Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Fes Festival ~ Day Five ~ Review

Festival Forum - Hassan Al Wazzan (Leo Africanus): portraying Africa

Given the impossibility of interaction with the man himself, the format of today's Forum, which discussed 16th century chronicler of Africa, Hassan el Wazzan (Leo Africanus), was ideal and well-moderated by French historian Alexandre Pajon.

Oumelbanine Zhiri

A more diverse panel than yesterday featured three pre-eminent experts on Hassan el Wazzan: Spanish anthropologist José Antonio Gonzalez Alcantud; Moroccan Oumelbanine Zhiri, author several books and articles on Leo Africanus, and Madeleine Dobie, professor at the University of Colombia in New York. These three offered a comprehensive and multi-disciplinary overview of Leo's life in the context of his exile from Al Andalus, his conversion from Islam to Christianity following his capture by corsairs, and of a world undergoing great political geostrategic change.

Madeleine Dobie

As part, perhaps, of a broader African renaissance in our post-colonial times, Leo Africanus is a trending topic. As Ms Dobie noted, Malian director Abderrahmane Sissoko, (whose film, Timbuktu is showing on Wednesday at 3.30 pm at Cinema Boujloud as part of the Festival), is preparing a film about him and a play is slated for the Shakespeare Festival in the UK in 2017. (It has been suggested that Leo inspired Shakespeare's Othello). What was interesting from the panel's presentations is how Leo's book, A Description of Africa, published in Italy in 1550, shaped the European discourse on Africa, defined how Africa was seen and understood and even facilitated its ultimate exploitation by the colonial powers. As late as the end of the 19th century, maps of Africa were based on Leo's work.

Tomorrow's Forum will attempt in three hours to cover the huge topics of " Contemporary challenges: education, health and geo-strategy."

Nights in the Medina II

Batha Museum ~ Roberto Fonseca and Fatoumata Diawara

This afternoon the audience at the Batha Museum was treated to a trip from Africa to Cuba and back again. Fatoumata Diawara, as resplendent as a ray of sunshine in a traditional Malian costume in yellow, said, "We've been hypnotised with this story of borders. Musically we see connections that transcend borders - the percussion in Cuba is played in the same way as it has been in Africa for centuries."

Fatoumata Diawara
Roberto Fonseca

Roberto Fonseca and Fatoumata Diawara have to be one of the most gorgeous, charismatic - not to mention talented - pairings in world music. Their collaboration dates back to the latter's appearance on Fonseca's 2012 album, Yo. Their live partnership, however, which led to the EP, At Home, released this month, was born at last summer's Womad Festival in the UK. The Cuban-Malian connection, however, dates back way further. It was even due to be honoured in the collaboration which eventually became the Buena Vista Social Club, of which Fonseca was a part, but the Malian contingent never made it to the Caribbean island.

Fortunately for us, Fatou and Fonseca made it to Fez and were in fine form. Over the last couple of years, Fatoumata has been touring almost incessantly and has matured, gaining great confidence and becoming more politically engaged. The collaborative effort reflects this: from the funky Sowa, a track dedicated to those who have never known the love of their parents; to Clandestin, about the hot topic of immigration, with its rock guitars reminiscent of Ali Farka Touré; to a gentle love song inspired by the forced marriage that Fatoumata escaped aged 19. All the while, the five-beat rhythm which unites Mali and Cuba, was ever-present.

By the end of the set, the pair and their Cubano-Malian band had the place on its feet, dancing to a song dedicated to Nelson Mandela, punctuated with piano riffs worthy of Cuban greats twice Roberto's age. As the whole audience clapped along with the clave, Diawara loosened her turban and whipped her braided hair. Fatoumata Diawara clearly sees herself as the voice of the voiceless, the representative of under-represented African youth and women. She is a tour de force and we were so fortunate that her whirlwind stopped in Fez with her Cuban "brother" just for a few hours, so we could hear her voice from the heart of Africa.

