Saturday, May 23, 2015

Fes Festival ~ Day Two ~ Saturday 23 May

Day two of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music arrived with a rather ominous weather forecast: rain and more rain. Fortunately it held off in the morning with temperatures around 18 Celsius
By mid-afternoon the heavy rains arrived and at the Batha Museum the audience managed to crowd under the arches or contended with soggy seats and umbrellas. The Fes Festival Office was quick to inform people that there would be no cancellations and that concerts would go head during times when the rain stopped - it promised to be an interesting night.

Fes Festival Forum:  Spiritual paths and trade routes

This year's Forum at the Fes Sacred Music Festival focuses on the close ties between Fes - erstwhile capital of the vast Moorish empire - and the rest of Africa to the south. Intellectual, cultural, spiritual and commercial exchange was part of everyday life and Andalusian Fes was undeniably African.

Festival Director General Tajeddine Baddou at the first forum

The first episode of the 2015 Forum was entitled "spiritual paths and trade routes," and was intended to examine how trade has often run in parallel with spiritual interchange across Africa and issues of how Africa is presented in schools. However, while the contributions from the podium (20 minutes each from 5 academics and experts) were in and of themselves interesting, they tended to focus on specialist topics and discrete examples of intellectual exchange rather than the bigger picture of how the great camel trains brought with them ideas as well as goods.

Senegalese philosopher, Soulaymane Bachir Diagne

It was down to the only sub-Saharan African on the panel, the Senegalese philosopher, Soulaymane Bachir Diagne, to mention the taboo topic of the trade in slaves across the desert.

Happily, the only non-academic on the panel, Bariza Khiari, a French politician, Socialist senator and previously Vice President of the Senate, offered a broader perspective to the discussion and brought it right up to date, mentioning the impact of petrodollars and religious influence from the Arabian peninsula in North and West Africa today.

Bariza Khiari

An intervention from the floor, by 9 year old Kyane from Casablanca, brought the discussion back on topic. In her short speech in French and English, she explained that, as a Moroccan, she was African. The African continent was fantastic - and anyone who didn't appreciate it just needed a little patience! In one short comment, she brought us all back to Fes, Morocco: epicentre of Africa.

Afternoon concert at the Batha Museum

The Payiz Ensemble - Iraq

Given all the Iraqi Kurds have weathered in recent and past history, it was unsurprising that a little rain did not dampen the spirits of the Payiz Ensemble or lessen their enthusiasm for sharing the musical traditions of their homeland with the decidedly soggy audience at the Batha Museum this afternoon.

There were questions about whether the concert would be rained out or moved across the road to the prefecture complex, but a policy of “no cancellations” by the festival management proved a wise decision. Those dedicated attendees who braved the weather either clustered on seats packed under the arches or contended with soggy seats and umbrellas blocking their view. A few well-prepared people sat on plastic bags and the most resourceful ladies brought a windscreen protector from their car to prevent wet bottoms!

The beginning of the concert was suitably somber, the mournful balaban oboe echoing the grey, overcast sheltering sky above. The shaking sound of a percussive instrument was reminiscent of raindrops on rooftops, and the musicians had one eye on the weather and one on the audience as they determined how to lighten the mood.

Gradually the beat of the instruments from the eight-strong, all male ensemble increased and built up to a more joyous feel. The stringed instruments such as the tar (lute), the oud, the santoor (dulcimer) and the kemantche (fiddle) kept pace with the dafs (frame drums). Their deep voices, using the guttural techniques of the poets and bards of old (known as ashiqs) perfectly complemented the tenor tones of the central singer, reflecting light and darkness.
The skin on the lute trembles like living flesh - Jalal Al Din Rumi.

Eventually the enthusiasm of the musicians warmed the chilly crowd, leading them in rhythmic clapping and lifting their spirits with cries of “hup, hup, hup, hup!” The rain was also chased away by the highly spirited music and rays of sunshine emerged along with the broadening smiles on the musicians faces as the audience became engaged, a skilled drum solo eliciting whoops and cheers. The climax of the concert was an energetic line dance with the musicians kicking up their heels, the sleeves of their traditional costumes unfurled for added flourish and the indomitable Kurdish spirit on full display.

