The L'orchestra National de Jazz and Ladysmith Red Lions free concert in Boujloud Square, was musically excellent, well staged and produced. However the reversal of running order from that indicated by the Festival program - Ladysmith Red Lions, followed by the Jazz Orchestra of France - was unfortunate for the overall success of the event. Gabe Monson reports
Somewhat confusingly to those expecting an African choir, the concert opened, late, with France's L'orchestra National de Jazz brass section of three saxaphones and silver flute taking up centre front stage, flanked by keyboards, guitars, electric bass and drum kit. At the back were Fes’s Hamadcha Sufi Brotherhood who two nights ago had also appeared at the venue, in collaboration with Dj ClicK.
The set opened with Hamadcha’s solemn chant, counterpointed by their long golden horns, and was kept dynamic throughout by shifts in tempo and tone.
Some pieces were highly ornamented and ‘glitchy’; others more rhythmical, featuring a Gnawa dancer.
The sudden emergence of the Moroccan gihta (oboe) in the dark and moody sixth song echoed the use of the same instrument in a ‘spacey’ electronic piece in the DJ ClicK set. Hearing it in this context sounded stronger. Indeed this collaboration overall seemed more grounded and coherent than the former, with Hamadcha able to contribute their more of their rhythmic and tonal range across the shifting soundscapes.
However, it seemed strange that Hamadcha, including the exuberant Abderrahim Amrani Marrakchi who had shone as ‘front man’ two nights ago, were kept at the back of the stage, in favour of the less visually interesting brass section.
The set was long. Around midnight it fell into a challengingly loud and chaotic patch, as if the complexity of instrumentation had finally overwhelmed the usually excellent sound production of these events.
The ending of this piece was a ‘false finale’. The actual finale started with the soft notes of an oud and wooden flute then progressed through a patch of complex rhythm, then drum and keyboard solos in simpler 4/4 time. Throughout this an older Moroccan musician stood waiting his turn to play a double-horn.
By the end, the band was dancing more than the crowd, which, after some cheering, rapidly dispersed. It was already after midnight, and Ladysmith Red Lions were still to come.
This eight man South African a cappella choir combines the gently harmonious Isicathamiya or walking softly style exemplified by the better known Ladysmith Black Mambazo, with an earlier tradition of strong voice and choreographed gestures, mbube, which itself means "lion". As group leader D.J Thabede explained, ‘we are named for the lion, as that is the strongest animal.’
The Red Lions had come a long way from Ladysmith to perform to a late night crowd, that by this time barely lined the front fence. Fortunately, they are performing again on Friday night at Bab Makina, with the Chicago Gospel Experience and Butterscotch beatboxer.
This concert promises to be a blitzer. However, it is a ticketed event, and overall it seemed a pity that Ladysmith Red Lion’s inspiringly warm spirit had not been freely available at an appropriate time to the people of Fes who had been so strongly present earlier in the evening.
Text Gabe Monson