Sunday, May 24, 2015

Fes Festival Day 3 ~ Sunday 24th ~ Review

After the previous day's rain, Sunday dawned clear and bright. Despite the promise of rain, the Festival spirit was undamped, with Festival patrons out in force enjoying the Medina, concerts and a cool but sunny Sunday - until around 5pm when the rain came down by the bucket load!
Fes Forum 

The second day of the Forum - on the topic of Africa and the Sacred - had a promising start. Moderator Frédéric Ferney, poetically reminded us, as the cradle of humanity, Africa draws its spiritual inspiration from "its soil and its sky."

The first speaker was Bernard Coyault, director of theology at the remarkable ecumenical college Al Mowafaqa in Rabat, which trains Catholic and Protestant priests. His anecdotes - underpinned by his anthropology background - were interesting and relevant, as he described the religious locations and practices of a small Congolese village; the village of both his wife and a Congolese migrant whom he had met in Morocco. He spoke of the impact of the invisible, spiritual world on the visible world of humans and the need of the villagers to seek solace, solutions and cure in scared rituals and religious practices.

Bernard Coyault

The following speakers, although certainly interesting, represented the views of academics looking in on the subjects under treatment. A great opportunity was missed in not having practitioners of sacred rituals present themselves. One such example would be the Masks of the Moon ritual being performed in Fes for the first time outside its native Burkina Faso. An explanation would have been both relevant and fascinating, as would the presence of the current head of the much-mentioned Tijaniyya Sufi order, Brahim Tijani.

Some audience discussion of the omission of native Moroccan rituals was provoked by author Alexis Jenni's reading of a passage from his own book about the experience of attending a Gnaoui lila.

Henri Lopès - "not everyone stuck to the topic"

Henri Lopès, former Congolese Prime Minister and currently Ambassador of the Republic of Congo-Brazzaville to various European countries, was in the audience and was "touched by the empathy of Bernard Coyault" towards his native culture. Following the discussion, he told The View From Fez he had "learned a lot" this morning, and "although not all the panellists had stuck to the topic," this had not diminished the quality of the discussion.

Many Festival patrons appear to feel that the old French-style "talking-head" format of inviting academics to talk on their pet topics rather than asking actual practitioners to demonstrate and elucidate their art or practice is a rusted on template for the forum. So much the pity, given the wealth of knowledge and material available in Fes - not only during the Festival, but year round.

Batha Museum - Julie Fowlis

On their first trip to the African continent Julie Fowlis and her band experienced some decidedly Scottish weather. Under the famous Barbary oak, she wowed the crowd at the Musée Batha with a repertoire of ballads, traditional dances and more modern interpretations entirely in Scots Gaelic.

Set against the backdrop of the Batha Palace gardens, like a Scottish forest glade, not even the rain could put off the large audience who had come to experience Celtic music from the northern fringes of Europe at this 21st Fes Sacred Music Festival dedicated to Africa.

It was after a very special arrangement of The Beatles' Blackbird and, just as the band began a song about "bad weather", that the heavens opened. Unperturbed, they continued their set. The audience put up umbrellas and retreated under the museum's colonnades and clapped all the more enthusiastically in enjoyment and sympathy as festival staff came on stage to hold umbrellas above the performers. As more and more deserted their seats for shelter, Julie bravely attempted to teach the Moroccan and international audience the chorus of a song from her maternal MacDonald clan.

The festival-goers in Fes may be less accustomed to the rain than Julie, who heralds from the Scottish Hebrides islands, but they were powerless to resist her haunting voice. This was no more the case than when she sang a traditional Gaelic lullaby a capella, dedicated to the two daughters she has with her Irish husband and band member, Éamon Doorley. Her voice cut through the rain and the thunder to enrapture us all before safety concerns forced the concert to an early close.

The Batha Museum venue - a little Scottish weather Photo: Jedidiah Carosaari

After the concert Julie Fowlis talked with Lynn Sheppard for The View From Fez.

