Monday, June 16, 2014

Fes Festival Nights in the Medina - off to a rocky start - but the music was great


For the first time at the Fes festival, the new Sidi Ben Youssef Cultural Centre hosted an event after a last minute change of venue.

Hungary's internationally acclaimed choir of St Ephraim has toured in 14 countries and tonight's concert was the choir's first performance in Africa.

The choir founded in 2002 derives its name from deacon Ephraim, born around 306 in the town of Nisibe, today’s Nusaybin in Turkey on the Syrian border. He wrote hymns, songs and homilies in verse, as well as biblical commentaries. Now in the 21st Century, this choir based in Budapest brings to life St Ephraim writings.

Choir master and drummer - Tamás Bubnó

But the repertoire of this all male choir covers not only Byzantine music. Tonight's concert also included the works of Russian composer's Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff and the music of contemporary Hungarian composer Bela Bartok.

Accompanied by bells and a drum, the choir's perfect harmonies transported the smaller than expected audience in a unique acoustic experience. Audience numbers were down due to confusion over times and venue change.

A much needed new venue

The new venue is a welcome addition to the festival venues as it is spacious and acoustically interesting. Hopefully it will be used in coming years.

Text: Stephanie Kennedy
Photographs: Stephanie Kennedy, Sandy McCutcheon


Originally from Tsingtao in the northeast of China, Wang Li has specialised in the Jew’s harp. He also plays the calabash flute, the ancestor of the Chinese sheng, which has a gourd sound box and bamboo pipes to play or to drone. His music reveals an interior world using only breath, vibrations, memories and visions. His imaginary world is filled with a resonance that is both personal and universal.

Six poets and musicians from the first people of Morocco, the Berber Imazighen of the Atlas mountains, joined Wang Li on stage. The poets speak and sing accompanied by traditional hand held skin drums and deep desert flutes or gasbahs. The evening sky is still blue through the open courtyard roof and soft winds blow as Wang Li opens with a virtuoso solo. He then invites the Berber poets to join him as precious collaborators on this musical journey.

The Imazighen bring old stories of the mountains and deserts into this beautiful house in the Fez Medina. The many versions of the Jew's harp used by Wang Li are gathered from his research across countries and continents where the nomadic Jews left behind their musical mark. He makes his instruments first whisper then cry and sigh and then scream in beautiful accompaniment to the Berber music. It almost seems as if he is trying to emulate the soft breezes and roaring winds that blow through the Atlas mountains. There is an amazing connection here that many may not have thought possible between these ancient cultures.

Wang Li speaks to the audience for a moment about the two warm and open-hearted Berber women who approached him and then did the work to made this musical journey across cultures possible. He says that he now feels that at some time in the past he may have lived a life in Morocco and they in China.

To end the concert we have another cultural treat in store. Three Berbers , a woman and two men, walk into the courtyard carrying traditional long rifles. They are in full white traditional robes with headdress. They begin a slow dance with rifles held aloft - they jump to the beat of the drums and sway to the horns and screaming Jew's harp. There is a story here in each movement and the music underlines the richness of the culture.

And the audience were impressed: Nouzha from Fez said that this was an incredible concert. A collaboration of cultures she did not think possible before. It proves, she said, the power of music to bring people together. She agreed with Wang Li that Moroccans may even have been in China at some time long ago.

Pascale and Didier from Toulouse in France said that they came here for the first time to Morocco wanting to see if this Sacred Music Festival could work. They were profoundly moved by the spiritual musical and poetic journey that they had witnessed hear tonight. Morocco and China - Amazing!

Text : Larry Marshall
Photographs: Vanessa Bonnin, Larry Marshall


The three musicians who make up the Majlis Trio - Thibaut Rocheron (percussion) Léo Fabre-Cartier (oud) and Aline Haelberg (violin) are no strangers to the music lovers of Fez, having performed here several times in the last couple of years. Their music is drawn from a rich repertoire of traditional oriental music from Turkey, Greece, Syria, Egypt, Azerbaïdjan and Arab-Andalusian music from the Maghreb. Again tonight at Dar Batha it was enthusiastically received by both Moroccans and visitors.

After a rather jazzy introductory piece, Léo Fabre-Cartier invited the audience (in French) to join them for a musical journey that took us first to Turkey and then further along the cross roads of the east.

The eastern flavour continued with a slow dance - sweet and in a mournful minor key. This was followed by some beautiful solo oud before the tempo increased and the dance took flight.

