Saturday, May 07, 2016

Fes Festival 2016 - Day Two Review

With the well-received opening night behind us, day two at the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music was a more measured experience - with the added pleasure of a little sunshine. The Fes Forum kicked off and an Iranian songstress enchanted the audience in the Jnan Sbil Gardens before the day climaxed with a spicy mix of Indian music and dance at Bab Al Makina
Raining rose petals at the Durbar Indian Night 
(Click on images to enlarge)

Sacred Persian Song - Sahar Mohammadi – Iran. Review and photographs: Hedd Thomas

The Jardin Jnan Sbil was suitably sunny for its first concert of the festival, the stage set in front of the a lake and the dusty yellow walls visible beyond. The line up of classical Iranian radif and Azerbaijani mugham harkened back to the distant Sassanid Empire, a time when the two modern-day countries were united by one dynasty and musical invention was at a glorious peak.

An idyllic venue in the gardens

The first of the two acts was Sahar Mohammadi, an Iranian radif singer of immense strength and soul who wowed the audience last night at Bab al-Makina. Her dark green velveteen robe and olive headdress looked the part under the deciduous canopy and their gold thread lining glistened in the sun. Accompanying were Mahdi Timori on ney (flute), Milad Mohammadi on tar (long-necked lute) and Zakariya Yousefi on daf (frame drum), and the three of them struck up a short introduction before being joined by the singer, whose straight and ornament-free rendition was over almost before it began: a short and sweet entry point for those unfamiliar with the exquisite scales of the radif.

An unfortunate incident occurred twelve minutes into the performance when a royal entourage arrived late, taking their rightful and reserved place in the front row. A large number of photographers got up to snap the Sheikha, blocking the view of the paying public and frustrating the guards, now lining the stage. Gossip muttered around. All this, in the middle of the music, and at a crucial transition from a lamenting song into a wild solo for the daf. Poor Mohammadi valiantly kept her composure, but despite her powerful rendition, it was hard to be moved by the music during such a commotion. Six short minutes later, and just as the song was ending, the party suddenly departed, leaving a scramble for the now empty front row seats in their wake.

Despite this interruption, or perhaps because of it, the remainder of the performance was very well received, and any bad feeling left behind was immediately banished by an up-tempo piece full of Persian panache. The star of the show sounded strained on the occasional high note and referred to her music stand a little more than could be expected from the professional, but her ornamentation and articulation were superb and her ensemble explored the ancient Dastgahs (modes) with both precision and power. An encore was demanded and delivered, resulting in a thoroughly deserved standing ovation.

The second-half performance was courtesy of Ingie, an all-woman qanun sextet from Azerbaijan. They presented a programme of classical Mugham, but it took some time to turn attention away from their extremely colourful costumes and onto the music. It was all very pleasant, five of the six qanun players following the matriarch in the middle as she guided them through the modes, and there was plenty of rhythmic excitement to get the toes tapping.

The strength in numbers, however, did little to extend the zither’s narrow range - it seems there is no soprano, alto, tenor and bass qanun - and what clarity came during solo passages was soon lost in a gloop of glissandi when they came together again as a group. The mughams offer such a wealth of opportunities for musical development and exploration, so a more acoustically-suitable space would have offered much for the discerning listener, but having said that the Jnan Sbil gardens offered a fine venue for a fine concert.

Fes Forum Report. Lynn Sheppard reports from the first of the three forum sessions at this year's festival.

 The discussion was among three female French journalists about women in journalism

This year, we have swapped the tranquil surroundings of the Batha Museum for an air conditioned conference room from which we could barely glimpse the gorgeous gardens of the Jnane Palace Hotel. At 5pm, there were around 35 people in the plush and newly renovated congress centre, a good third of them with press badges. By the time the discussion was underway, the audience had probably doubled but they rattled around between empty seats in the large room. There was no sign of the invited students we saw last year which had been a sign the Forum organisers were attempting to address criticisms of exclusivity and inaccessibility. Neither was there any interpretation as had been the case in previous years, ensuring that the audience was 100% Francophone.

This first session, was a slight departure from the norm, as it was organised by L'Obs-Le Monde group and moderated by Aude Lancelin, Deputy Director of the Editorial team at L'Obs. The (somewhat cliched) advertised title was "Without women, nothing would be possible", but, for some reason, the session was actually a discussion among three female French journalists about women in journalism. Although their anecdotes were interesting, one couldn't help wondering why they had come all the way to Morocco to share them. A case in point: the moderator's first question was about the representation of women in the journalism profession, but there was no-one present to present the situation in Morocco. One speaker noted that presenters of peak-time morning radio shows are generally men because their voices are felt to be more "serious and credible". We could have said the same about a Moroccan voice at this event.

Mohamed Métalsi

This year the Forum only lasts two further days (in contrast to the full week of previous years) and as Mohammed Metalsi of the Euro-Mediterranean University of Fez and Yves Michaud, philosopher, explained ahead of today's event, 8 themes will be covered ranging from historical heroines (including Catherine the Great and Joan of Arc) to family and reproduction, from the views of various religions on women to feminism. Each topic will be dealt with by 3-4 speakers. Although these two men seem to have conceived the format, of the 35 speakers advertised, the majority are women, and - Michaud was keen to emphasise - at least half are Moroccan.

