Friday, May 29, 2015

Fes Festival ~ Day Eight ~ Review

Friday arrived accompanied by heavy rain showers and thunder in the morning - it was not a good omen for the rest of the day. Thankfully the weather changed and Fez enjoyed some fine music in pleasant conditions

Batha Prefecture ~ Amen en la voz del Hombre

A morning full of heavy rain caused panic among the now weather-weary Festival organisers, who finally put a contingency plan into action and - prematurely - moved the location of this afternoon’s concert from the Batha Museum to the prefecture across the road. By the time concert-goers were queuing up however, the sun was shining and it was a beautiful blue-sky afternoon. It felt a little frustrating to be herded into a stiff, official building which was stifling and muggy when lounging under the Barbary Oak tree with gentle breezes was an option.

The prefecture as a concert location was definitely lacking, with heavy traditional decor and portraits of Hassan II and Mohamed VI flanking the stage. Unfortunately the singers were dressed in official black suits and ties with white shirts, the same as the Kings portrayed behind them, and their often solemn demeanour meant that at times one singer looked as if he was giving an impassioned political speech flanked by two bodyguards.

There was no doubt that this afternoon’s concert Amen en la voz del Hombre - Saeta sacred song was relevant to the Festival’s ‘Sacred Music’ remit. The saeta is a religious song, traditionally sung unaccompanied by individuals on balconies in Seville during the holy week of Semana Santa. When processions bearing images of Christ or the Virgin Mary pass along the narrow streets, the singer above will show his or her ardent devotion by breaking into song.

The concert started belatedly at five o’clock when three musicians, an oboist, clarinetist and bassoon player filed in, procession like, playing while walking, in a manner reminiscent of the religious processions that inspired the music. A single red candle stood centre stage and was lit by the singers as they entered, signifying the ritualistic nature of these religious songs.

The singers - Jesus Mendez, Segundo Falcon and Jesus de la Mena - took turns singing a cappella, and their songs were interspersed by classical Chamber-music pieces played by Javier Trigos, Miguel Maceda and Angel Sanchez. At first the pairing of the two styles seemed incongruous - light melodic instrumental interludes reminiscent of a dance at an Elizabethan court, followed by intensely impassioned songs without much melody at all, verging on the anguished wailing of a bereaved mother over her son’s casket at a funeral.

However after a time it became apparent that this pairing worked well. The instrumental interludes gave a pause, time for reflection and a break from the emotion of the singers, and highlighted feelings of light and dark, cleverly reminding us that happiness cannot exist without sorrow. This was even echoed in the instrumental pieces, where the lovely bass notes of the bassoon gave gravitas to the bright melodies of the clarinet and oboe. Another way in which the two parts drove home this complimentary contrast was the movements - the musicians dipping and weaving with the tune while the singers stood very still, the only flourishes coming when they stepped up to do a solo.

These solos grew in intensity, driven on by the beat provided by the cajon box drums on which the resting singers sat, their hands the only movement, the rhythm like the footfalls of a great procession of worshippers making their way to the cathedral in Seville. The fervour and vocal control demonstrated was awe-inspiring, the singers holding notes so long that the audience were gasping for breath in sympathy.

Finally, all three singers gathered and sang together, eventually moving to surround the red, flickering candle. Slowly they knelt in unison and with their last breaths, blew out the candle signifying the closing of the ritual and the end of the concert.

Audience reactions:
“I understood nothing, I personally can’t connect with a song unless I understand the meaning, but the music was still fascinating. I was looking at the ceiling with the coloured glass and carved wood and I could imagine myself a princess in Andalucia.” Fatima Ouaryachi, Sefrou, Morocco, first-time Festival-goer.

“One word: penetrating. I felt it in my spine, I felt the vibrations of the singing deep within my soul. Sometimes you merely enjoy music but sometimes you feel it in your body - that’s when you know you’ve really connected with the artist. I love a cappella where the focus is on the voice. But the venue change was such a disappointment - that space was horrible! Can you imagine how much more moving that concert would have been under the magnificent oak tree? I have such a connection with that tree, it brings the music to another level.” Nina, Fes, Morocco, third-time Festival-attendee.

Bab Makina ~ Andalusia

Mohammed Briouel

This evening at Bab Makina, the Fassi perennial favourite, the Arabo-Andalous Orchestra of Fes, directed by Mohammed Briouel, was joined on stage by five special guests. The first was Sonia Mbarek, from Tunisia, whom we saw earlier in the week. She stood at the front of the stage and commanded it like a true professional. Following her set of 5-6 songs, she left the stage and was replaced - this time sitting within the 20-piece orchestra - by Beihdja Rahal (on vocals and kouitra, a short-necked lute) and Nadji Hamma on oud. They sang and played the Algerian strand of the Arabo-Andalous tradition, a heritage less familiar to the mainly Moroccan audience and featuring an apparently more limited vocal range than connoisseurs of the Fassi style are used to.

Beihdja Rahal (vocals and kouitra, a short-necked lute) and Nadji Hamma on oud.
Sonia Mbarek

Once again, as at the opening concert, we were treated to some spectacular projections onto the walls of Bab Makina, which at one point gave the impression that we were in the gardens of an Alhambra-style Moorish palace. As those familiar with the Andalusian music genre will know, this aspect of North Africa's cultural heritage came from Al Andalus to North Africa with the expulsion of Muslims and Jews from the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the 15th century. The rich cultural interchange which took place on the European mainland continued in towns where the exiles settled, in particular in Fes, Tetouan and Mogador (Essaouira) and - judging by the youth of the Moroccan vocalists on stage tonight - the traditions are in safe hands for the future.

