Thursday at the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music was a much more relaxed day and, happily, with the sunshine saw a return of concerts to the beautiful Jnan Sbil gardens. One rain shower at the end of the concert produced a mass exit, but then delivered a double rainbow over the Medina, before night fell and the Turkish dervishes took to the stage
|A double rainbow over the Fez Medina (Click on images to enlarge)|
Agraw – Mystical Amazigh Chants - Review by Hedd Thomas
“This is refreshing, it’s usually all men so to have all women is a first.” So said an Australian sat on the grass at Jardin Jnan Sbil as eleven Amazigh Sufis from Tiznit by the name of Agraw entered the stage. Their costumes made a powerful first impression: scarlet jackets and black aprons with colourful embroidery and tassels around the trim; white headscarfs and shawls that reached down to their knees; a black face veil that exposed only their eyes and noses; an abundance of bracelets, bangles and rings around their fingers and wrists; and one or two with hennaed hands. They looked all the more impressive under the bright mid-May sun, its heat soon forcing a few sweaty faces on stage and as well as in the audience.
|Two call-and-response chants sung by Agraw|
Agraw’s music was hypnotic and unique, and those who submitted to its rhythmic cycles and short melodic phrases were richly rewarded. It was based almost entirely on a solo call and group response with the occasional syncopation on frame drums, and a handful on the grass nearest the stage joined them in clapping along to every beat. It was a joy for the ethnomusicologists who could easily transcribe their melodies of unusually narrow ranges, which are typically classified as chants rather than songs.
|The Amazigh chants were joyous|
Some were more complex than others, with an ululation introducing one in particular that turned into a call and response of ten beats each. This soon transitioned into one of eight beats each, then six, and finally a call of seven beats and a response of five, all done with superlative ease. It was fascinating for some, with the Australian describing the whole thing as “a joyous, colourful, gaggle of rhythm,” but, understandably, its highly repetitive nature left many satisfied sooner than expected, and a slow but steady stream of people left the Jardin before the 6 o’clock rain brought the spectacle to a sudden end.
Review, music transcription and photographs: Hedd Thomas
Shaykh Hassan Dyck and Muhabbat Caravan – Sufi meditations - Review by Faith Barker
"Playing is easy," Sheikh Hassan told the audience. "The ego is happy then. But listening requires modesty, patience, concentration. Thank you for being good listeners."
Perhaps Sheikh Hassan couldn't see to the back of the riad. Phones rang, cameras clicked, and people fought over spaces. Riad Dar Benssouda was packed to the rafters -- tickets had sold out and those with passes or invitations pushed the numbers beyond the building's capacity -- and several vicious but whispered arguments broke out over people talking during the music or blocking the view. It was ironic that there was more rudeness from people who had come explicitly seeking spiritual enlightenment than at any other event in the festival.
This behaviour was a shame, because otherwise it was a special evening. Guests removed their shoes at the door, as they would at a private gathering in a house rather than a public concert. A pool in the centre of the courtyard was filled with roses, and occasionally water would pour down from where it had gathered earlier in the plastic covering the roof. A young girl dressed in white held out her hand to let the water run over it, a moment of playfulness among the people sitting serenely closest to the musicians.
Sheikh Hassan is a German spiritual leader who belongs to the Naqshabandi tariqa. He travels the world with a group of musicians, giving performances and talks. Today he spoke in English, with a member of his group translating into French, telling the audience that they would hear Qur'anic recitation, dhikr (chants to remember God) and songs celebrating God and the prophet, as well as exchanges about Sufism. He introduced several key Sufi ideas: that God created beauty and that He loves beauty, and that He took us out of mere existence and gave us bodies, so when we remember God we remember something that we all have inside us.
Violin player Ali Keeler's son, Elyas, opened the evening with a beautiful recitation of Qur'an. The musicians played songs using English translation of the poetry of Rumi, and moments of the performance were moving: the Moroccan singer had an amazing voice, the sarod player was excellent; and at one point a man got up and began spinning, dervish-like, in front of the musicians...and immediately the audience pulled out their camera phones, puncturing the moment.
