Patti Smith Rocks Bab Al Makina in Fez
|"My first concert in Morocco"|
“That will be one of my great memories of being here in Fes, the continuous song of the birds.”
The birds had heard Patti Smith, as a crescent moon rose thousands of alpine swifts were wheeling and circling over Bab al Makina, like a swirl of feathered confetti. A lone falcon swooped over the stage, symbolic of the spirited lone huntress of freedom who was to step onto it shortly thereafter.
Redondo Beach came next, and then the first track from her new album Banga, called April Fool. The lyrics, like many of Patti’s songs, were a strange fit for a festival of sacred music in Fes, one of Morocco’s most spiritual and conservative cities.
We'll burn all of our poems
Add to God's debris
We'll pray to all of our saints
Icons of mystery
We'll tramp through the mire
When our souls feel dead
With laughter we'll inspire
Then back to life again
After this song, she began to spin slowly like a whirling dervish, her long hair plaited into dreadlocks fanning outwards. Her attire was her classic punk rock look – faded black jeans, white t-shirt with holes, black waistcoat and jacket, black beanie and heavy metallic leather boots.
This was the mark of an experienced performer. Not only the deliberate slow spinning before the song – which was noted – but the tailoring of her songs to the local audience.
At this point there was a glitch with the video projection on the screens that flanked the stage. In the time it took to restore the live feed, and in a hugely ironic gesture of bad taste, the logo of Royal Air Maroc was projected onto the screens. For someone so anti-corporate (she sung later in the concert “the dark forces of government bending to corporations”) she would have hated it had she noticed.
In another nod to local sensibilities she declared “we dedicate this next little song to the poet Rumi,” as she launched into Mosiac.
This was a song that she had talked about in her press conference of the previous day, saying it had some Moroccan influence and was “a Sufi style song merged with rock and roll.”
“Today is a very special day for me, it is the birthday of my late brother Todd,” she said.
The word ‘late’ was lost on some of the crowd who began to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ at which Patti laughed and continued, “he died in 1994 but his spirit is here with us tonight. Happy birthday Toddy.”
She began Ghost Dance, with the lyrics ‘we shall live again’ having especially strong meaning for her as she remembered her lost brother.
“Shake out the ghost!” she proclaimed, shaking her hands and imploring the crowd to do the same.
“This next song is dedicated to all the poets in history, the poets who did not write, the poets of the future, all the poets,” she said as she picked up her guitar and began Beneath the Southern Cross, a song whose lyrics really show why she is described as the poetess of punk.
not any cry
so mournful that
the dove just laughs
the steadfast gasps
who walked through
the callow mist
dressed in scraps
the curve of the world
whose bone scraped
whose flesh unfurled
who grieves not
to greet lame
the inspired sky
amazed to stumble
where gods get lost
the southern cross
Patti then introduced the band – guitarists Jack Petruzzelli and Tony Shanahan, drummer Jay Dee Daugherty and bassist Lenny Kaye.
|A reflective moment sitting on the edge of the stage|
This was her cue to hand over to her band and as she bowed out and sat on the edge of the stage Lenny Kaye took over, saying “this is dedicated to all the fans of Le Rock Garage!”
While her musicians launched into a heavy punk rock number, Patti jumped off the stage and in front of the sponsors all sitting placidly in the front row. More enthusiastic concert-goers surged forward from the wings and she began to dance surrounded by a circle of fans.
This was a turning point in the concert, inspired by Patti reaching out to her fans and the truly head-banging guitar coming from the stage, a crowd gathered in the front and began to dance frenetically.
Back on stage and moving into Ain’t it Strange, Patti’s performance went up several notches, moving her arms like she was trying to pull the notes out of Lenny Kaye’s bass and bowing down to the mastery of her musicians.
“Transcend, transcending it!” she roared, spitting onto the stage to the amusement and shock of the Moroccan men in the front. This was a woman like none they had come across, a woman with attitude, who rocked, and spat, like a man.
“I MOVE in another dimension!” she declared, strutting and growling. And she truly does.
The introduction to Peaceable Kingdom was another acknowledgement of Morocco: “Today we took a walk and we saw the beautiful declaration of independence of Morocco, written in the blood of your country men. This declaration should be written for all the people of the world. Return to nature, return to the world!”
Her delivery was another reminder of her inner poet, with the lyrics simply spoken with backing music.
