This year the people of Australia had their first experience of Moroccan Sufi music with the arrival of the Hamadcha Sufi Brotherhood from Fez
|(Left to right) Faith Barker, Noureddine Bachira, Frederic Calmes, Abderrahim |
Amrani Marrakchi, Mohammed Essoussi, Abdellatif Moujtahide, Rachida El Jokh, Sandy McCutcheon
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The Woodford Festival in Queensland, lasting a week and attended by over 120,000 people, was a huge success this year. And although the weather was variable - going from drenching rain to hot steamy sunshine, visitors had little to complain about.
The arrival in Australia of the Hamadcha started badly with the confiscation by the airport authorities of all the Brotherhood's traditional instruments. The reason given was that the treated drum-skins were not acceptable in a country with strict quarantine guidelines. Fortunately, the Minister of Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, intervened and declared the instruments to be valuable cultural objects and allowed them into the country.
|Faith Barker, obscured by incense, with Noureddine Bachira and Frederic Calmes|
For the Brotherhood Australia was a double challenge. Not only did they have to contend with three days of jet-lag from their 22 hour marathon flight from Morocco, but the culture shock also presented many challenges. The Hamadcha costumes proved to be hot in the subtropical climate but that did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm and energy that the Brotherhood put into the music.
|Master musicians ~ Abderrahim Amrani Marrakchi, Mohammed Essoussi and Abdellatif Moujtahide|
However, at the end of the day, the most important thing was the music, and the question of how an Australian audience would react to something totally different from anything they had heard previously. The question was resolved at the first performance of the traditional ceremony which the audience greeted with ecstatic applause.
With each performance the audiences grew with many people coming back for a second third, of fourth time. By the time the Hamadcha's long trumpets, the Nfir, started sounding the audience was on its feet dancing and appreciating the clouds of Moroccan incense that scented the entire venue
|Frederic Calmes performing the extraordinary Hadra dance|
The charismatic group leader Abderrahim Amrani Marrakchi raised the crowd to fever pitch with his call and response Gnawa music, while the sublime voice of melhoun singer, Si Mohammed Essoussi flew high above the venue like a mystical call to prayer. The hypnotic rhythms were delivered by Abdelatif Moujtahide, Noureddine Bachira and the ensemble. With each section ending in a brilliantly tight and dramatc manner.
The Hadra dancing of the group's musical directer Frederic Calmes was hypnotic and as one festival patron rushed up to inform the group "totally awesome".
The appearance on stage of a veiled woman dressed in blue, evoked images of the women of Afghanistan, but soon proved to be otherwise. The translucent veil was shrugged aside and trance dancer Rachida El Jokh had the audience mesmerised as she released her long black hair and began thrashing her head from side to side, growing faster and faster as the tempo increased. The audience were spellbound as a transformation took place - the shy, quiet woman becoming enthralled and inhabited by the steely and powerful spirit of "Ayisha Kandhisha".
The final piece each evening saw more trance dancing with Rachida El Jokh joined by Faith Barker in a wonderful and powerful display, during which a member of the Brotherhood sprayed the dancing crowd with orange blossom and rose water.
Along with the contributions of Barker and El Jokh, the gembri playing by master musician Frederick Calmes was outstanding as he delivered the complex rhythms in a flawless and highly charged performance.
The Hamadcha Sufi Brotherhood were a festival highlight and despite the tiredness of a heavy schedule, the group gave wonderful performances and energised all that had the pleasure of experiencing the Moroccan Magic.
The Hamadcha are recovering their energy in Brisbane before flying to Sydney for the opening of the Sydney Festival where they will perform on the 8th, 9th and 10th of January, before flying back to Morocco.
Also, see our story on the Hamadcha at the Sydney Festival
Photographs : Martin Spurway-Smith