Monday, May 09, 2016

Fes Festival Day 4 - Review

The unpredictable weather in Fez played its role again at the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music, with two last minute venue changes and some slight confusion and delays - however, the festival continued, undeterred  
 Maristella Martella - Photo Hedd Thomas

Officinal Zoé with Maristella Martella and Maria Mazzotta 

Concerns about another washout at Jardin Jnan Sbil forced festival organisers to move today’s afternoon concert to the ornate and roofed Prefecture Hall, but because it was announced a mere 12 minutes before Italy’s Officinal Zoé were meant to perform, the capacity crowd were stuck outside for a long time in what was, ironically, the brightest and hottest sun of the festival so far. The tight security slowed the flow, and Artistic Director Alain Weber was heard telling a concerned Chris Ekers, “It’ll be very tight for the Indians tonight,” to which the sound engineer agreed.

Slightly frazzled  - under pressure from a late venue change, sound director, Chris Ekers, did a superb job

When the group from the heel region of Salento finally made it to the stage they roused the crowd with a three-part song in the Griko language, the women wailing more than singing and their close harmonies and polyphonic movements coming as a wonderful surprise to the uninitiated. This surprise was nothing, though, compared to what followed: a taranta dance by Maristella Martella, who went into a feverish whirl that was thrilling and terrifying to watch in equal measures. She was a woman possessed, in an ecstatic fit, who, with her hair and body and shawl, did everything except collapse on the carpet floor, which seemed a real danger given how they overlapped.

 Maristella Martella made dervishes look slow

This was all done to the sound of guitars and tambourines, and that jingly drum sums them up: ancient, wild and sensationally, anacreonticly fun. The high-octane performance did have some slower songs and tunes but these brought nowhere near the cheer as those where they let it rip. Despite the great music, the real star was Maristella Martella, who ended the event by summoning the large crowd to their feet and leading them all in one final physical frenzy. “Her energy and vitality was amazing,” said first-time festival-goes Mihai from Romania, “and to hear this rare language of Griko performed in this living European tradition was a great experience.”

Review: Hedd Thomas

 The powerful Maria Mazzotta with Italian group Officina Zoé


Shashank Subramaniam and Rakesh Chaurasia, masters of the Bansuri flute – Chennai and Mumbai

The first of this evening's raga sessions featured two young master flautists: Shashank Subramaniam of the southern Indian bansuri (bamboo) flute tradition and Rakesh Chaurasia, from northern India. Subramanian explained that their music, " is like one language spoken with different dialects."

In a raga or raag, typical of the Indian Carnatic classical style, the melody is based on a series of five to nine musical notes. However, as Subramaniam was keen to emphasise, the mood these notes convey in musical phrases is the essence of the raga. This evening's performance was based on the Mohanam Raga, a pentatonic scale common not only in Carnatic music, but also in South East Asia, China and Japan. The performance was entirely improvised.

The two flautists started slowly and individually, each one playing an introductory solo in turn in their own style, with Chaurasia using a larger flute with a deeper sound. Both musicians were child prodigies and today, at the relatively young age of 30, show a talent and dexterity way beyond their years. As they began to play together, the lower bass notes of the Chaurasia's flute laid the ground beneath the higher notes of Subramaniam's instrument the latter flew off into the heavens like the Fassi swallows swooping and circling outside as dusk fell.

Throughout, they nodded in acknowledgment of each other's talent and smiled at musical jokes between them. Frequently, it seemed one prompted an idea in the other which he was itching to share, but he would always wait in respect of his partner to finish. Like the epic of the Mahabharata, the collaboration seemed never-ending, but with its twists and turns of plot was never dull and we were always keen to know what would happen next. In the second part, the two drummers (on tabla and dholak) provided additional rhythm - initially as soloists and then as part of a larger whole. All four musicians looked as if they were thoroughly enjoying themselves and the chemistry between them was a joy to watch.

For the final piece, the flautists changed flutes - in total playing at least 5 different ones between them. At the end of the concert, several people jumped to their feet in ovation. Subramanian thanked the audience for being so "inspiring" to the improvisation.

Review: Lynn Sheppard

Rageshri Das

Rageshri Das 

The stunning Dar Adiyel was the venue for Rageshri Das’ concerts of classical Indian songs, the two carved columns framing the carpet-covered stage and, behind that, a five-metre-tall wooden door that opened onto an orange-lit salon. At this morning’s press conference the Bengali singer explained how a good space can inspire a great performance, and she couldn’t have asked for a more inspiring venue than this, adding that its open air courtyard didn’t worry her at all: “Maybe it’ll rain, maybe it’ll pouring, but I’m performing!”

