The dust has finally settled, the venues have been stripped of chairs, stands and seating and a majority of the international visitors have returned home. The View from Fez team reflects on the 20th Fes Festival
The quality I enjoyed most about the festival this year was community. Both between audiences and between performers.
The bond that forms among members of an audience during a shared, transporting musical experience is something very special that elevates us from individualistic human beings to participants in the human race as a whole. We enter a venue as selfish beings, caught up in our own busy lives and daily problems, intent on getting the best seats and only greeting people we already know.
|Gypsy Songs of Provence|
Then, something magical happens. Music and performance takes over and we are absorbed, suddenly forgetting all the concerns we had when we arrived, relaxing into the here and now. We begin to look around us, taking in the environment, appreciating the sound of a breeze through the trees, or a snatch of bird song. We notice other people's reactions to the music, recognise that we feel the same way ourselves and a bond starts to be created - the audience is being transformed from a mass of individuals to one entity, following the highs and lows of the music, clapping, swaying, singing. We catch each others eyes and smile, we are all in this together.
|Tomatito's superb dancer|
Music breaks down barriers and crosses language, race and gender to unite people in a common appreciation of something beautiful. By involving several of the senses we are forced to come out of our shells and be aware of others. By the end of a good performance, you often see people who would never normally talk to 'strangers' sharing their enthusiasm with each other and perhaps striking up new friendships. Such is the power of music to create community.
The other sense of community that struck me this year was the wonderful rapport between the musicians when performing. I commented on it in many of my stories and I noticed it was particularly prevalent this year. That sense of mutual admiration for each other's skill and the enormous pleasure taken from playing, riffing and generally creating an incredible piece of music.
It's always refreshing to see a band where there is no prima donna out the front, no central ego with backing musicians and singers, but instead a collection of talent who are all equally part of the ensemble. The stand out performances for me this year all encompassed this quality - the Altan Ensemble, Tomatito, the Sacred Gypsy Songs of Provence and Zakir Hussain all demonstrated a collaboration between wonderful musicians who had the joy of it on their faces throughout.
|The camaraderie between musicians was a pleasure to behold|
Even the bigger names - Johnny Clegg and his band, Youssou N'Dour and Buddy Guy - gave performances that featured thrilling solos from other members of their band and the camaraderie between them all was a pleasure to behold. This sense of mate-ship always flows from the stage to the audience and creates another level of bonding throughout the crowd.
It is this overriding sense of community that makes Fes such a special place to be during the Sacred Music Festival. The streets are cleaner, we feel safer, people are friendlier and there is a different buzz in the air. It is my hope that this effect lasts a little while longer each year, and that the musicians leave some of their magic behind after they have gone.
As a first timer at the Fez Festival I wasn't sure I'd like the range of music on offer. The opening night gave me a taste of what was to come and I was still a little uncertain whether any of the programme would excite me.
It wasn't long before I was hit by the wow factor. When a slight African woman appeared on stage and sang her first note, I knew this was something out of the ordinary. Mali's Rokia Traore delivered a powerful concert, her love of Africa and her optimism for its future evident in the lyrics of her songs. Watching the crowd rise up as one and dance with this musical Queen of Africa was the highlight of the performance. Her final song Tuit Tuit used trilling harmonies to imitate birds and was a perfect finale tying in with the festival's theme - the Conference of the Birds.
|Nouhaila El Kalai|
It was not only the sweet sounds of Africa which impressed me. A young girl singing Moroccan Arabic songs was absolutely mesmerising. Nouhaila El Kalai is a teenage singing sensation who is ensuring Morocco's precious musical heritage continues for at least another generation. She had a presence on stage few 13 years olds could muster anywhere in the world. It was so obvious that she loves the traditional Melhoun songs of her native country. It's the most elaborate form of poetry that exists in Moroccan Arabic and it's the language of the artisans of the medinas. Nouhaila performed with mystical beauty and the sweet sound of this teens poems of love and tales did justice to Morocco's musical heritage and is safe in her hands.
Like the birds in Attar's Canticle of the Birds, my musical journey at Fes was far from over. The meditative sounds of India's Ustad F. Wasifuddin Dagar entranced both me and the audience. It's not the type of music that's interested me, but there's something about Dagars' dhurpad music that caught my attention. The singing started softly to a simple beat, as Dagar slowly picked up the pace he used an increasingly complex and rhythmic pattern. It was both soothing and uplifting, and as I left the Musee Batha I felt strangely calm and cleansed
There's little doubt that Fes has been a musical journey for me, I've enjoyed the variety and the world class talent that was on show here in 2014.
Will I be back? Definitely!