Dar Adiyel ~ Li Daiguo

In the first completely solo performance of the festival so far, Li Daiguo proved that it only takes one supremely talented individual to command an audience, albeit one who is proficient on a dozen different instruments, and excels at throat-singing and beat boxing. Daiguo is one of the leading figures in China’s experimental and traditional music communities and tonight the audience at Dar Adiyel found out why.

Daiguo entered the stage humbly, with no words, picked up his pipa (Chinese lute), embraced it with eyes closed for a full ten heartbeats before his fingers began to pluck the four strings, producing a high pitched, repetitive sound like raindrops falling slowly, then accelerating into a more electronic industrial sound which in turn faded to a couple of notes that were distinctly oriental.

He continued to keep his eyes closed into the next piece, with his head thrown back and mouth agape as if breathing the music. He cradled the pipa, his movements expressing great tenderness and played with a manner of one caressing a lover. The crowd, mesmerised by his sound and motion, were suddenly jolted out of their reverie when he leant forward to the microphone and unleashed a volley of vocal beats that brought the piece to an end. Daiguo smiled as if he knew the shocking effect he had just had, and that the audience were now in the palm of his hand.

As well as powerful discord and changes of pace, Daiguo also knew how to utilise the power of silence, unafraid to leave long pauses between notes. He didn’t feel the need to fill every second with sound and moments of silence suffused the entire space, the crowd so immersed you could have heard a feather floating.

Daiguo switched to the cello, bowed one continuous note and commenced throat singing - a whistling sound like a bird of prey soaring over a mountain top creating a timeless and ancient soundscape. The range of his voice was startling, at times deep and guttural like monks chanting, sometimes loud with anguished cries. He also utilised the bow in a variety of different ways, sometimes almost sawing the strings, other times bashing the camien - always experimenting and pushing the limits of the instrument.

After the first shock the audience remained on edge throughout the performance, waiting for the next unexpected development. Diaguo commanded attention - he grabbed it early on and kept the crowd absorbed with his total focus, not speaking until one word at the very end. A simple "thank you".

Sidi Mohamed Ben Youssef Cultural Complex ~ Wajd 

A programme created for the Fes Festival by Sonia Mbarek

We are the protectors of the Sun.
There is only one reason we have followed God into this world:
To encourage laughter, freedom, dance and love
~ Hafiz
Sonia Mbarek would have loved to "encourage laughter, freedom, dance and love", but sadly had only forty-five people in the audience when she began, although the number rose to around sixty after her first song. The small crowd was a disappointment, especially in such a spacious and beautifully simple venue.

But, despite the small numbers, Mbarek and her five piece band filled the Cultural Complex with a air of grace as they delivered a programme that was both interesting and varied.

After a gentle introductory piece from cello and ney (wooden flute) Sonia Mbarek stepped up to the microphone. Her voice, sweet yet powerful, expressive and full of longing, was complimented by three members of her band providing backing vocals. There is much subtlety in the Tunisian touboûs with accents of Charki maqam and while there is depth and harmony in Sonia M’barek’s interpretations, it is always refined and nuanced. If there were to be any criticism it would be that her approach at times was technical and almost academic rather than produced from deep within.

With a background in Sufi contemplation, Mbarek sang around a dozen sumptuous works by great poets inspired by peace and personal joy - including works by Andaloussi (Anta fil Maoudhii) and Mohamed Iqbal (Mal ishq). Half way through her set she gave a wonderful rendition of one of the main works of the late Laâroussi Ben Khemiss Ettourki - Ennabi wi m’thala.

For the musicologically minded, it was interesting that the rhythms of this concert were chosen in accordance with those used in the various styles of Sufi inshad, such as daffa, Dkhoul, Btaïhi, Aissaoui and Wahda. These are allied to the mood of tarab (musical ecstasy) and the tempo of spiritual songs perpetually in search of trance and exaltation of the spirit. Tonight Sonia Mbarek may not have produced the ecstasy, but she did show us the direction in which it lies.