The beautiful Dar Adiyel venue

Das delivered a first concert of Khyal songs that saw her improvise with freedom and flair. The word “khyal” comes from the Arabic for “imagination,” and she used hers to enchant the audience with her ancient tradition but youthful mind and voice. Those that stayed were treated to a moving second concert of Ghazal songs, which, she explained, “means ‘conversation’ - between you and your friend, or you and your beloved, or you and you: inner me and outer me, soul to soul.”

Ustad Sabir Khan

The first ghazal was in the remarkable raga of Bageshri, a bluesy, moody mode of a late night lovesick lady. The ethereal tones of the sarangi got a little drowned out by the volume of the tabla and voice, sometimes sounding as if from a distant derb of the medina, but this was appropriate for when it echoed the singer’s lead, Alla Rakha Kalavant closing his eyes as he bowed away in his own world of sympathetic strings. Rageshri Das and tabla maestro Ustad Sabir Khan, on the other hand, interacted with knowing nods and smiles, which only increased in the second ghazal, a lighter one that seemed to affirm the goodness of life. There followed a setting of a poem by Faraz, a chance for Khan and Das to show off their technical prowess - him with thunderous, lightening-fast taps on the tabla and her with exquisite melismas, slides, sustained notes and big leaps - before ending with soft song that verged on the seductive. “I adored it!” said Sandra from France, “It was divine!”

Review: Hedd Thomas

Alla Rakha Kalavant

Ustad Irshad Khan

Another part of tonight's Indian Thali featured Ustad Irshad Khan playing a historical and unusual instrument, the surbahar, a bass sitar invented by his great, great grandfather around 200 years ago. Khan is descended from a long musical lineage; his ancestors played in the Mughal courts 400 years ago. The instrument and the playing techniques have been passed down from fathers to sons in his family. A very large instrument, it requires not only talent, but physical strength.

Ustad Irshad Khan

Khan introduced himself and Shabhaz Hussain, on tabla, and said they had been looking forward to coming to Fez, a city he enjoys and which he feels is "spiritually activated". This was a good opening to the first of four pieces of the Kirwani raga, the midnight raga, which he explained had a devotional and spiritual mood. He played alone in a meditational, contemplative style, which prompted many audience members to close their eyes or - for those on the carpet at the front - to lie down. In the second part, the tempo quickened and Khan added some rhythm, still only using the surbahar, before the tabla joined in for the third section. The tabla used by Hussain was a bass tabla specifically suited to the lower tones of the surbahar. This part was more visually and aurally entertaining as the musicians interacted with each other, pulling some expressive faces and building up to a frenetic pace in parts.

During a round of rapturous applause for the dexterity with which Khan handled such a large and unwieldy instrument, it was carefully transferred into its case and swapped for a standard sitar. Hussain also changed over his tabla for the more usual variety. Finally, they offered a more playful and romantic piece from the raga Tilak Kamod, another night raga. Although this was a lighter note to round off the evening, at the end the sitar was quickly forgotten as the audience was left in awe of Khan's handling of the magnificent surbahar. 

 Review: Lynn Sheppard

Photographs: Suzanna Clarke,  Hedd Thomas and Lynn Sheppard.

Tomorrow at the festival

Jnan Sbil Garden 16.30: Hawniyaz – Inspired by Kurdish and Azeri traditions


Dar Adiyel – 20.00: Yulduz Turieva - The Shash-Maqâm tradition of Bukhara - Uzbekistan

Sidi Mohamed Ben Youssef Cultural Complex 20.00: Ensemble Dialogos – Bosnia and Herzogovina.  Heretic Angels: Popular Rituals and Beliefs

Prefecture Hall. 21.30 OY – Space diaspora – Suisse / Ghana

Sidi Mohamed Ben Youssef Cultural Complex – 23.00
Parvathy Baul and Mehdi Nassouli – India and Morocco - Poetry of Wandering Mystics: from Bauls to Gnawas

Boujloud Square: 22.00 Daniel Masson | Omar Boutmazoukt

Dar Tazi Sufi Nights 23h00: Assaouia Tariqa

Tomorrow's weather: Rain and thunderstorms with a high of 18 degrees Celsius and a low of 11.

The View From Fez is a Fes Festival official Media Partner

See our Fes Festival reports:
Opening Night Review
Day Two Review
First Sufi Night Review
Day Three Review

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


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