Sanaa Maharati
Nabyla Maan and Marouane Hajji

The three Moroccans who sang tonight - Sanaa Maharati from Sefrou and Nabyla Maan and Marouane Hajji from Fez - upped the tempo. Although the evening was evidently designed to showcase a breadth of the Andalusian tradition, the audience was clearly waiting to see the local favourites and reacted accordingly. In return, the three offered drama and a passion unusual for their age. Maan and Hajji sang together and the latter, the young heartthrob of the Fassi scene, seemed a little constrained by singing a duet. He seemed to want to express more, but had to keep in with his partner sitting beside him. Given his only brief appearance with Diego el Cigala earlier this week, it would have been interesting to also have some input from the Judeo-Andalous tradition in the form of Benjamin Bouzaglou.

Bab Makina - looking gorgeous

At the end of the concert, all five vocalists appeared together on stage - all standing. If the number of smartphones and tablets recording the spectacle were anything to go by, the Fassi audience loved it. Befitting the genre, they sat and clapped enthusiastically but remaining seated, partying like it was 1499.

Sufi Night - Dar Tazi - Khira Afazaz and Hadra Chefchaounia

The last time we saw the superb all female Hadra Chefchaounia it was led by Lala Rhoum al-Bakkali, but there has been a change and now the group is headed by Khira Afazaz (pictured below). The Hadra Chefchaounia  has performed locally, nationally and internationally in Germany, the Netherlands,  Algeria,  France, Belgium, and Spain.

Lalla Khira learned the basics of the art hadra at the Music Institute of Chefchaouen:, where she studied music theory, violin and Andalusian music.

Although there are a number women’s Sufi ensembles in Morocco, especially in the North, it is still not common for them to play staged concerts. That tonight was a relatively rare event was probably the reason for the large turn out. For the first time during the Fes Festival the venue was packed to capacity and spilling over into the surrounding gardens.

The Hadra Chefchaounia have a distinctive sound that harnesses the melodies and rhythms from the Northern Moroccan Andalusian tradition of Chefchaouen. Using hand drums (gwal) and larger frame drums, they set up some interesting rhythms - at times complex and at others as simple as a heartbeat. It was an effortless performance that, with voices perfectly blended, delivered beautiful ethereal melodies in the Andalusian melodic mode.

The Buzz ~ Audience feedback with Fatima Matousse

Each day at the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music, we take time to speak with festival goers and find out what people attending the festival are talking about.

Tatgaana, Germany: This is my first time in Fez and at the Festival. I am captivated by the architecture; hearing and seeing the musicians play under a huge tree and the sounds of nature accompanying the music, is incredibly relaxing. Though it is true that the concerts are accessible just for the elite and the rich people; I also like that they organise music concerts for locals to enjoy. I think the organisers should improve the toilet facilities especially at Bab Makina.

Dieter Halbach, Germany: “The first thing to mention to the organisers is to be more professional preparing for the Festival. Had they, the African Spirit would not have been cancelled, sadly. I also think that several concerts have nothing to do with sacred music, for instance The Temptations. The sound system was not the best and not working during the latter concert. The best experiences I have had are the ones at Batha Museum and at the Dar Adiyel; these places have a beautiful spirit already - even without music. Seeing Fatouma paly with Roberto Fonseca, the collaboration between Indian and Malian musicians, is what brought me here.”

Jargen Pflaum, Germany: “The Batha Museum is amazing, I even had tears listening to some of the music there. I was closing my eyes and going into my inner self, it was a sort of meditation. Fatou and Roberto are the ones I loved the most as they deeply touched my heart.”

Beate Lerch, Germany: “There are many missing connections in the programs. For instance, during the presentation of the musicians, the moderator keeps speaking French and there is no translation for non-French people. The audience has many Europeans who speak English not French. People need to understand and get information about why the festival chose this musician and what he or she brings as a plus to the sacred music.”

Khadija Sassi, Fes: “The festival is exceptionally beautiful. We love Andalusian music.”

Hamza and Nadia, Fes: I am from Fez and this is my second time to come here. I loved that this year they had visual art on the walls. However, the food could have been less expensive inside Bab Makina - L’ami restaurant is doubling the prices of everything.”

Lamiae, Fes: “ I live in Fes and I come every year to the festival. I am looking forward to seeing Hussain Al Jassmi. We just love the festival because we meet new people all the time.”

Tomorrow at the Fes Festival
Weather: Sunny and 31 degrees Celsius . Nighttime low of 13
4.30 pm - Batha Museum - Faada Freddy (Senegal)
8.30 pm and 10.30 pm - Free concert at Bab Boujloud - Hamid El Hadri et Mazagan followed by Ahwach hayt tissa
9 pm - Bab Makina - Hussain Al Jassmi - (UAE) - Sufi Night  at Dar Tazi - Tariqa Hamdouchiya (Hamadcha) with Abderrahim Amrani

The View from Fez is a Festival Media Partner and is covering 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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