Sunday, July 07, 2013

Top Festival Director Visits Fez - "It's a complete knockout!"

Bill Hauritz is a much loved Australian festival director and the man behind the huge festival held at Woodford in Queensland every year and which attracts its audience from around the world. With 25 stages, more than 3000 performers and a range of activities that run from forums to folk music, World Music and blues,  dance workshops to instrument making, as well as films and comedy events, the six day festival is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. On a world tour to "gain perspective", Bill Hauritz dropped into Fez this week - his first experience of Morocco.

Bill Hauritz in The Ruined Garden Café - "The Medina is a complete knockout!"

At present Bill Hauritz is travelling around the globe attending festival related conferences. At this point he has been away from Australia for six weeks and there is still a way to go. The most important reason for the marathon trip, he explains, is to get a fresh perspective and to get away from the daily pressure of work back in Australia.

"Getting a fresh perspective is important. I have been doing the same job for 28 years getting out into the world means I get a feeling for how what we do fits in into the global culture."

When pressed to describe the role he plays in both his own festival in Australia and those he advises he responds, "I would suppose you could call me a cultural activist, keen on promoting culture, or getting it out to ordinary people. Music and art is the conduit for that. I have put together a band of people with similar aims and philosophies and we all come together to create an annual festival."

Bill Hauritz, like many of the great festival directors over the years, is motivated and inspired by ideas. "The Woodford Festival started in 1987 in a small village in Australia. It's key aim was promoting notion that our lore is a key part of developing our national culture. So, if you want to change or add to our culture, then the creation of a festival that celebrates that lore is a way to achieve it."

Hauritz's words contain the same message that we hear from Faouzi Skali the Director of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music. While the Fes Festival is smaller and younger, the philosophies behind them are remarkably similar. Skali believes Fes Festival of World Sacred Music can inspire and create forces for change through cultural expression. Skali, who founded the festival in 1994, believes "music is the common language of humanity, it has the ability to move us all and this year the festival speaks to valuing change and acceptance." Bill Hauritz would not argue with that.

The Woodford festival started small, with 900 people attending the event.After eight years the festival had grown too large for the village and so the organisers purchased 200 hectares of land in a beautiful valley at Woodford, north of Brisbane. The festival has been held there annually for the last 19 years. This year will be the 28th. The festival runs for six days and normally attracts around 130,000 people.

The Amphitheatre at Woodford - just one of twenty-five stages

This year Bill Hauritz was invited to take part in the third Indian Ocean Music Association conference: For the third consecutive year, IOMMA, the Indian Ocean Music Market Association), was held from June 4-6, 2013 on Reunion Island. This music market event in the Indian Ocean was an opportunity to meet and talk to artists and professionals of the Indian Ocean area and those from America, Asia, Australia, and Europe. The event program is a series of meetings in the form of conferences and workshops, face-to-face business meetings, and four island evening concerts.

From Reunion Hauritz travelled to Cape Town for a week of meetings, then Cairo and on to Amsterdam for a few days before attending a festival in Ireland. Then it was off to the UK for meetings in London and then as a guest of the Glastonbury Festival. After seeing the Rolling Stones performance at Glastonbury it was onto a plane to Morocco as a guest of The View from Fez.

His initial experience of Morocco has been overwhelmingly positive. "It's a wonderful place. It is everything that people told me about ... and more.  The Medina is a complete knockout, absolutely fantastic. The general feel of the place as you walk through the souks is brilliant. I love it."

Najat Aatabou - "world class"

While in Fez, Bill Hauritz was briefed on the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music, The Fez Sufi Festival, The Amazigh Festival and the Volubilis Festiva;.  He also took time to check out the Fes Festival venues and was fulsome in his praise of Bab Al Makina, a walled courtyard with seating for about 4,200 people. The surrounding walls up to 12 meters high create a RT60 reverberation time that measures between three and four seconds. As Fes Festival sound engineer, Chris Ekers has observed in the past "It's certainly a challenging place to do amplified music'.

"The setting is wonderful. We have nothing like that in Australia. A tremendous setting with a great spirit in there. Obviously a difficult venue for the sound engineers, but as far as staging goes - absolutely fantastic. I loved it," Bill Hauritz says .

Bill Hauritz was able to see the opening night performances of the Amazigh Festival and was impressed. "Najat Aatabou was a complete knockout. She is a super-star. If she was in the English speaking world she would be an absolute diva. She had a lovely presence, cheeky with the audience and totally connected with them. A world-class performer".

During his stay in Fez Bill Hauritz expressed the desire to bring Moroccan performers to Australia for the Woodford Festival and discussions have started with a number of Fez Musicians. No details are available at this stage, but there is interest in possibly taking the four Malams (leaders) of Issawa, Hamadcha, Melhoun and Gnawa groups to either the 2014 or 2015 festival.

And for Bill Hauritz the impact of Fez has been a positive one. In his own words  "I'll be back".
To which we can only add - Inshallah!

Check out the Woodford site here.

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