Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Fes Festival Nights in the Medina ~ Part Three

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 12th was another gloriously warm night in the Fez Medina for the final Night in The Medina series. The crowds, now familiar with the way to the venues, were much more relaxed - with one exception. The failure of security to turn up on time and allow patrons into the Batha Museum saw a few frayed tempers - but once inside the venues, the Fes Festival was in full swing. The View from Fez team reports

Ana Moura – Portugal: The fado of Lisbon

Fado is an urban phenomenon of the 19th century that sprung up in the taverns of Lisbon's dockland areas (Alfama, Mouraria, the Moorish quarter and Barrio Alto). Around 1870, with the great singer Maria Severa, fado also became popular with the aristocracy who were enamoured with its poetic verve. Eventually, in the 1960s, it became the music of the people, thanks to another famous fado singer, Amalia Rodriguez.

On 27 November 2011, Fado was inscribed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists

For Ana Moura, the journey into fado had a fortuitous beginning. Maria da Fé, co-owner of the prestigious fado house, Senhor Vinho, was so taken by her raw talent that she invited her to sing at her fado house where she was an immediate sensation. And that raw talent has matured and now Ana Moura could take just about any song and with her extraordinary, luxurious, low-pitched and sensual tone, transform it into fado. This alchemy produces an emotional catharsis aimed directly at the audience's hearts.

And it is about emotion, but, as Ana Moura explained to the audience, there is also an academic side. "We have two types of fado, the musical fado and the traditional fado. The musical fado is like any other kind of music, but the traditional fado has a special structure. There are many traditional fados. Some fado depends on the number of syllables and the four-line stanza from Portuguese-specific forms of poetry. We can put different poems, even from different poets, in one same structure or melody."

Listening to her voice it is hard not to hear the influence of the great Amália Rodrigues or Lucilia do Carmo,  but comparing fado singers of such quality is much like comparing fine single malts. Best rather to sit back and enjoy.

The Concert

For all fado’s melancholy reputation, tonight’s Ana Moura concert at the Musee Bartha was a decidedly upbeat affair and could prove to be one of the hits of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music 2013.

The young fadista told The View From Fez earlier today that the Portuguese were quite comfortable with expressing sadness.

The fado is part of our personality as a people. We are a very emotional, comtemplative people. Sadness is part of our lives, it’s normal. There are other kinds of fado though, even some ironic fados but the most popular ones are the most sad. I don’t know why. We are not afraid of sharing sadness.

Moura’s family was very into fado which she loved as a child. But like any teenager pushing boundaries and trying new things she experimented with soul, blues and rock before returning to her first love.

Tonight began with an instrumental by her band consisting of a round-backed Portuguese guitar, an acoustic guitar and a base. What started as a pretty, lilting piece soon shifted, picking up pace, a cue for the audience to keep time with clapping.

The very theatrical stage lighting was kept low to emulate the atmosphere of a fado house, perhaps Senhor Vinho in Lisbon’s Bairro Lapa where Ana Moura was discovered. Ana stepped onto the stage looking like a glamorous gypsy wearing long black dress with a sparkly bodice and sheer, full skirt. Importantly she also wore the traditional black scarf, in this case a swishy fringed number, in memory of the early death of Maria Severa, the first great fado singer who died at the age of 26.

Her voice captured the audience from the start, sometimes soulful, other times earthy and powerful. She built rapport as she struggled with speaking French, soon abandoning it for English, apart from a ‘merci beaucoup’ or 'shukran' with each round of applause.

With the swing of her hips and her shimmying shoulders precisely matching the final two beats of many songs one sensed Ms Moura would be quite a dancer given the opportunity
Her guitarists worked hard tonight playing another instrumental halfway through the concert while she sat to the side the stage, enjoying its rollicking pace with the rest of us. Then she got two of the three singing fado as she held the microphone for them in turn, Angelo Freire on the Portuguese guitar having a particularly lovely voice.

Not quite a Gnawa - but points for trying! 

During a shopping trip in the medina today Ana bought qarkabeb, Moroccan Gnawa castanets, which she tried out briefly during the final song of her act. She abandoned them for most of it but strutted off stage clicking them. The roaring applause wouldn’t let her go that easily, so within minutes she was back with a hotly demanded encore.

