Saturday, May 30, 2015

Fes Festival ~ Day Nine ~ Review

The Fes Festival of World Sacred Music went out on a high with Abdoul Fatah Seck from Senegal and Hussain Al Jassmi from the United Arab Emirates giving great concerts but leaving it to the Hamadcha Sufi Brotherhood to close the Festival with a high octane night of wild magic

Faada Freddy - Batha Museum

After a fairly lacklustre Festival, with only a few bright spots, the arrival of Faada Freddy and his band onstage at the Batha Museum this afternoon was truly like the sun coming out. The audience seemed to breathe a universal sigh of relief, smiles returned to people’s faces and our soul’s were collectively uplifted by the phenomenal performance.

The heaviness had been physically was well as metaphorically removed from the stage, with the most minimal equipment ever seen - due to the complete lack of instruments. All of the backing sound was produced through body percussion and vocalising, a concept all the more incredible once we heard the fullness of the layers and harmonies first hand.

“I play different instruments, piano, drums, guitar, bass and I think this has served me well in understanding the range of different instruments and how to use them,” Faada Freddy said in an interview after the concert. “For example, for the drums, I found out how the human body can make the sound of a snare drum or percussion.“I adapted traditional instruments to an instrument that I call ‘organic’, that is to say the body.”

The concert began with his five backing singers entering the stage and the layering of sounds started: ch ch ch ch, whistle, chest tap, clap, a huh a huh a huh, oooooooh….Faada Freddy made his entrance in his signature dandy style - dress pants, white shirt, waistcoat, cummerbund and a silver topped walking cane topped off with a bowler hat. His adoption of such a traditional British look fits perfectly with his message of breaking down barriers and prejudices between us, whether on the basis of religion, colour or nationality.

“Those who fight against the mixing of cultures and mixing of colours will struggle against love,” he said.“And no one can fight against love - we are one family called humanity.”

Faada Freddy (aka Abdoul Fatah Seck) immediately connected with the audience, introducing himself after the first song and by the second he had the crowd in the palm of his hand. “Are you there?” he asked, “Are you ready to sing this evening?” and the one family called humanity replied with an emphatic “YES!”

"Are you ready to sing?"

His lyrics seemed written especially for that afternoon, as great waves of sunshine and happiness flowed over the crowd and we jubilantly clapped and sang along. There are some occasions when the music demands that I put down my pen and notebook and just go with it, and this was one of them.

Great waves of sunshine are comin' up your way,
Open up the flood gates and let your love light shine in
Every little moment you spend on a worry,
You spend on a fear you just a give it room to grow
So take back your fear and your worrying (and just)
Clear your pathway!

Faada Freddy’s music isn’t all just about good times however, with the upbeat and catchy tunes often disguising a more serious message in the lyrics. For example the very lively sounding song ‘We Sing in Time’ talks about drug addiction, dead end jobs and sending young men to fight pointless government wars “instead of teaching them to give and lead.” He still manages to weave in hope however and adopts the approach of delivering a hard message in a soft and palatable manner.

In time the trees die
And light will fade
But I hope for a new breath
A new life to take me away

His energy on stage provided new hope for those who witnessed one of the Festival’s standout performances, and his message was perfectly in tune with the ‘African Reflection’ theme.

“I think since day one Africa is supplying a lot of influence over the world through its music and it has great impact and I think one of the greatest resources Africa ever had is it’s culture,” Faada Freddy said later.

“Africa is beautiful, Africa is the future and people should know about that. They should know that Africa is going throughout some ordeals, going through a lot of problems because of corruption and stuff like that - I think once all of that is settled Africa is going to shine, it’s going to bloom to the world.

“But we have to keep on going, we cannot stop, because the people who are doing evil never stop, so how could we? We need to get people together. And I bring people together through my music, music belongs to everyone, music is not political, music is a cure, music heals and that’s what I know about it.

“And that’s why I keep singing and keep travelling everywhere and spreading the word like ‘hey open your eyes and see that there’s no corruption in music’ even though some people are trying to corrupt it, but music is still here, the real music is still here to relieve the pain and let people know that they belong to one great nation called humanity.”

Hussain Al Jassmi - Bab Makina

Tonight there was a festive air at Bab Makina. Fassis had turned out in their droves and their smartest outfits. The cafés and sandwich stands were doing a roaring trade. The announcements were only in Arabic - there was hardly a non-Moroccan here.

Arabic pop megastar, Hussain el Jassmi has over 180 million YouTube views to his name. Tonight at Bab el Makina he pulled hit after hit out of his turban, much to the excitement of the crowd. Tonight the fashionistas and smart young things of the Fassi Ville Nouvelle middle classes were out in force: heels were vertiginous, outfits were skimpy and there was hardly a headscarf in sight.

El Jassmi knows how to please a crowd. He told us he loved coming to Morocco and he is well-loved here for supporting the Moroccan underdog Arabic X Factor. The Moroccan - Mohammed Rifi - went on to win. Tonight, as well as playing his most popular tracks, he threw in a couple of old Moroccan favourites and covers of classics by Well-known artists like Egyptian Oum Kalthoum and Lebanese Fayrouz. He even addressed the audience in Darija (Moroccan Arabic - about as far removed from his Emirati dialect as you can get in the Arabic world).

The organisation of the concert, unfortunately, was not such a crowd pleaser. Despite their usual reputation for over-officiousness, the Festival security let a large number of the audience through to the front area (the most expensive seats). It was not clear whether these were a spill over from an area further back, or if the area had been over-sold. Either way, these people crowded the aisles and prevented those with seats from seeing the stage. Being too far forward for the plasma screens, the latter had to resort to standing on the furniture to see anything other than the view through the screens of 100s of smartphones. In the end, it was a case of "if you can't beat them" and those who had been calling "glssou" (sit down) were forced themselves to dance in the aisles.