Being in Fez for this Sacred Music Festival was a unique experience in itself. An ancient Medina hosting people from all over the world with the aim of using music as a bridge to join cultures and faiths, to give dignity to all and proclaim the strength of difference.
|The Fes Hamadcha leader|
The highlights for me were the Sufi concerts each evening which brought the Fassis out in force to share their joy in this sacred music form that invites movement and seeks a connection with the divine. On the last night the Hamadcha gave us all something to remember, something to take with us in our hearts from Fez. This was the soul of the festival for me.
The lowlight was the lack of English translation at a beautiful poetic evening entitled ‘The Canticle of the Birds’ . It was an attempt to unpack the meaning behind the great poetry that lay at the centre of the symbolism of this festival of the birds. The French presenters and the musicians gave us a poignant and at times humorous reading of this text but for those without French there was no translation even on paper to help us share this moment. There were no words spoken in English and hence all the foreign visitors who were not Francophiles were disenfranchised.
Other moments I loved were the evening with Wang-li and the Berbers where these two ancient cultures came together musically with deep respect and great joy. Astonishing! It works so very well.
Finally, the sheer energy and brilliance of the musical light that is Rokia Traore from Mali will stay with me. Her strength and nomadic roots gave us a fusion of African and European Rhythms that were fresh and joyful. The audience were all on their feet to pay homage to, and to dance with this lovely woman.
I had a fantastic time covering the event and wanted to thank The View From Fez for the opportunity - I really appreciated them taking a chance on me.
|Hot 8 at Bab Boujloud|
The events were generally great, though working with The View from Fez as a Media Partner I wish that there was some information on non-venue events like Hot Eight's procession through Boujloud.
Security was absolutely unprofessional at Boujloud and Bab el Makina. They were totally out of line and had no idea what was going on. Unfortunately, security at Dar Tazi was also extremely poor. The so called "security guards" were so wrapped up with yelling at people for sitting on the "VIP carpets" in the front that they did nothing to break up the fights erupting backstage before the last Sufi Nights performance (even when I repeatedly told them that they were needed). Maybe the security guards could have training in behaving better and also be informed that the media are also there to work.
The Fes Forums ~ Where to now?
Katherine Marshall reports : he Fes Sacred Music Festival has a unique feature and asset in the Fes Forum. Many festivals host seminars and the like, but the Fes Forum is a deeply integrated part of the Festival and can be seen as its heart. That owes much to the Festival's history, coming as it did on the heels of the First Gulf War, at the height of concerns about mounting violence and a "clash of civilizations". The festival is about understanding and building bridges across cultures and religions. And the Forum was designed to give that ambitious vision an intellectual and spiritual but also a political platform.
The Forum was launched in 2001, and thus is 14 years old. Each year it has involved five (generally) days of full mornings devoted to discussion, dialogue, and debate. The topics range widely, but generally touch on the leading issues of our times: conflict, economic development, governance, environmental protection, business and entrepreneurship, and leadership, for example.
The Forum's supporters see this unique event as an enormous opportunity. Where else can issues be discussed with so many different kinds of people, from all over the world? Where else is it possible to talk openly and honestly about very tough issues? The idea is that music and a spiritual ambiance open hearts and minds to new ideas and new commitments. But currently the Forum lacks the continuing resources that would allow it to carry forward the ideas that are launched during discussions. There are valiant communication efforts but the ideas rarely travel very far. There is a nagging sense that Morocco and Fes have an enormous opportunity that is in reach but not quite grasped.
The paths ahead could go in two directions. The first would be more like a wonderful set of daily seminars, exploring the issues of the day in a unique setting, under an ancient and enormous barbary oak tree, serious discussions punctuated by the songs of birds. In a sense that is the Forum's current format. A second, much more ambitious vision, would be to take the idea discussed here at the Forum of creating a continuing, "spiritual Davos", anchored in a country on the bridge between east and west, north and south, and make it a reality. That would call for a continuing secretariat and international advisory committee, a communication strategy and apparatus, and a self-conscious networking strategy. It would obviously need resources. The first option is important , and the Fes Forum could continue to be a seedbed of ideas. The second involves a vision of transformation, making a difference in a complex world. Where to next?
The View from Fez would like to thank: Vanessa Bonnin, Stephanie Kennedy, Larry Marshall, Maha McCutcheon. Rachida El Jokh and Joel Dowling for the long hours and superb work. Also, thanks to our readers and those who shared or retweeted our stories. For this year's festival we published 56 stories and reached our biggest audience ever both on The View from Fez (over 50,000 page views) and associated Facebook pages (10, 460).