Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Fes Festival Nights in Medina #2 ~ from the serious to the sublime


Expectations were high at the packed to capacity concert at Musee Batha tonight. Tomatito, Paco de Lucia’s successor to the flamenco crown, was performing a tribute to the late great flamenco master, who’s outstanding show at last year’s festival was still fresh in the memories of many audience members.

A native of Almeria, Tomatito is a guitarist who worked with the late Camarón de la Isla and Paco de Lucía. He is one of an elite group of flamenco musicians; his toque and guitar-playing conveying the very essence of the gypsy soul.

It seemed that the guitar was his soul as Tomatito started strumming his instrument even as he was taking his seat on stage. This was clearly a man who likes to let his guitar do the talking.

The percussionist, sitting astride a cajón (drum box) set the rhythm, using his eyes to signal the other singers, who took up the beat with handclaps. The beat remained as steady and insistent as a heartbeat, a constant undercurrent to the waves of guitar melody that ebbed and flowed over the top.

The rhythm built slowly, then faster and faster until the lone female in the ensemble stood and took a few elegant steps to centre stage.

Arching her back and raising her arms, this was the beginning of a compelling performance of flamenco dance, striking in its modern interpretation.

After this heart pounding introduction the other musicians left the stage to Tomatito who spoke the only words of the evening – a simple acknowledgement of the history of flamenco guitar and expressing his desire to pay homage to Paco de Lucia.

He began a solo guitar piece, mournful but beautiful like a woman weeping. A hush fell over the crowd who were transfixed, the quiet only broken by heartfelt cries of “ole!” after a particularly powerful passage.

The musicians returned and high speed claps set the pace for an uplifting number, the members of the sextet smiling from ear to ear, taking evident pleasure in creating exceptional music together. The singers were almost bursting with the song, it built up to a point where the sound was wrestling itself out of their bodies like a live creature impelled to be set free.

The crowd were also explosive throughout the night – this is the sort of music that the audience applauds during the song, on multiple occasions, instead of waiting demurely until the end.

After a wonderful set, the ensemble were joined on stage by Omar Bouzmaazought, the Tamazight great master of the gimbri or lute. This interesting merging of Spanish and Moroccan music was a perfectly apt way to end a captivating evening.

Special appearance by Omar Bouzmaazought 
Audience reaction:

I don’t know how ot express this in English! I was so, so, so excited about this concert. It made me so happy to see flamenco here in Fes and to feel the same feeling here that I feel in Spain, in myself and between the people. Flamenco for me is like blood, it’s something very strong that you feel.” - Violeta Caldrés, Spain/Fes

Text and photographs: Vanessa Bonnin


Qawwali is a form of Sufi devotional music popular in South Asia, particularly in the Punjab and Sindh regions of Pakistan. It received enormous attention outside of the region due to the popularity of the late Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Therefore it was little surprise that tonight's concert was packed with qawwali devotees eager to enjoy the music of the Marifat Band.

The Pakistani Ambassador introduced the band

The evening started with an introduction by the Pakistani Ambassador. Much to the relief of the audience he did so in English. After some comments about the warm cultural relationshi,p between Pakistan and Morocco he handed over to the qawwali "party" - the Marifat Band.

Dr Muhammad Zafar Iqbal and his four other musicians  took to the stage and launched straight into the Qawwali repertoire.

This Sufi band was established in 2007 by Muhammad Zafar Iqbal, who at the time was head of the musicology department at the National College of Arts in Lahore. He named the band “Marifat” which is a state of mental illumination, which is achieved after one follows the core values of Sufism. The aim of the band is to spread the message of those core values: peace, love and harmony across the world. and to do so by example. To this end, the band includes Muslim and Christian members.

Muhammad Zafar Iqbal

Muhammad Iqbal's voice and technique were superb and even for those unfamiliar with this form of music it was apparent that his songs contained the central themes of qawwali; love, devotion and longing (of man for the Divine). His quiet moments were tender and alternated with passages that were loud, animated and forceful during which he stabbed the air in  a gesture of longing. He and the two other singers traded phrases and blended beautifully.