 Le Monde journalist Ariane Chemin 

The choice to cram such a broad concept into three days as if there weren't enough to fill a week suggests certain difficulties at a conceptual level. The next two days will tell whether this year's forum truly reflects a diversity of viewpoints and of "professional and life experiences" rather than the usual academic discussion; or be genuinely "multicultural" as promised by Metalsi and Michaud. If it were even bi-cultural (ie French and Moroccan), it would be an improvement on today's session. In the face of criticism in previous years that speakers inhabited ivory towers, it will be all the more interesting to see whether the discussion reflects the daily reality of a range of Moroccan women in 2016 and not just those fortunate enough to have had a university education. We need only cast our minds back to last month and the case of Umm Fatiha, the baghrir vendor in Kenitra, to know that despite ambitious revisions to Moroccan family law and the Constitution in favour of equal opportunities, there is still some way to go. The challenge for 35 speakers on 8 topics over just 2 days will be to come up with practical solutions to real life problems. Text and photos: Lynn Sheppard

Evening Concert: Bab Al Makina: 21h 00 Durbar: Indian Night - Review Hedd Thomas. Photographs Sandy McCutcheon

"Glory of Princes and in praise of the Gods: a dazzling musical engagement between the great musicians of India." - That is what the programme offered - and that is what it delivered.

Kathak dancer

The unmistakable drones of a tanpura faded into the Bab al-Makina as its rear facade was slowly illuminated with a simple but glorious silhouette of the Taj Mahal set against a blood-red sky. To the right of the stage sat Alla Rakha Kalavant, who started to bow his sarangi with a quiet tenderness, punctuated every now and then by dissonant strums across the strings. A spotlight shone back towards his side, casting his shadow next to the Taj with a moving and effortless elegance. Two dancers from Ensemble Kathak appeared in pastel pink dresses and managed to express through their bodies the spirit of this introductory raga with perfectly synchronised grace, before raining rose petals on the ground and exiting, leaving the enthralled audience wanting more.

Shashank Subramaniam

Some might say the concert had a lethargic start, but there is something to be admired in performers that don’t feel the need to swing from extremes of fast and slow, happy and sad, just to maintain the interest their listeners. Shashank Subramaniam followed with a soft and gentle piece for the bansuri (flute) that slowly but surely grew in excitement and tempo, and was soon joined by Parupalli Phalgun on pakhavaj (barrel drum) for the first fast flourish of the night. There were seamless slides up and down on the bamboo flute and its sound was carried admirably through the amplification across the highs and lows. Subramaniam was the star but Phalgun deserves credit for drumming with sensitivity and expression.

Irshad Khan

After a duet by Irshad Khan on sitar and his tabla player that started impatiently but ended with accomplished call and response, a group of folk instrumentalists and devotional singers from Rajasthan took to stage for a complete change of mood. Three young boys from the group Chota Divana sang their hearts out, a little forced and strained at times but that only betrayed their youthful innocence and pure delight at having been given the opportunity to perform at the Fes Festival.

Sabir Khan, Rageshri Das and Alla Rakha Kalavant

The audience had been up to this point somewhat subdued by Indian concert standards, but that all changed with the reappearance of Ensemble Kathak. They danced to rhythmic bol singing by Rageshri Das, who was accompanied on pakhavaj and harmonium, and the enthusiastic crowd took every opportunity to applaud the dancers at the end of each movement. This mood continued with the return of all but the Rajasthani musicians, who took turns to present a number of stirring ragas and to show off the skills and stamina of the various percussionists on stage. It was a joy to witness the great report between them all, in particular Arif Khan on tabla and Soumik Datta on sarod, who clearly trusted each other’s musicality absolutely.

Young children from the Manganiyar and Langa communities of Rajasthan
 Arif Khan, Soumik Datta and Rakesh Chaurasia
Going like the clappers!

The Rajasthanis returned to stage for the final act, and this time it was the adults’ turn to sing. After all the highs, there was a danger of the evening ending on a real low if the demure faces and glum tones of the singers didn’t change. But change they did, and how! The khartals player suddenly went like the clappers, all his energy escape up his flailing arms like a demented cobra and giving an almighty bite to his wooden instrument, while the two singers exploded with divine exuberance. Indeed, that if the divine can ever be conveyed through music, this is as close as it gets.

A sweet treat of Indian delights
Programme Changes:

The May 9 concert by the Jiangsu Women's National Orchestra from China has been changed and they will now perform at 21h00 at Bab Al Makina on May 10th. This concert is free of charge.

The Fes Forum - Without women, nothing is possible - was changed to 5pm at the Jnane Palace Hotel.


Jnan Sbil Gardens 16h30: Christine Salem – La Réunion

Jnane Palace Hotel 17h00: Fez Forum - 8 & 9 May - Women: Perspective, Experience and Reflection

Boujloud Square 22h00: (Free concert) Mourad Bouriki | Lamia Zaidi

Bab Al Makina 21h00: Divas of the World - Les-Divas-du-monde (see more details here) This concert with two powerful women - Hindi Zahra and Oumou Sangaré promises to be a festival highlight

Dar Tazi 23h00 Sufi Night: Tariqa Harrakiya from Safi

Tomorrow's Weather: A high chance of afternoon and evening showers, high of 22 Celsius, low of 13.

The View From Fez is a Fes Festival official Media Partner

See our Fes Festival reports:
Opening Night Review

Divas of the World Preview
Nights in the Medina 1 Preview
Nights in the Medina 2 Preview
Nights in the Medina 3 Preview
Istanbul to Fez Preview
Tribute to Oum Keltoum Preview
Samira Saïd Preview
Sufi Nights & Boujloud Concerts


No comments: