Thursday, May 28, 2015

Fes Festival ~ Day Seven ~ Review

It was another fascinating day at the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music. It began with a sublime piano recital at the Batha Museum and ended with tales of lost luggage and a band that wasn't what most people expected...
La Conférence des oiseaux - Conference of the birds at Batha?

Medina Morning ~ Piano recital: Arabesque ~ Marouane Benabdallah

Marouane Benabdallah's exploration of Arab classical music at the Batha Museum was superb. After a few introductory words he sat at the piano, paused for a second or two and then began playing. It was immediately apparent that we were being treated to something special.

His first piece, composed by Dia Succari (1938-2010), was delivered with a gentle lyricism to the accompaniment of a chorus of birds from high in the tree above the stage.

His selection of music ranged from his own arrangement of Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921): Africa, Fantaisie op.89 to the tender, religiously inspired, La nuit du destin (Night of Destiny) by Dia Succari. The title of the piece alludes to the twenty-seventh night of the holy month of Ramadan.

Other pieces included Badrou Hosnen by Zad Moultaka composed for the Maqam Siba, one of the modes used in the psalms of the Qur’an; and Al Male Rachamim by Mohammed Fairouz, a prayer that is part of Jewish funerary rites. It was a repertoire almost unknown to the greater public in which the modes and rhythms of Arab music meld with the forms and structures of western classical music to create an original and unique synthesis.

The Saint-Saëns was an opportunity to display his undoubted virtuosity and irresistible dynamism and he dd so without theatrics or showmanship, but rather with the demeanour of a musician immersed in the music. Much of the time he played with his eyes shut, and a serene expression on his face. Of particular interest was piece by Moroccan composer Nabil Benabdeljalil (b 1972), who was due to give his own concert in the same venue later in the day. His sensual, crepuscular, Nocturne nº2 "Magdalena" was a delight.

Born in Rabat in 1982, Benabdallah took his first piano lessons at the age of four with his mother, a music teacher. Leaving Morocco at the age of 13 for further musical training at the Conservatoire Béla Bartók and then at the Académie Franz Liszt, both in Budapest.

 In 2008 he was awarded a prize from the Hungarian Parliament ‘in recognition of his exceptional talent and accomplishments in music’ – an honour that he shares with artists such as Placido Domingo, José Cura and other luminaries.

Marouane Benabdallah has always considered himself a musician rather than simply a pianist. Understanding how music works is his major concern, which is why he first studied theory, analysis, counterpoint and direction to integrate these alongside his piano classes. The result of all this hard work and study is what we witnessed today: a seemingly effortless display by a world class virtuoso. It will remain a festival highlight.

Batha Museum ~ Nabil Benabdeljalil and the Zakharif Ensemble

Thunder had been rumbling around the hills which surround Fez for an hour, and the wind was picking up, scattering leaves and the odd raindrop across the auditorium at the Batha Museum. As the committed audience members filed in, the management and technical team were still discussing contingency plans in the event of a storm.

Nabil Benabdeljalil

As the Zakharif Ensemble took to the stage in striped jackets reminiscent of a Speakeasy or Barber Shop quartet, the wind began to drop, as if in response to Nabil Benabdeljalil's homage to Schumann, and the birds of the Batha gardens began to sing again.

Before we could get used to the tranquil, tinkling piano, however, the saxophone joined in and the piece gained an altogether more jazzy, almost klezmer quality, before becoming Gerschwin-esque.

As the oud joined the arrangement, we travelled east once again and the piece gained an Arabian feel. Benabdeljalil had promised us a journey "from Egypt to Austria and the US", and we were fortunate all to have tickets!

After every couple of pieces, Benabdeljalil, a young Moroccan composer who received his training at the Académie Tchaikovski in Kiev, Ukraine, would introduce the next works and explain the genesis and inspiration behind them.

Despite his relative youth, he is already a well-known figure and he admitted that one of his compositions was part of the set of Marouane Benabdullah this morning in the same venue. Although he is very clearly the leader of the ensemble and composer of most of the pieces they played, he came across as humble and extremely grateful for the diverse input and skills of his fellow musicians. It was also clear that - despite his classical background, which shone through in a couple of his own compositions for piano - he enjoys flirting with different genres, breaking down boundaries and teasing the audience with unexpected combinations, insertions of extracts from well-known works, or momentary silences.

As he explained ahead of the last suite of pieces, Benabdeljalil's aim for the concert had been to start with the sensual - songs about romance, reproach and love - and move to the spiritual. This he achieved, via the short detour of an oud solo composed by band member Noureddine Ozzahr in homage to Berber oud master, Sidi Mohammed Rouicha, which evoked the dusty villages of the latter's native Middle Atlas. Benabdeljalil must have achieved some kind of spiritual connection - unlike other groups during this festival, he and the Zakharif Ensemble managed to tame the elements and play the rain away.