The qawwalis performed were typically long, starting gently and building over the steady drone of the two harmoniums. The effect was intoxicating and hypnotic. The percussion - tabla and dholak join in and the tempo increases. Then, reaching a climax the music stops rather abruptly. Then the journey begins again, this time with more improvisation. Again the trance like state is produced and the distinction between performer and audience is lost. As one audience member whispered - "we have become one". This was music from the heart and for the heart.

"We have become one"

Text and photographs: Sandy McCutcheon

Khalil Abu Nicola  – Palestine

For the second time in as many days the the concert at Dar Mokri was moved to the new Sidi Ben Youssef Cultural Centre.

Palestinian singing star Khalil Abu Nicola, a master of Middle Eastern music, was the star attraction and he drew a large crowd.

Supported by a band of nine including two backing singers, Abu Nicola is acclaimed for singing qudud the popular songs of Aleppo. This music is a form of Syrian Arabic music found in both Arab poetic form and secular music genre. ad adwar songs sung in colloquial Arabic and muwashahat, songs using Arabic poetry as well as authentic Arabic classical music.

The charismatic singer had some members of the audience on their feet, singing, dancing and clapping in time to the celebrated Arabic songs. He clearly appreciated the enthusiasm.

Abu Nicola trademark is the extraordinary ornamentation he uses during long melodies.  He has a powerful voice that reverberated around the venue and with the open air stage, his singing could be heard throughout parts of the Fez medina. Unfortunately, there were audio problems with feedback issues marring the performance.

THE CANTICLE OF THE BIRDS – a musical lecture by Leili Anva

Dar Adiyel was a superb venue for this classical 12th century Persian masterpiece but unfortunately the festival organizers had not organised even a leaflet translation. The performance catered to Francophiles and ignored the rest of the international audience that gathers in Fez at this time. It was disappointing. As Juha from Finland said, "They don't seem to realise how many people who come to international festivals have English as their second language. After all these years you would have expected better."

That it was a beautiful, graceful and playful rendering of this tale that stands at the heart of this years festival is without doubt. A packed courtyard full of French speaking friends enjoyed it immensely. But The View from Fez was unable to share in the words but still able to appreciate the beautiful musical side of the lecture.

Fady Zakar coordinated the music behind the poetry and his playing on the Rubab (a fretless six-string lute) and the Sindhi- Sarangui was particularly evocative in expressing the journey of the birds through the seven valleys to find the Simorgh or supreme being.

Fez imposed itself on the telling of the tale as the beautiful Leili Anvar was suddenly interrupted by the Muezzin’s call to evening prayer. The birds of Fez also seemed to want to sing along to the tale at particular quiet moments.

The author of Canticle of the Birds, Attar was born in Persia in the 12th century, and lived to be 101 before being decapitated during the invasion of the Mongols. Inspired by Sufi wisdom, this reading in verse by Leili Anvar reproduced the light that shines throughout this epic poem as Arlette from Belgium told The View from Fez, "The musical lecture spoke to my heart both intellectually and spiritually."

For four years she has fashioned the translation of this long poem of initiation into a language we can understand - if we speak French. The English speakers and the large number of audience members for whom English is a second language were left in the dark

Text: Larry Marshall

Tomorrow at the Fes Festival (Wednesday June 18)

Fez Forum at 9 at Batha Museum:  round table: Canticle of the Birds, presentation of the work of Farid Ud-Din Attār
Nights in the Medina 8pm  & 10pm Dar Adiyel: The art of Melhoun
Sidi Ben Youssef Cultural Centre 8pm & 10pm: Mor Kabasi - Spain
Batha Museum 9pm  Zakir Hussain -India
Festival in the City 4pm: Jnan Sbil Garden: Women of Meknes
Festival in the City 6.30pm Bab Boujloud Square: Laabi Orchestra
Sufi Night at Dar Tazi 11pm:  Sufi Sama -Rouh from Meknes
Tomorrow's Weather:  Cooler - Max 31 degrees Celsius (87.8 Fahrenheit) 
Fez Medina Map

The View from Fez is an official media partner of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music

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