Batha Museum ~ Diego El Cigala

This was without a doubt, the busiest Batha concert so far, despite the many other events on offer. As we waited for the concert to begin, more people kept pouring in. And we waited. And waited. Someone instigated some slow clapping. Finally, the five-piece band, (Spanish guitar, electric guitar, double bass, percussion and piano), came on stage around 9:30pm to play a couple of lounge jazz numbers...Not quite what the audience had been expecting, but pleasant nonetheless. Once Diego el Cigala finally appeared, "very happy to be in Morocco and Fes for the first time," he received rapturous applause which hardly stopped until the concert ended two hours later.

Double grammy-winning El Cigala has a clear voice, the timbre of which reveals his gypsy heritage. He was billed in the programme as a "major voice of flamenco," however the initial numbers he sang - all in Spanish - were much closer to jazz than the drama of flamenco. He softly squeezed his heavily-jewelled hands together in the flamenco rhythm but there was little of the temperament usually associated with the genre.

Benjamin Bouzaglou - the crowd favourite, but only two songs

After a few numbers during which the tempo gradually increased, El Cigala invited Judeo-Andalusian singer Benjamin Bouzaglou on stage. Bouzaglou is a regular at Moroccan festivals of Andalusian music and his appearance was much anticipated, but disappointingly, he and the Spaniard only did two songs together, each singing in his native language. The effect was stunning and the audience loved it. The singers visibly enjoyed their collaboration, but we saw no more of Benjamin this evening, which was a great pity.

El Cigala's popularity was apparently in no way diminished, however, as he exited the stage and left his band to demonstrate their very considerable talents. Sadly, even when on stage, he hardly interacted with the audience. At times the performance felt like the jazz band in the corner of a hotel lobby rather than that of a flamenco maestro. Towards the end, they rattled through some piano-heavy Cuban-style numbers, influenced by El Cigala's 2003 collaboration with the late Cuban pianist, Bebo Valdés. These were exhilarating, but still not flamenco. By the end of the concert, however, the large audience gave him a standing ovation, shouting 'una otra,' wanting more. One more Cuban number and the El Cigala phenomenon was over.

Dar Adiyel ~ The Sacred World of Mugham

Arzu Alieva: voice
Elchan Mansurov: kamancheh (string instrument)
Malik Mansuro: tar (long-necked string instrument)
Shirzaa Fazaliev: balaban (double-reed wind instrument) and zurna (woodwind instrument)

The concert started as gently as a breeze over a grassy plain; with haunting notes from a balaban, a double-reed wooden flute. Next it was the turn of the kamancheh, a long-necked stringed instrument with a bulbous base, inlaid with mother of pearl, which sounded like a cross between a violin and a sitar, before the steel stringed tar took its turn. Occassionally Arzu Alieva kept rhythm on a daf, a frame drum covered in goatskin. Together, the instruments built up a soundscape - echoing the rich Ottoman and Persian traditions that are the origin of the mugham tradition of Azerbaijan. ​​

When Arzu Alieva began to sing, her voice was mournful, piercing and vibrant. She used a technique between a chest voice and a head voice, ululating in a way reminiscent of overtone singing.

Traditional Azerbaijani music has played a dominant role in the Caucasus and Central Asia. It has also benefited from exchange with other cultures in neighbouring countries: Georgians, Armenians, Turks, Dagestanis, Uzbeks and Turkmens. It finds its expression in the mugham, a vast vocal and instrumental oeuvre that depicts with great passion and refinement a whole range of expressions of love.

Many of the audience at Dar Adiyel relaxed on ​the carpets, and let the evocative music wash over them. Contained in the notes were the sound of the wind, the beats of horses hooves, and the call of a lone voice across a vast distance.

The haunting beauty of Azerbaijani songs was glorified by their national poet, Nizami Ganjavi:
Dear singer, take your saz in your arms,
Play sweet music for us,
Don't limit your range,
Our melodies are broad and rich.
Sidi Mohamed Ben Youssef Cultural Complex ~ Nawab Khan and Mantra

Nawab Khan

A performance of "therapeutic raga" may sound a little worthy, but Nawab Khan turns the event into one of delight. It should be remembered that the word "raga' derives from the Sanskrit ranj meaning ‘that which affects or influences the spirit and brings pleasure’. The purpose of a raga is to evoke aesthetic delight, to offer the listener a ‘flavour’ to taste, with an approach that has emerged over more than a thousand years.