Despite the issues with the sightline of the stage, El Jassmi could do no wrong. With his toothpaste commercial smile, twinkling good looks, humble demeanour and a string of hits (especially love songs) as long as a camel train, he had the majority female audience eating out of his hand from start to finish through a 2 hour set. Forget the fancy words of the Festival website about him continuing a long lineage of poets and storytellers - this was pop, pure and simple, and Fez loved it.

Sufi Nights ~ The Fez Hamadcha at Dar Tazi

There is one sure way of drawing a massive audience in Fez and that is to stage a concert by the Hamadcha Brotherhood.  The huge crowd at Dar Tazi tonight was at least double that of any previous night and they were blown away by the take-no-prisoners, shock and awe tactics of the Hamadcha Brotherhood.

Divine madness amidst the smoke of incense

There was none of the staid and polite entrance onto the stage and the sitting in neat lines that every other group tends to prefer. The chanting and drumming Hamadcha marched in behind a sea of candles, their ghaita players blasting down everything in their path.

One of the many ghaita players

Once in the actual venue they massed at the front of the stage while incense was lit - a lot of it.  In fact so much it was hard to see, let alone photograph anything! In the sea of fragrant smoke, chaos rained as some of the men performed the extraordinary hadra dance.  Think Mick Jagger on steroids. The local crowd, mouths open, soaked up the waves of energy produced by the wild boys of Sufidom.

Finally, they took to the stage and, after catching their breath, launched into the rest of their performance. Once again the Hamadcha blew away the conservatism and rigidity that can often take the wild magic out of a Sufi performance. And the crowd thanked them for it.

The relationship between the people of Fez and the Hamadcha is an interesting one. The groups in-your-face behaviour and trance inducing music is viewed by some with suspicion, yet, when a therapeutic lila (ceremony) is needed, they turn to the Hamadcha.

Abderrahim Amrani Marrakchi (in black vest)

One reason for the success of the group is down to two men. The leader, Abderrahim, and to Frederic Calmes, the musical director. Between them they have raised the profile of the group and fine tuned their musical abilities. They have also opened it up to women and to non-Moroccans.

Abderrahim Amrani Marrakchi is one of the great group leaders - moqaddem - of the Hamadcha. He is undoubtedly the most famous of moqaddem, appreciated for his erudition and his qualities as a musician.

Born in 1962 in Fez, he joined the brotherhood very young in a group then headed by his father. Trained as a musician, he became head of the tariqa (Brotherhood) in 1985. Anxious to preserve the heritage of Hamadcha in a rapidly modernising Morocco, he devotes a large part of his time to training younger members of the Brotherhood.

Musical director Frederic Calmes (centre)

Each year the Tariqa Hamadouchia, the Hamadcha of Fez, are invited to festivals around the world. At the beginning of 2015 they gave seven performances at the largest music festival in the Southern Hemisphere - the Woodford Festival (see story here). They followed this by being chosed as one of the opening night performances for Australia's most prestigious festival - The Sydney Festival. Ticket to this event were in such demand that the online sales sold out in a matter of minutes (see story here).

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.

Mariam, Fez:We are a sponsor of the festival and the security to Bab Makina did not allow us to get to our seats. They allowed some and others not, it is a kind of favouritism. They also change everytime the timing, sometimes they tell us, you will enter at four other times at seven, it was not professional at all. Plus there were more crowds than the place can hold.”

Mounia and Anne, France:“This is our first here, we particularly came to see Faada Freddy because we met him in the plane and he was really nice. I adore the place of Batha, it is very symbolic. I think the festival has been a great success. The public seems to be happy and satisfied. We liked that singers from all the Maghreb were singing together the during the Andalusia concert. However, since there are so many concerts in Morocco now, the organizers should consider not overlapping with each other events.”

Dominique, France:“ I am French but I love Fez and I have settled here. I was part of the organizing committee for the first edition with Fouazi Skali. The best concerts ever are the ones organized in Batha, they are amazing and very touching.”

Hakima, Marrakesh: “The choice of music is great and especially at Batha Museum. The organization is not good. For example, it is shameful that the entrance is always crowded and often times the audience is not categorized based on whether they have tickets or not. The music concerts at Bab Makina are not obviously linked to the sacred music or to the edition theme.”

Samia, Fez: “This is my first time in Batha and this is my first to see this Faada as well. If they ever play again I would definitely go to see them, they were amazing.”

Niama, Fez: “This is my first time at the festival. I came just to see Hussain Al Jassmi as I love him as a singer. I was so happy to see him.”

Fatima El Wazzani, Fes: “It is my second time in the festival. I came to see many popular singers before. I was annoyed with the organization because I could not see anything. But, in general I was happy to be able to at least hear Al Jassmi.”

Chaimae Amrani & Ikram Mejbar, Fes: “ The music is amazing. I came to see Al Jassmi because he is so tender and adorable. However, I have heard that the tickets to his concert were sold at 2000 dh which is really bad. In addition that the crowds did not allow us to see anything, the security could have done something about it which they obviously did not. We were shouting and we could have made a huge problem. It is unbelievable that this is the 21st edition. The concert meant to start at 9.00 pm and it did not start until one hour and half later.”

Tomorrow: The View From Fez wrap up of the Festival and an interview with the Fes Festival Director General, Tajeddine Baddou.

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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