We asked Julie about her first impressions of Fez, on this, her first trip to Africa. She told us that - despite some obvious differences - she was surprised to observe a "number of similarities between life in the Fez medina and traditional rural Scottish societies." She had seen crafts and practices that were current in Scotland at least until the 1950s. On a visit to the famous Fez tanneries, she was reminded of the weavers and dyers of Harris Tweed, how they used natural dyes and natural products to fix the dyes and how they sang as they worked.

Julie said, "It's an honour to be in Fez". For her, the chance to perform at festivals such as Fez were a chance for Scots Gaelic speakers to be seen as part of "another valid world culture", whose traditions were as long and valid as any other, and not to feel like an insignificant minority. Today, Scots Gaelic is spoken by only 1% of the Scottish population (around 58,000 people) and Julie noted, "there are no longer any monoglot Gaelic speakers, as English is so important for everyday life."

Scots Gaelic had been getting some support from the Scottish Nationalist government in Scotland, but they were starting from a very low base. Music was important in the promotion of Gaelic, as it "attracts many young people to the language," in Julie's words. The opportunities which young musicians have to travel inspire them, she said, and offer validation and value to their own culture as they interact with other cultures. She felt that it was important to continue the language and the traditions: "People will look back on this time as when Gaelic was either saved, or it died."

In this respect, Julie and her Irish husband, band member Éamon Doorley, are raising their two daughters trilingually. She speaks to them in Scots Gaelic, he in Irish and they are surrounded by English at school and in broader society. Sometimes, though, she felt it would be more socially acceptable if she were teaching them a foreign language, rather than her own. Some people in Scotland no longer saw the purpose of Gaelic. When she took the decision to bring up her kids as Gaelic speakers, a friend told her: "When you decide to speak Gaelic to your child, be prepared to battle for that cause all your life."

Today, through her song and her music, Julie Fowlis brought her personal battle for her native Scots Gaelic to a new audience in Fes.

Bab Makina - African Spirit Concert Cancelled or Postponed?

UPDATED: Sadly, the African Spirit concert was cancelled and it seems unlikely that it can be rescheduled, although late on Sunday the Festival organisers told us that it was "postponed" and they would inform us if and when it is rescheduled. 
 “We will inform you tonight of the new date. The Fes Festival would like to welcome you under better weather conditions.” - Fes Festival

Unfortunately by midnight we had still had no further update. 

Tiken Jah Fakoly - postponed?

The View From Fez caught up with the performers, Oumou Sangaré and Tiken Jah Fakoly before news came of the cancellation.

Tiken Jah Fakoly's latest album, Dernier Appel (Last Call), is a call to young Africans to stand up and take charge of their own destiny. He says, "Africa is the continent of the future; its 54 countries have the riches and resources to achieve the necessary change". He calls on African youth to remain in Africa and continue the fight begun by their ancestors, who achieved liberation from slavery and from the colonial powers. He sees a need to install democracy in every African country, beginning with the important fight for literacy.

To this end, Tiken Jah Fakoly has built 5 schools: one in each of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger and two in his native Ivory Coast. One is planned in Guinea and he hopes one day to have built a school in every African country. He emphasises the importance of education, but also of agriculture. With his own rice farm in Ivory Coast, he hopes to fuel the fight for democracy!

Musically, Fakoly has recently been in Jamaica recording some of the reggae back catalogue of Jamaican stars such as Bob Marley and Ken Booth and working with reggae greats such as Sly and Robbie. This material will appear on his new album, due out in October 2015, entitled "Racines" (Roots). He regrets that, "modern Jamaican artists of Dancehall and Ragga are not more aware of the African roots of their music."

Token Jah Fakoly wanted to bring the important message of reggae to the African Spirit event in the 21st Fes Sacred Music Festival and was looking forward to sharing the stage with Oumou Sangaré, Malian songstress who is also recognised for her work in the social sphere.

