Friday, June 14, 2013

Françoise Atlan and the Al Quds Ensemble

Françoise Atlan and the Al Quds Ensemble - Morocco Palestine

O garden now closed to our encounters,
You have been discarded through the fires of exile,
Bring me, bring me those blossoming trees
And their perfume of eternal bliss!
Ibn Hamdîs – 11th century

The repertoire encompasses original works from the great tradition of Jerusalem to the Sufi songs of Sohrawardi Alhhâllaj, touching upon Ahmed Rifaï and interpretation of spiritual texts in the form of Mouwashshahat poetry.

"They will be singing lyrics that evoke the garden in this specially created programme." Zeyba Rahman told the audience before the concert.

Françoise Atlan, who appeared in the Festival's opening night performance "Love is my religion", is at the very centre of musical tradition in Morocco. From Ladino song to the Judeo-Arab tradition, from the Judeo-Berber tradition to Andalusian music, she has nourished this fundamental heritage over many years. Such heritage springs from a labyrinthine history and a fascinating oral transmission in Morocco; Atlan's work has made these traditions accessible and alive.

Françoise Atlan is considered a traditional singer by the classical music world, and as a lyrical singer by the world of traditional song. She is one of those rare sopranos who can deliver both repertoires without confusing them.

With the Al Qods Ensemble accompanying her, (and members of Arabo-Andalusian Orchestra of Fes under the direction of Mohammed Briouel) Atlan sings sacred and profane poetry with both emotion and knowledge. The songs have the richness of great muwashshah that takes us back to the time when this type of poetry was invented and developed in Andalusia at the end of the 10th century by Mokaddem Ibn Mouafa de Abra. It is a melodius song consisting of multi-lined strophic verse. Over time it has taken various forms in both North Africa and the Middle East. In Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, it is found in the nouba; in the Middle East it lives on as the foundation of tarab (musical ecstasy).

The Concert

A smaller than expected crowd filled Batha Museum today for Françoise Atlan’s second performance of the 2013 Fes Festival, following her glowing success at the Opening Concert last Friday. Hot, dry and 36˚C in the shade, attendees used whatever they had on hand to shield their eyes and bodies from the unforgiving heat.

Maher Diba and Françoise Atlan

Unfortunatly this specially arranged Arab-Andalucían performance for the Sacred Music program was extremely poorly advertised. It was only during the introduction that the crowd learnt Palestinian singer Maher Diba would follow Atlan, with instrumental backing by the Al Quds Ensemble, then return with Atlan to finish the afternoon concert.

Given the crowd’s later reaction to Diba’s voice, the Fes Festival should have definitely made more of an effort to –putting it plainly- publicise their programming and information correctly.

Atlan led the first half of the concert, resplendent (if not stifling) in jet black long sleeve silk. Her friendly smile and motherly demeanour drew audience members in, and the soprano started with a voice as clear and bright as the summer sky. Playing the kaman (Arabic violin) with both bow and fingers, three members of the Al Qud Ensemble provided a soothing melody that allowed Atlan’s voice to soar.

Today’s concert centred on Arab-Andalucían traditions, with Atlan singing a mixture of Arabic, Berber and Andalucían styles. While thoroughly entertaining, the Al Quds Ensemble and Atlan seemed out of sync in parts; the musicians occasionally playing quite fast and Atlan’s vocals raced to follow her sheet music and to match the tempo.

Atlan sang with a voice that sparkled and was as full of light as the glitter on her dress and the diamante cuffs on her wrists. Overall, her vocal style today is best described as inhabiting some perfect place between classically trained soprano and lyrical singer. Her ability to naturally combine the two into a harmonious whole highlights her skill and talent as one of Morocco’s premiere vocal artists.

Maher Diba

Maher Diba then came to the stage. He had a quiet, reserved disposition. He sung of Mashreq (the Arab region east of Egypt and north of the Arabian peninsula) and Maghreb (encompassing Morocco and Arab-speaking countries in western North Africa), with an almost sermon-like delivery to his lyrics.

Maher's long, drawn out notes drifted across the audience like the cool breeze that began to provide some relief from the heat. He is described as a young Palestinian singer from a generation of musicians dedicated to empowering communities and educating them through music. Many of the Moroccans in the audience were completely transfixed by his presence, vocals and the content of the pieces he performed.  The crowd were enthusiastic and responsive, singing along, clapping in recognition of a well sung phrase and even ululating their appreciation. Cheers of joy followed each song.

So hot - musicians in sunnies!
Fans to beat the heat at Batha

The skill of the Al Quds Ensemble, particularly the qanûn (large zither-like plucked string instrument) player, took Diba’s performance to another level.

Finishing with Wa Nasitou Da’ei the crowd erupted and excitedly bopped in their seats, hands out, heads lowered, clapping and listening to the lyrics.

As a final treat, the audience witnessed the collaboration between Diba, the Al Quds Ensemble and the effervescent Françoise Atlan.

In full, hot sunshine, Atlan smiled and began. The combination of her soprano, Diba’s levelled, considered tone and the talent of the Al Quds Ensemble was the perfect end to a great afternoon.

 A standing ovation and encore performance ensued, and the audience basked for one last moment in the symphonic harmonies of three talented groups brought together for the 2013 Fes Festival.

Text: Natasha Christov, additional text: Vanessa Bonnin
Photographs: Vanessa Bonnin

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1 comment:

drukpa said...

Sorry, but it is not Al Quds Ensemble but the Arabo-Andalusian Orchestra of Fes under the direction of Mohammed Briouel, as the concert was presented by Alain Weber.
You can watch a video of this concert and some videos more on my youtube channel: "Transcordancias"