Saturday, October 04, 2014

Former Fes Festival Director Speaks

This week director Faouzi Skali broke his silence on his departure as director of the Spirit of Fes Foundation and the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music
Time to pack up the chairs: Faouzi Skali leaves the Fes Festival. Photo: Suzanna Clarke

Mr Skali said that after more than 20 years at the helm, it was time to move on, "The real reason alone, is the natural feeling that with the Twentieth Edition of the Festival and era has drawn to a close. To me, it's the first phase of this adventure, which is without limit. The Festival has become part of the memory and heritage of Fez and Morocco."

The new team running the Festival is President Abderrafih Zouitene and Director Ambassador Tajeddine Baddou. Mr Skali described the ambassador as,"A dear friend and long-time man of culture who has already achieved many great projects." Ali Benmakhlouf is now Director of the Fez Forum, the morning talk sessions which aims to build bridges between Eastern and Western cultures.

Mr Skali founded the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music in 1994, as a counter to the “clash of civilisations” rhetoric underpinning the first Gulf War. And in 2007, he initiated the annual Fes Festival of Sufi Culture.

Born in Fez in 1953, Mr Skali has a Ph.D. in anthropology, ethnology and religious science from the Sorbonne. At age 23, after reading the stories of Rumi, he became fascinated by Sufism and a year later met and became a disciple of Sidi Hamza al Qadiri al Boutchichi. Last year he was awarded the French Chevalier (Knight) de la Legion d'Honneur.

Mr Skali says Fez history and culture offers “the artistic, the spiritual and poetic; all this richness in architecture and music...It’s very important for a person like me to do something to transmit (those values) to a new generation...Sufism has this perfume of spirituality that you can share.”

"Today more than ever, we see the importance of Sufi dimension, which is the heart of Moroccan society. It is a bulwark against extremism. There is a need to bear witness in the world...It requires an approach which is beyond purely security: it is a battle of ideas."

Apart from a brief period a few years ago when Mr Skali stepped down amid rumours of significant problems in the organisation,  Mr Skali has been involved in the management of the Festival with former President Mohamed Kabbaj. He said this week that, "The foundation of collective endeavour involves a certain degree of organisational complexity. Nothing like this is immune from tensions, conflicts, differences of approaches and visions."

Mr Skali recalls "his deep respect and friendship Mohamed Kabbaj, who always agreed with courage
to take risks when he thought the result was worth it...Kabbaj has always impressed me with his sense of responsibility and commitment." When Mr Kabbaj decided to retire from his post, Mr Skali felt it was a natural time for him to move on.

"Like any project with a significant cultural significance, this festival is to survive beyond the people," Mr Skali said. "The perpetuation of this Festival is primarily a responsibility that requires alertness. It is in this context that I have left the festival management...After more than 20 years of organizing, which is epic, I feel that a cycle has been completed...I am always ready to contribute at any level whatsoever if a need is expressed."

Mr Skali's successor, Director Ambassador Tajeddine Baddou (pictured right), has had a long career as a diplomat. Born in Meknes in 1943, Mr Baddou was Morocco's ambassador to Italy between 2003 and 2008 and has had an active involvement in many cultural organisations. He indicated a desire to expand the Fes Festival to reactivate the festival of culinary arts, to create a festival of crafts, and other events that will enhance the potential of the region. He said he also wishes to have a greater degree of youth integration with the activities of the Foundation.

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