Nawab Khan specialises in awakening the therapeutic aspects of the Indian modal system that is sensual, sensitive and poetic. His technique, like that of any good therapist, is to guide the audience with gentle phrases delivered in hushed tones. He explained that the music they would present came from the various religions from the Indian sub-continent.

However, the music, when it began, spoke for itself - it's initial effect being therapeutic in its own right. Some in the rather small audience succumbed and lowered themselves to the carpet, where, eyes shut, they drifted off in an ethereal cloud of bliss.

The four man group's first offering was immediately recognisable to the few local Moroccans in the audience, as coming from the Muslim tradition - Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim. "In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful". The music was quiet, gently mesmeric and ephemeral - drifting over the audience like a soft warm breeze.

As the balmy evening continued and the half moon became visible above the courtyard, the tempo increased, driven by some excellent tabla and sarangi accompaniment.

If it is indeed therapy, then Nawab Khan  is the therapist. This young classical musician from Jodhpur in Rajasthan and his companions perform on the Persian and Kashmiri santoor (stringed instrument), the sarangi (dulcimer) and tabla to guide the audience through the therapeutic, emotional labyrinth that is Indian music.

Sufi Night at Dar Tazi

Tariqa Machichiya is a Moroccan musical group founded in the beginning of the nineties by Sheikh Mohammed Hanini and is the custodian of the sacred traditions of classical Arab songs.

 The group is based in the mountains above Tetouan and, if tonight's performance is anything to go by, they deserve their reputation for fine renditions of Arab-Muslim musical traditional music with a touch of musical originality and creativity. While playing traditional music the Brotherhood employs non-traditional instruments (such as a double bass) and in many ways is closer to their alternative name - the Al Ghazali Ensemble .

While their repertoire is varied and interesting, it is not in the same league as the Isawa, Gnaoua or Hamadcha groups who forge their way towards the divine in a blaze of energy. The Machichiya are more sedate and probably better musically disciplined. Whatever the case, the large mostly Moroccan, crowd at Dar Tazi loved it.

The Buzz ~ Audience feedback with Fatima Matousse

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

Youness Abeddour, Casablanca: "I am from Fez but I currently work in Casablanca, and I specifically came just to see Diego El Cigala perform with Benajmin Bouzaglou. I cannot resist coming; it is an amazing place for networking, reuniting with friends and learning about other cultures through music. I am really happy to see Diego El Cigala play with Benjamin. But, I was really disappointed that Benjamin did not sing for a longer time. He performed very quickly and disappeared.”

Elena Grodzievskagan, Russia: It is Elena’s first time in Fez and she came to see the festival which she enjoyed a lot. She says, “It is my first time ever to see Diego and Benjamin perform together, which is fascinating. My favorite artist during the show was the guitarist of the band of Diego, he was so absorbed and conveys many emotions through his guitar.”

Haim Casas, Spain: Haim lives across the border from Morocco and he comes often because he feels at home, he said. Haim’s favorite part during the show was the marriage of Judeo-Arabo music and Flamenco as they have already got so many melodies in common, both singers complemented each other despite the two different languages they sung in: Spanish and Arabic.

Hamoud Abeddour: “The last edition I attended of this festival was in 2012 and I came just to see Diego El Cigala and Benjamin Bouzaglou. But I think that their singing together was really short and I did not get to see Benjamin play for a longer time, which I did not understand. However, I won’t deny that I spent great time enjoying the show.”

Jean Pierre Deyls. France: He told The View From Fez that it was five years ago when he first came to Morocco and first attended the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music. "Since then I have never missed any edition. I am very interested in intercultural exchange which was portrayed today in the music performance where both India and Mali shared the stage. It was my first time to see a Malian perform with an Indian which I found quite interesting. However, I was disappointed that the concert yesterday was cancelled and I still have not been reimbursement which kind of frustrating as I paid 80 euros to see Oumou Sangare".