Bab Makina ~ The Not Temptations 

What started out as a potential Fes Festival highlight for many of the Western attendees, has been undone spectacularly by incompetence on the parts of both the Festival organisers and Royal Air Maroc. What was immediately apparent was that the bad reputation of RAM for losing luggage was well deserved when ‘The Temptations’ filed onstage wearing sweat pants, jeans and black t-shirts instead of their usual finery. What became apparent afterwards, when audience members checked their tickets, was that the Festival organisers has misled people to believe they were paying to see The Temptations, when in fact it was another group called The Temptations Review with Dennis Edwards.

Dennis Edwards

By doing so they have done a major disservice to the group, whose rousing performance has been undermined by this huge faux pas. The official festival website omits the crucial word ‘Review’ in the title of the band and says “The Temptations are, without doubt, the most well-known male singing group in the history of rock and soul music. A veritable institution created by Otis Williams, they were one of the pillars of the famous Tamla Motown label, that sent rhythm and blues across the world to become such a great influence on the British rock scene from the Rolling Stones to the Who to the Small Faces.

Otis Williams is indeed the founding member of the The Temptations - just not the group audiences saw tonight. Dennis Edwards joined The Temptations in 1968 to replace David Ruffin, and has been described as the official sixth member of the group, so certainly deserves the right to perform under a version of the group’s name. The line-up audiences saw tonight also consisted of David Sea, Mike Pattillo, Chris Arnold and Paul Williams Jr., the son of original Temptation Paul Williams.

So to the performance. Light rain delayed the beginning by half an hour and the stage crew scrambled to cover equipment with plastic, raising concerns that this was going to turn into another wash out like the cancelled concert this past Sunday. Consternation continued when the group finally arrived on stage looking like they were at a rehearsal, however they proved that they were consummate performers by engaging with the audience immediately. The crowd soon forgot what they were wearing as the music and dance moves dominated in a couple of barnstorming opening numbers.

Despite the problems, the audience was in party mode

These slowed down to a ballad that went out to “all the lovely Moroccan ladies” and this was the first taste of the individual group members coming out and doing solos. Mike Pattillo’s deep bass voice was impressively low, sending vibrations all the way to your toes. The song choice ‘Rainy Night in Georgia’ was very apt considering the weather conditions, however it had the blessed effect of stopping the rain! Umbrellas were lowered and everyone finally had a clear view of the stage.

A rendition of ‘My Baby’ led into ‘Get Ready’, which would have been a good moment apart from the fact the the sound dropped out and no-one could hear the lead singer at all, and the rest of the group barely. Fortunately the technicians recovered in time for the highlight of the night ‘Papa Was a Rolling Stone’. The high energy performance was set off by wonderful retro lighting and the crowd were on their feet and dancing. It was a goosebumps moment.

Another emotional moment was when they introduced the song ‘I Wish It Would Rain’. The song, as were many of their classic hits, was written by Motown writer Roger Penzabene and was about a woman he was in love with but couldn’t have. Tragically, he committed suicide not long afterwards. Later, the group also paid tribute to the four members of the original Temptations who have passed away.

"You may have noticed our outfits..."

Edwards then acknowledged the groups lack of costumes, saying “You may have noticed our outfits and this is because our bags went missing. Honestly we didn’t know what we were going to do, but the one thing I did know was that we were going to sing for you. We normally have these flashy clothes but we had to go out and buy five t-shirts - we hope you forgive us!”

And the crowd were ready to forgive and forget as The Temptations Review took them into full party mode with ‘Treat Her Like a Lady’, complete with flashing disco lights, and then of course, the finishing number had to be their most famous hit ‘My Girl’. Overall the performance of the group was slick, their harmonies spot on and vocals impressive. It was a shame that their best efforts have been undone by the scandal that emerged later. The Festival organisers have done them a huge disservice.

Dar Tazi ~ Sufi Nights

The group Zaouia Addarkaoui - Samaa Dar is a relatively new group. They were founded in 2000 in order to concentrate on the the art of Madih and Samaa.  Madih songs are eulogies to the Prophet Mohamed and in Samaa’ are spiritual poems.
Where celestial music becomes audible it combines the primordial sound and the absolute divine word. Through the practice of Samaà it becomes possible to experience the depths of being in universal harmony - musicologist Abdelfettah Benmoussa
As one member explained to The View from Fez, many in the group have academic training and participated in "research into the mystical realms". While it is hard to imagine the zaouia (Sufi lodge) members actually entering the mystical realms of jidba and hal (trance dancing), they could certainly sing. They contain within their ranks some very fine voices. One in particular, a younger man who sung the dikr (prayers) at the beginning, was exceptional. Also of note was the clarity and richness of the harmonies that emerged as they warmed up.