The audience reaction was enthusiastic. First time Festival goer Tara McBride, from Oregon in the US, said, “The Fes Festival has been on my bucket list for 10 years and since retiring from teaching I’ve finally been able to make it here. I think the concert was fantastic, clapping along and keeping the beat was such fun. Continuing on from the spectacle of last night, I think this festival is going to be the highlight of my life.”

Bab Makina

The evening concert at Bab Makina was something of an anticlimax after the wonderful opening night. While the rain had not dampened spirits, it certainly soaked the seats and plastic bags were at a premium in order to save oneself from sitting in an uncomfortable puddle.

Bagad Cap Caval Breton band a no-show at Bab Makina

The advertised Bagad Cap Caval Breton band with the Lamkartass Ensemble from Tissa sadly did not appear.  Which was a disappointment as many in the audience had caught a glimpse of them in the Medina streets and were keen to see and hear more.

However, for a majority of the capacity audience there was only one name on their lips - Saber Rebaï. His pulling power is immense and it seemed that every young woman from Fes, Rabat and Casablanca was in the audience and dressed to kill.

Saber Rebaï did not disappoint his fans

The rain stayed away, but due to problems with the set up, the concert did not start until twenty to eleven, by which time, the audience was getting restless.

Saber Rebaï is a Tunisian pan-Arab singer and composer best known for his song Sidi Mansour. Born in 1967, he started singing at 17 and went on to have a career that has seen him undertake tours across Europe, USA, Australia as well as Palestine and South Korea.

Technical difficulties marred the performance

Backed by a large orchestra and with four backing singers it took Saber only a few seconds to have the crowd baying for more. Gone were the memories of the long wait, the chill evening and the wet seats. All that mattered was that Saber Rebaï was on stage and chatting to them. Arab pop music may not be everyone's cup of mint tea, but for a majority of the audience the night's performance would have been a festival highlight  - had it not been for further technical difficulties that marred the singer's performance. In contrast, the orchestra was the star of the night. Sadly, most patrons did not stay to the end, defeated by sound problems and wet seats.

Sufi Night at Dar Tazi 

By a strange and somewhat annoying coincidence, the Dar Tazi venue was also very late in starting. The concert, scheduled for 11pm did not start until midnight. Given that they had most of the day to prepare it was difficult to accept that it was another "rain delay".

A smaller than normal crowd

The beautiful and intimate venue is normally packed to capacity, but this first Sufi Night saw only a moderate crowd of mostly young Moroccans.

The Marifat Sufi band is making a return visit to Fez after a superb concert on June 18th last year. The qawwali style performance is typically long, starting gently and building over the steady drone of the two harmoniums. The effect was intoxicating and hypnotic. The percussion - tabla and dholak join in and the tempo increases. Then, reaching a climax the music stops rather abruptly. Then the journey begins again, this time with more improvisation. Again the trance like state is produced and the distinction between performer and audience is lost.

Dr. Muhammad Zafar Iqbal 

The Marifat Sufi band was created in 2007 by Dr. Muhammad Zafar Iqbal (ex-director of the musicology department of Lahore, Pakistan). He named the band “Marifat” after the state of mental illumination achieved after one follows the core values of Sufism. The members of the band are all well known musicians who performed for a long time as soloists prior joining Dr. Muhammad Zafar Iqbal’s band. Inter religious harmony is one of the foundations of the group the members of which are Christian and Muslim. The band owes its originality and unique identity to the mix obtained by its musicians between traditional and classical music and Sufi poetry.

Text: Lynn Sheppard, Vanessa Bonnin, Sandy McCutcheon
Photographs: Suzanna Clarke, Vanessa Bonnin, Lynn Sheppard, Sandy McCutcheon
Additional material translated by Helen Ranger


Weather:  Partly cloudy and cool. Top 22 and low temperature of 13 Celsius.

9 am Festival Forum Batha Museum:  Africa and the Sacred

4.30 Batha Museum - Scottish Celtic singer Julie Fowlis.

6 pm Jnan Sbil Garden - Brittany Bagad Cap Caval Band and the Ensemble Lamkartasse from Tissa.

8.30 pm and 10.30pm Free Festival in the City (Boujloud) - Mohammed Adil followed By Adli Mohammed Safae and Hanae.

9 pm Bab Makina - African Spirit - Oumou Sangare (Mali) followed by Tiken Jah Fakoly (Ivory Coast)

11 pm - Night Sufi Dar Tazi - Tariqa Cherquaouia: Bejaad (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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