Text Stephanie Clifford-Smith, Sandy McCutcheon
Photographs: Suzanna Clarke , Sandy McCutcheon

Reflections of an Indian Night - India France

Reflections of an Indian Night
Pandit Shyam Sundar Goswami – chant
Samir Kumar Karmakar – flute
Prodyut Kumar Mukherjee – tabla
Bandana Jalais – tampura

Cyrille Gerstenhaber - soprano
Jean Christophe Frisch, flutist and musical director
Andreas Linos – viole de gambe
Thibaut Roussel – théorbe

Come and see me at nightfall,
The night will keep our secret
Wallada bint al-Mustakfi

Jean Christophe Frisch, flutist and artistic director of the ensemble XVIII-21 Le Baroque Nomade with singer Cyrille Gerstenhaber, restores the Chandernagore eighteenth century between Western music and ragas of the night, between dreams and wishes, with Pandit Shyam Sundar Goswami, master of the Bengali song khyal.

For the French who settled in Bengal in the eighteenth century, this land was one of the night personified by Kali, a goddess terrible and fascinating, with a dark and seductive beauty. Evoked by Marguerite Yourcenar in one of her Nouvelles Orientales, she is both the goddess of love and forfeiture. This is also seen as a metaphor for art, which burns those who worship it but can’t live without it.

Jean Francois Dupleix, appointed superintendent of Chadernagor and Governor General of the French Establishment of India along the Ganges – a sacred river of Bengal – was a fine musician and played the viole de gambe. His library of scores was found and we can imagine what works by Lully, Couperin and Marin Marais were heard by the Hindu or Mughal princes he received, and in return they offered concerts.

This musical night time journey touches the sacred fibre of a spirituality that can create a mystical interleaving on the borders of East and West by appropriating the silence of the night.

Night and dream are also at the centre of the work of Bengali singer Pandit Shyam Sundar Goswami. This exceptional artist strives to meet old Hindustani traditions, relating to the same period as Dupleix, but in a typical Indian manner. He expresses the intimate soul of the raga where various feelings and emotions are found: melancholy, sadness, doubt, anxiety, love, joy and enthusiasm. Thanks to the old Sanskrit songs he sings and recites, he creates a fantasy world, that of a distant and mysterious past. It is this magic that whisks us far, far away at every concert, towards a land of beauty and light.

The Concert

In another innovative melding of musical styles from this festival, Reflections of an Indian Night aimed to bring together two historical types of music that were being played in the same era, but in different countries.

East met West in this bold undertaking, blending classical baroque music with Indian ragas – both from the eighteenth century.

It was an interesting concept and the experience was fascinating – one moment the audience were imagining themselves in a courtly setting, with French royalty, being entertained by the King’s favourite ensemble. The next moment we were transported to an Indian palace with incense wafting in the breeze.

Cyrille Gerstenhaber

In a nod to the fusion concept of the music, both the women on stage – soprano Cyrille Gerstenhaber and tampura musician Bandana Jalais – were wearing saris. However this was the only point in which the styles were in synchronicity.

Both types of music were extremely beautiful and the beyond capacity crowd seemed to appreciate the talents of the assembled musicians, however the two disparate styles were not quite suited to be played together.

Bandana Jalais 

Audience member Dan Friesen, from Canada, pointed out that the lack of a percussion instrument in the European side of the music (which was entirely in keeping with the era) meant that the Indian music, with it’s wonderful tabla drumming, overpowered it.

“It’s great to hear Western baroque and Indian classical music of the same era coming together – two very different vocal and instrumental traditions,” he said. “But the subtlety of the viole gambe and the lute were sometimes lost in the exchange. I would have appreciated more of the two vocal traditions meeting each other – in the small section where it was just voice it was fantastic and it would have been a pleasure to hear more of that.”


The voice of Gerstenhaber was a highlight, crystal clear and beautifully controlled, which was an interesting contrast with the voice of Goswami which was more raw, evolving with power and subtlety.

What was most endearing about this performance was the encore and the subsequent rapport between these diverse musicians. The initial contrast was striking – the four Western musicians on the left bowing formally, clutching their instruments, the four Eastern musicians on the right clasping their hands together in deference to a higher power, their faces upturned as they gave thanks to God for their abilities.

However after paying their separate respects, Goswami and Frisch crossed the divide and hugged enthusiastically, their mutual delight evident as pioneers pushing musical boundaries.

A fascinating, if not quite successful experiment, the musicians are still to be applauded for taking us on this bold journey.