Maybe one day we'll be strong enough
To build it back again
Build the peaceable kingdom
She finished the song by adding “the people have the power, it is decreed. The people rule.”
And the people heard her. As she launched into Pissing in a River the security guards decided it was time for people to retake their seats. They obviously hadn’t been listening or hadn’t reckoned on the effect that Patti’s cry of “the people rule” would have on the crowd.
Some improvised poetry was up next, as Patti undertook her most significant lyrical change to the song Land.
“The boy was in the hallway drinking a glass of tea
From the other end of the hallway a rhythm was generating
It was a long hallway of blue and white tiles, blue of the city, blue of the sky
The fragrance of mint wafted around him and he felt. That He. Could. Do. Anything!”
As she sang HORSES, HORSES, HORSES people began pogo-ing with fists in the air and it became a proper, old school rock concert, the likes of which Fes has never seen.
Patti sang to the crowd with her arms outstretched “I’m dreaming of complete freedom unfettered by things, like a bird in the sky” and then continued her Fes-inspired improvisation: “He was deep within the medina and he could smell the herbs, the herbs all around him, he could hear the sound of the gnawa, he could hear the sound of those in prayer, and it was beautiful.”
The song moved straight into Gloria and Patti again demonstrated her gift for infusing her performance with genuine feeling as she approached the edge of stage, leaned on the shoulders of the security guards and reached for the hand of a young girl. “All children are beautiful and we were all once children,” she had said the previous day.
Then came her most controversial lyric, said with emphatic feeling: “Jesus died for someone’s sins. BUT. NOT. MINE.”
“This is our first concert in Morocco!” she enthused as they left the stage. The crowd were not satisfied however and repeated chants of ‘Patti, Patti, Patti’ brought them back out for a rollicking three-song encore.
Summertime Blues was first up, and her moves prompted a man in the audience next to me to say “she may be in her 60s but she can still rock!”
As if she heard him, they moved onto the rocking title track of her new album, Banga.
She has said previously “Banga is a dog in The Master and Margarita (by Mikhail Bulgakov) who loyally sat with his master for 2000 years on the edge of heaven while his master waited to speak to Jesus Christ. I thought that any dog who waited for 2000 years deserved a song. People ask me, what’s Banga about? It’s not about anything really, it’s just an absurd kind of song. It’s our anthem, it means nothing except that we’re all together.”
And all together we were, enthusiastically singing along with Patti as she mimicked the sound of the electric guitar ‘woaw woaw woaw woaw’, then we all howled and barked like dogs, Lenny Kaye playing on stage with his tongue out, panting, and his hands like a dog begging. “Say BANGA!”
The final song, People have the Power, was as appropriate to the mood she had inspired as it was potent, given the residual feeling in Morocco still simmering under the surface in the wake of the Arab Spring.
The power to dream / to rule
to wrestle the world from fools
it's decreed the people rule
it's decreed the people rule
I believe everything we dream
can come to pass through our union
we can turn the world around
we can turn the earth's revolution
we have the power
People have the power…
An expat resident chose this moment to throw his customized Moroccan hat to Patti on stage, who, seeing the metallic CND sign on it, obviously approved and pocketed the gift.
“Dream to vote, to live, to love,” she commanded the crowd.
And her last message was “This is the sacred music festival. Remember that all life is sacred, all people are sacred. Be healthy, be strong, be free.” With that, she left the stage for the last time and in her wake left a group of people newly invigorated by their desire to be free.
|"Power belongs to the people" - and the crowd erupted|
Alfred, who’s hat Patti so approved of was delighted.
“I think she picked it up because there was the symbol of peace on it, she saw the symbol and she got it, she just GOT it – it was so nice to give it to her, I’m so happy. The concert was just great.”
“It was incredible, beautiful, wonderful, she IS rock!”
“At the end, the people ruled over the corporations – the area at the front of the stage was a sponsors area and they asked us to move but we stood up and stood strong for the love of the music,” Hassan, Fes
“I thought she was wonderful and I loved the fact that she adapted the songs for here. I wonder if everyone understood the words of her last song though, if you listen to it, it’s a wonderful message but quite severe and not for this culture who is bound by religion and government. I have so much respect for her.” Stephen, Fes/USA
Text: Vanessa Bonnin
Photographs: Suzanna Clarke
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