Aline Haelberg's violin playing was superb with the notes rising like melancholy emotions floating on a night breeze. She has a deft and subtle touch that appears effortless. She is a joy to listen to.

"The oud represents the universe " - Léo Fabre-Cartier

Text & photographs: Sandy McCutcheon

ALTAN – Ireland

From the heart of County Donegal, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Altan bring to life their Irish Gaelic heritage with that particular jubilant liveliness and reverence found in Celtic tradition.

The seeds of the band lie in the music and fun of gatherings and sessions in kitchens and pubs in Donegal where virtuoso music was heard in an atmosphere of respect and intimacy – it is here that the band’s heart lies.

And indeed the audience at Musee Batha tonight was immediately transported from Fez to Ireland within a few opening notes from the fiddle. A festive joyful atmosphere was created from the beginning, with people quickly clapping and whooping along to a lively jig.

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh introduced the spirit of the night by saying “we play dance tunes and we know this is a spiritual place, so express yourselves through dancing!”

With this verbal invitation and the lively insistence of the music, groups of the crowd wasted no time in breaking into energetic attempts at Irish dancing, whirling, jigging and even a few Riverdance style leg moves.

The range of music also moved to touching old Irish ballads, during which the musicians seamlessly blended dazzling instrumental prowess with ethereal and haunting vocals sung in Gaelic. As the light caught Mhaonaigh’s hair and her face radiated with a beatific smile, happiness washed over the crowd and the camaraderie between the musicians extended to the audience.

“The next song is another love song with a sad ending,” she said.
“All our love songs in Ireland have sad endings and it’s always the man who is brokenhearted…that’s why I’m always singing!”

Infused with humour even in the moments of wistful mournfulness, the true Irish spirit shone through in the band’s exchanges with the audience. The performance was all about participation, with the crowd being asked to sing choruses in Gaelic “sing whatever you want, whatever words, it works!” and above all to dance, dance, dance.

”We like to dance to show that we’re happy despite the sad songs. Don’t be afraid to go ‘yahoo’, and we hope you’re all enjoying yourselves because we’re having a party!"

• Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, fiddle, vocals
• Ciaran Tourish, fiddle, vocals
• Ciarán Curran, bouzouki
• Mark Kelly, guitar, vocals
• Dermot Byrne, accordion

Audience reaction:

“Feckin’ awesome! Great energy, great vibe and my feet are cut to shreds from dancing barefoot on the zellige! It was great to bring a bit of Ireland to Fez.” - Rose Button, Dublin/NewZealand/Moulay Idriss

“I liked the atmosphere, the music brought good ambience between people.” - Brahim Zegari, Fez

“We loved the atmosphere, everyone was going mental!” - Ashley and Lilly, London

“I liked it a lot when they went fast because I like to dance. My mother is a dancer of Indian dance so I’m a dancer too.”  - Pia, aged 7, India

"we’re having a party!"

Text and Photographs: Vanessa Bonnin

Nights in the Medina confusion

The first of the Night's in The Medina began in confusion with an extremely late change of venue for one of the concerts. It was clearly a last minute decision as very few people were told - and only in French. It has been suggested that the Choir of St Ephraim had requested the change due to the bad acoustics in the Dar Mokri venue, but whatever the cause it should have been communicated in Arabic and English for the hundreds of visitors who do not speak French.

To add to the confusion there was a time change that again seemed to be only known by Festival insiders and the concert at the new venue began two hours before the advertised starting time. People who had purchased tickets and wanted to go from one venue to another were clearly upset and did not hold back at expressing their unhappiness at the poor management of the change. It is not clear which venues will be used tomorrow.

Tomorrow at the Fes Festival (Tuesday June 17)

Fez Forum at 9 at Batha Museum:  Giving Soul to Globalisation. What chance peace in the Middle East
Batha Museum 4pm: Jordi Savall - Spain
Nights in the Medina 8pm Dar Adiyel: Canticle of the Birds - Musical lecture .
Dar Adiyel.10pm: Qawwali Marifat Band  Pakistan
Dar Mokri 8pm & 10pm Khalil Abu Nicola - Palestine
Batha Museum 9pm Tomatito Sextet - Spain
Festival in the City 4pm: Jnan Sbil Garden: Nasr Migri
Festival in the City 6.30pm Bab Boujloud Square: Sefrawa Fusion, Ribat Fusion
Sufi Night at Dar Tazi 11pm:  Naqchabandia Brotherhood
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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