Dom La Nena and Rosemary Standley watch from on high

Text and Photographs: Vanessa Bonnin 

Sacred Songs - Kingdom of Bhutan

Jigme Drukpa, Pema Samdrup and Namkha Lhamo. In collaboration with the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs, Bhutan.

Bhutan, known as the “land of the dragon” is a small landlocked kingdom in the Himalayas. With vast mountainous regions dotted with monasteries in the north and subtropical jungle in the south, land plays a crucial role to the Bhutanese; as a means of survival (agriculturally) and also symbolically.

In a country that measures their GDH (Gross Domestic Happiness) and is reportedly the “happiest country in Asia” according to Business Week, Bhutan’s sacred songs have an integral role in continuing their rich traditions and celebrating the mix of Buddhist, Indian and Chinese cultures that surround this land in the clouds.

Draped in the “national dress code” -yes, Bhutan imposes a national dress code- of the gho (a type of knee-length robe tied below the waist), principal dranyen (a six stringed musical instrument similar to a lute) player and leading Bhutanese musicologist, Jigme Drukpa began. Simple and understated, the melody completely juxtaposed the beautifully hand-crafted and finely detailed instrument Drukpa held, which was adorned with royal blue, orange and yellow tassels and painted in myriad colours.

The music that filled Dar Mokri was poetic and melodic without any flowery grandeur. It was refreshing to watch a player completely at one with his instrument, simply enjoying the sound he produced.

Performing in the central salon of a traditional riad, the open rooftop of Dar Mokri was covered over to shield performers and guests from light summer winds. Unfortunately, the cover flapping in the wind was a distraction during the performance, taking away from the subtlety and softness the Bhutenese performers expertly exuded.

Opening the second piece, vocalist Namkha Lhamo entered, lithe and princess-like in marshmallow pink, with two long strands of pearls. She was simply breathtaking; a vision in aesthetic harmony with the melodies she produced, and, accompanied by Drukpa and fellow drayen player Pema Samdrup, the crowd was lulled into a soft, relaxing and beautifully understated performance.

Drukpa introduced a few pieces during their short evening performance, explaining that livestock are everything to the villagers of Bhutan, and that the yak is crucial to their survival. He also spoke of the laws of nature; how some aspects remain changeless, like the sun always rising in the East. He mentioned being particularly influenced by his surroundings; the mountains and undulating landscapes, and also of remaining “faithful and changeless” to his culture.

Toward the end of the evening’s concert, the three Bhutanese performers encouraged their audience to stand and sway “right, left ... right, left” to the music. Attendees seemed happy to stand, but awkwardness ensued as most just stood on the spot, fidgeting with their hands, not quite understanding or wanting to move to the soothing rhythms.

This resulted in the crowd half sitting, half leaning during the final piece. Regardless, the sacred songs of Bhutan swayed smoothly in the hearts of all present, and as the crowd dissipated with warm smiles and eyes glazed over, the tiny kingdom of Bhutan expanded their following.

Text Natasha Christov 
Photographs: Suzanna Clarke

Coming up at the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music

Thursday June 13th

Batha Museum 4pm
Axivil Aljamía - Spain

Bab Al Makina 9pm
Assala Nasri - Syria

Festival in the City 

Boujloud 10.30

National Jazz Orchestra - France

The National Jazz Orchestra is unique. It was started in 1986 in France by Jack Lang: the idea is to offer the opportunity to young European jazz players and composers to join and work for some years in a large orchestra, a modern version of the big bands that were so influential in the history of jazz.

Part of the France-Morocco Cultural Season 2013 the concert is presented in partnership with the Festival in the City at the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music.

Sufi Nights at Dar Tazi

Tariqa Hamadcha of Fes

A big night for followers of Sufi music. Along with the Gnawa and the Aïssawa, the Hamadcha are one of the three most important so-called ‘popular’ Sufi brotherhoods in Morocco. The Hamadcha brotherhood was founded by Saint Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch in the seventeenth century, and has become famous through the originality of its repertoire, its spellbinding dances, and the trance-therapy skills of its members.

The Weather - Thursday will be a warm 34 degrees Celsius (93 Fahrenheit) during the day and down to 18C (64F) at night. 
Friday  will be hot with 36C (96.8 F) with night temperatures of 16C (60.8 F). Drink plenty of water! 

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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