The young man (centre) had a superb voice and technique

Between performing and studying the group built the school "Dar Assamaa" which provides teachers in the Samaa, music and literature and everything that has a relationship with Sufism. Its mission is to disseminate and share tthe Sufi cultural heritage, and believe it plays a very important role in educating and guiding emerging performers against "moral deviation and intellectual extremism".

The group's leader - the malam 

The group enjoyed a largish audience and delivered what one French visitor described as "une merveilleuse soirée chorale de musique soufie" (a wonderful evening of Sufi Choir music).

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.

An inhabitant of Fes: “There is a change in the structure of the festival; I would say the people in charge are trying to make it an elitist event. They are targeting foreign audience and they are really trying to control and filter the audience; this was not the case during the previous editions. Also, this festival is not anymore a festival of sacred music; it is rather a festival of World Music. I was disappointed that the organizers did not have a plan B during the rainy day, it was sad that an artist well known as Oumou Sangre did not get to meet her audience.”

Nicole Amphoux, France: “For 15 years I attended the Fes Festival. I also attend the Festival of Sufi music since it started nine years ago. I would love to pay tribute to the original founder of the sacred music Fouazi Skali, thanks to him that the festival was born. All the music concerts that took place in Batha Museum were amazing. The place plays a major role in capturing the souls of the audience. You have a great musician in front of you in the nature and in a mysterious historical place. My favourite concerts so far are Fatoumata and Fonseca and the journey through Africa during the opening. I have also liked all the conferences especially the one about Hassan El Ouzzani. It was a bit early, but I loved them;”

An Inhabitant of Fes: “I will start with criticism; there is an absence of several media partners and sponsors that were strongly present in the past. Concerning the marketing of the festival, the same company and person is always doing it which is not fair for other marketing companies; it should be open to everyone to apply. Concerning the positive points, the festival boosts tourism especially the small guest houses and the organizers need to focus on improving the organization and the communication sides of the festival.”

Marion, France: “Everything is beautiful; there are always stronger and more beautiful moments than others during this festival. I love Diego character a lot, he was like a prince, I have his CD at home and I listen to him all the time. Though I think he did not do pure flamenco. I also loved Omar Sosa, his talented percussionist and charming dancer. I love the resistance to slavery through music and body moves. Of course I would conclude that I love Fez - as Muslims have in the Koran “God is beautiful and loves beauty”.

Klara, Belgium: "I am not sure I understand the relationship of sacred music with the music scheduled. As an anthropologist, I would have programmed Toumani Diabati and others. The most interesting one is Oumou Sangare, and she left without having the chance to sing due to not having a plan B for the rain. Fatoumata is good but she is an easy catch because she played in the recent film “Timbuktu”. I am not also interested to see The Temptations. Also the forums: as an anthropologist, I would have invited totally different people engaged in the political, research and African affairs. Honestly, I am not touched by the program because it lacks expertise and sharpness."

Mouna and Brahim, Fes: Mouna is 13 years old, she came to the festival with her 16 year old brother, Brahim. It is her second time attending the festival. She said “I liked the concert by Sabir Robai and I also came to The Temptations because I like them. I love the festival.”
Brahim told The View From Fez: “I like to come to the festival and its been four years now that I have been attending it. I love the choice of the music and the guests that attend.”

François and Gisele, France: Both François and Gisele were born in Fez. “We have been coming for two years. The opening of the festival was stunning and exceptionally beautiful and we love the Andalusian music as we are from Fez. But I think that there are less people than last year for sure."

Geneviève, France:“I don’t really see the link between what we see now and the sacred music. I think the organizers should define what sacred music is, so that people can decide whether they want to come or not.”

Sue, Fez: “I have been to several Fez Festivals and I always like the unexpectedness and the beautiful surprises such as music from Azerbaijan. What is frustrating for me is that there are so many things to see but they happen at the same time and it is hard to choose. It was devastating that Oumou Sangare did not get to play; it was really disappointing for me and for many of other people who only came to see her. The organizers could have scheduled her the next day as we know that Bab Makina was empty for the following day.”

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

Tomorrow at the Fes Festival

Weather: Cooler, A chance of a thunderstorm and morning showers. Top 23 Celsius and low of 13
4.30 pm - Batha Museum - Amen en la voz del Hombre
8.30 pm and 10.30 pm - Free Festival in the City - Bab Boujloud Homage: Hussain Al Jasmi followed by La symphonie de la Toctoca Jabaliya
9 pm - Bab Makina - Arabo-Andalous Orchestra of Fez directed by Mohammed Briouel

Sufi Nights
11 pm Dar Tazi - (Free) La Hadra de Chefchaouen: Khayra Afazaz

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 all our Fes Festival 2015 reviews
Fes Festival Opening Night
Fes Festival Day Two 
Fes Festival Day Three
Fes Festival Day Four
Fes Festival Day Five
Fes Festival Day Six
Fes Festival Day Seven
Fes Festival Day Eight
Fes Festival Day Nine

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

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