Meknes is currently enjoying the 14th edition of the Volubilis International Festival under the patronage of King Mohammed VI, whose commitment to cultural events is becoming legendary. Gabe Monson reports for The View from Fez
|Peking Opera of Heilongjiang|
These events provide well-produced showcases for local musicians, introduce international styles to local audiences and open an accessible but authentic window for visitors onto the diversity of Moroccan culture. Indeed, it seems possible to ‘Festival hop’ across the country, from major urban events such as Fes, Rabat and Essouira, to lesser known reaches of the kingdom, such as Sidi Ifni and TanTan.
Meknes seems to fall between the two. Although a centrally located Imperial city, only 55kms west of Fes, it is somewhat overshadowed as a destination by that more famous neighbour.
A pity, as Meknes is a surprisingly green and pleasant place to spend time. Its park-lined river, dividing a manageable Medina from the bustling and friendly Ville Nouvelle, gives a spacious feel and welcome sense of orientation for visitors. And the Festival is a perfect excuse to visit.
Concerts, all free, take place from sunset in two accessed venues at the Medina edge. Theatre Jardin Lahboul, a small riverside amphitheatre, hosts the more intimate events, while cafe-lined Place Lahdim rocks out into the small hours as youth and families gather, snack, sing along and promenade within the ramparts by the landmark Bab Mansour.
|Le Chauffeur et Dans le Pre|
The opening days of the six-day event (3-8 July), have displayed a well chosen mix of international and local acts. International acts so far have included the Peking Opera of Heilongjiang, whose physical comedy and gorgeous costumes delighted the family audience.
Pumping African and South American groups such as Cumbia All Stars (Peru) and N’goha OBV (Ivory Coast) have had the audience shouting and dancing, while intricate and musically theatrical French group Le Chauffeur et Dans le Pre challenged and impressed as they switched in a moment from contrapuntal fugues to comedic ‘circus’ music.
|Mostafa El Herfi’s Andalucian orchestra|
Local acts have ranged from Mostafa El Herfi’s Andalucian orchestra and Berber favourites Izenzarn to contemporary Rai with Cheb Kader and hip young fusion acts such as Heat Spirit.
A fuller account of these and other event highlights will follow. For now, suffice to say; if you are in the area, and love music, make your way to Meknes, enjoy the genuine friendliness of the people and some great sounds under the stars.
Text and photographs: Gabe Monson