Eva Binder, Austria: This is actually my first time in Morocco, I heard from some friends back in Austria about the festival and I decided to attend this year. I am in love with spiritual music and I have got a friend who is studying Berber music at the university. I have fallen in love with the Medina of Fez already. I am enjoying it and I am definitely planning to come back.

Eva Monteilhet, France:  This is my first visit to Morocco, I like the festival - it is amazing especially that it is happening in such a beautiful, peaceful and historical place. The musicians are so happy and warm, I have a feeling that they are a family which I sometimes miss in Europeans concerts where music has become just a business and you don’t see the full enjoyment of artists on stage. What I did not appreciate much is that most of the audience is European and more specifically French; I did not see many Moroccans which was disappointing. I felt that the festival is made for Europeans more than locals. So far, I am glad to be here, I see everyone smiles.

Anass Lazrak, Fes, Morocco: I am from Fez and I always attend some of the events. I am much more interested in Andalusian music as I have grown up with it. What I really admire about the festival is that it is a contact zone for numerous cultures and people. However, some locals cannot afford to attend due to several reasons. For instance, the ordinary citizen is much taken by securing the daily needs for his or her family which is a challenge that prevents this category of people to even think to consume culture and attend concerts. Moroccans who attend the festival belong to a middle or a high class. I have also noticed that the festival is growing every year. At the very beginning, you would only see Moroccans and French people. However, now the audience is much more diverse. I have noticed that only people of certain age (retired) that afford to come as the timing is not suitable for families as the kids are attending school at this time of the year.

Lisa Grabenwager, Austria: I came across the festival on the internet and  decided to come to Morocco for the first time. The spiritual music does not leave any space for you to decide to love it or not; it just haunts your soul. Fez is a magical place and I hope to be lucky enough to come back next year too.

Anantha Krishnan, India: I think that thanks to the festival more attention is being paid to spiritual music and other festivals like it are starting to happen in various other parts of the world. I believe that Fez, as a place, remains special because of its architecture and histories. I have seen the Kora concerts before but the Dar Adiyel venue made it unique. I would like to comment on the fact that some of the music is irrelevant to spiritual music and the success of this festival depends on having a focus on the world sacred music. I was also disappointed that the organisers did not have a plan B for the concert that was cancelled because of the heavy rain.

Saran Kouyaté,  Mali:  (Saran is one of the singers with The Royal Art of the Kora) This is my first time in Fez. I love it and the audience seemed interested and happy. I started singing at the age of five and all my professors encouraged me to become a professional singer. I feel that the band and I are a family performing together.

Text: Sandy McCutcheon, Vanessa Bonnin, Lynn Sheppard, Suzanna Clarke, Fatima Matousse
Photographs: Suzanna Clarke, Vanessa Bonnin, Sandy McCutcheon
Additional translation and research: Helen Ranger

Tomorrow at the Fes Festival

Weather: Warm and sunny with a top temperature of 31 Celsius - a low at night of 12
9 am - Batha Museum - Forum - Contemporary Challenges - Education and Health
3.30 pm - Cinema Boujloud - Free film - Timbuktu
8.30 pm and 10.30 pm - Free Festival in the City - Bab Boujloud - Fettah Ngadi followed by Mouslim

Night in the Medina III

7 pm Sidi Mohamed Ben Youssef Cultural Complex - Bhagavata Mela Ritual - (India)
8 pm  & 10.30 pm Dar Adiyel - Sirat Al-Hilali with Ramadan Hassan and Musicians of the Nile
9 pm - Batha Museum - Dance Memory, Dance - (Sardinia and Corsica)
10.30 pm - Sidi Mohamed Ben Youssef Cultural Complex - Badr Rami  - Muwashshah of Aleppo

Sufi Nights
11 pm Dar Tazi - (Free) Tariqa Siqilliyya with Hajj Muhammad Bennis

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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