Festival Fringe program
Fes Festival Medina Map
Fes Festival Food! 
Fes Festival Site

The View from Fez is an official media partner of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music

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