"We need to know our origins, where we are from. As artists, we are trying to get close to these roots through our music. Africa is rich. Africans aren't poor. We are rich in everything which is necessary." - Oumou Sangaré 
Oumou Sangaré is a tireless artist and campaigner for women's rights.  As well as an accomplished vocal artist, who has sung with greats such as Ali Farka Touré, Oumou is also involved in international politics and development. She was a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, but says she does not want to be a politician: "Oumou Sangaré is apolitical. I prefer to stay at the side of those who have no voice. In politics, it's not possible to say the bad things. I could never be a politician!"

She is also a businesswomen. She says she wants to show women that through work, they can change their situations. Sangaré has launched a car, the "Oum Sang," built the Hotel Wassoulou in Bamako and has created a 10 hectare farm where she can teach women agricultural techniques. "I bring women to my farm to work on the farm to show them what is possible."

When asked about her inspiration, Sangaré says, "My inspiration comes from African women. The situation of African women inspires me. The current state of women in African inspires me. As a child, I experienced suffering. That has also inspired me in my life."

Sangaré is a force to be reckoned with. Hopefully the Fes Festival can find a way to reschedule.

Sufi Night at Dar Tazi  - Tariqa Charqawiyya - Cancelled

Again there is no news of a reschedule, which is a pity as the Charqawiyya Tariqa is historically regarded as one of the most famous zaouïas in Morocco.  The Charqawiyya has always contributed to the dissemination of the precepts and culture of moderate Islam, not to mention its political role especially during difficult periods of history of the country in the 19th century.

Samaà with the Tariqa Charqawiyya - Undulating a capella harmonies

The Charqawiyya are a North African order out of which many of the present day Moroccan Sufi brotherhoods have sprung. The Charqawiyya are in actuality an offshoot of a prior order annexed from the Shadhiliyya, namely the Jazuliyya, and take their name from Muhammad al-Sharqi (d.1601), a descendent of the 2nd caliph, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab. Sometimes the Charqawiyya are known by the full name: Charqawiyya Jazuliyya-Shadhiliyya.

Based historically in Boujad, a Moroccan town bordering the Atlas mountains, they are known for their political activism, beginning in the 17th Century with their support for Sultan Moulay al-Rashid (d.1672), the founder of the Alaouite dynasty of Moroccan kings, which still rules to this day.

Text: Lynn Sheppard, Sandy McCutcheon
Photographs: Suzanna Clarke, Vanessa Bonnin, Sandy McCutcheon, Lynn Sheppard

Storms slowly clearing from the Fez Medina

Tomorrow at the Festival

Weather:   Cloudy and cool with a chance of rain. Top 22 and low temperature of 11 Celsius.

9 am Festival Forum Batha Museum:  Linguistic pluralism in Africa 

4.30 pm Batha Museum - Ballaké Sissoko (kora) and Debashish Battacharya (Indian slide guitar)

8.30 pm and 10.30pm Free Festival in the City (Boujloud) - Ensemble Bana de la Dakka Marrakchia followed by Moroccan superstar Hamid Kasri.

Nights in the Medina 1

8 pm Dar Adiyel - Eduardo Ramos (Portugal)
8 pm and 10.30 pm  Sidi Mohamed Ben Youssef Cultural Complex - Masks of the Moon (Burkina Faso)
9 pm Batha Museum - Marassa Premiere with Omar Sosa & Urban Tap (USA, Cuba, France)
10.30 pm Dar Adiyel - The Royal Art of the Kora

Sufi Nights

11 pm - Night Sufi Dar Tazi - Tariqa Aissaouiya (Isawa) with Haj Said Guissi (Free concert).

The View from Fez  is a Festival Media Partner and will be reporting on all festival events and keeping visitors up to date with any change to the schedule via news stories and on Twitter :  @theviewfromfez

See our previous Fes Festival 2015 reports
Fes Festival Opening Night Review
Fes Festival Day Two Review
Fes Festival Day Three
Fes Festival Day Four Review
Fes Festival Day Five
Fes Festival Day Six
Fes Festival Day Seven
Fes Festival Day Eight
Fes Festival Day Nine
Fes Festival - The Wrap

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

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