It was an interesting insight into this world of "neo-Sufism". Obviously many people there were curious festival-goers, but Sheikh Hassan has devotees who follow him on his travels all round the world. Many people were singing along and some were even moved to tears. "He's so beautiful," whispered a weeping girl at the back of the room.
|Elyas gave a beautiful reading from the Qur'an|
Whether or not you feel an affinity with this narrative of spirituality, Sheikh Hassan was wise and funny, and his musicians accomplished. This performance could be interesting and moving for believers and non-believers alike. But the atmosphere of spiritual conviviality was marred by some audience members' lack of respect for others. The contrast between someone stealing another's seat and then turning round to praise God and the prophet with a beatific look on their face was jarring.
"Listening is work for the soul," Sheikh Hassan said. He's right, we all have a lot of work to do.
Review and photographs: Faith Barker
Istanbul < > Fes – Turkey and Morocco
After the crowd had stood outside for over 45 minutes waiting to hear if tonight's World Premier meeting between Fes and Istanbul would go ahead, it was going to be difficult to recreate the atmosphere of the Andalusian garden projected onto the wall as everyone shivered in the coldest night of the festival so far.
It was surprising how so few people can make so much noise, but unlike in previous festival events where this might have been a major distraction from the music, here it simply contributed to the strange occasion. It was less of a concert and more of a social gathering, and given the quality of the music it was fair that those providing it had to compete against smart phones and yesterday’s gossip for people’s attention.
Although Mohammed Briouel's Andalusian Ensemble can do little wrong in the eyes of many Fassis, tonight's collaboration was disappointing.
On stage was one lone woman out of 28 performers (6 Turkish musicians, 22 Fassi musicians and dancers), and she was there mainly to sing, contributing the only element with which men can’t compete, i.e. her female voice.
The evening began with the ney of a Turkish group (unnamed in the programme). The ensemble, consisting of an oud, kanun, percussion, clarinet, violin and male and female vocals, tinkled along like the decorative fountain projected beside them, but their set seemed destined never to take off.
|Mohammed Briouel's Andalusian Ensemble|
Briouel's Andalusian Ensemble were more musically engaging than the visiting Turks, and the largely local audience found them far more entertaining. The ensemble was make up half of violinists who played their instruments upright on their knees like a kamancheh or rebab, and they surely could have benefited from those fiddles’ characteristic spikes - perhaps a tiny cello spike to go with their tiny cellos. They were clearly enjoying themselves as they sped up and introduced new and eminently clappable rhythms to the mix, perhaps as planned or perhaps spontaneously simply to keep themselves warm. They were doing a far superior job of that compared to the youthful Turks on the other side of the stage, whose student concert-like attire of thin black shirts and trousers kept them cold.
Once a lone female dervish joined them on stage, however, the lilting music perfectly matched the waving hemline of the twirling skirt. Then the Andalusians took their turn, playing a couple of livelier and more familiar numbers, accompanied unusually by some swaying Sufis in the back row. Meanwhile, the Turkish band shivered as the wind whistled around the venue. Three dervishes appeared on stage and as they spun to the incongruous accompaniment of Andalusian music, the Moroccan Sufis started jumping ecstatically alongside. It was all starting to look a little cluttered on stage.
The spectacle concluded with both ensembles playing together, each offering a solo in turns. Once there were no soloists left to shine, six dervishes appeared on stage. As they whirled, the Moroccan Sufis swayed and bobbed. The finale was exciting, if slightly incongruous, but it had taken 1.5 cold, damp hours to get here.
The concept, a meeting of Moroccan and Turkish Sufi traditions, the Mevlevi dervishes and - according to the festival website - Moroccan samâa, is a fascinating one. However, the decision to insert Andalusian music into this mix (accompanied by a small group of swaying Sufis) was confusing. A more culturally relevant choice would have been to include one of the local Sufi brotherhoods rather than an Andalusian orchestra, which is not usually associated with samâa. In the vast open space of Bab al Makina, the Sufi elements fell short of the intimacy normally associated with the lodge or zaouia the simulation of the trace-like state achieved by adherents - although visually spectacular - it lacked the intimate intensity of previous festival appearances by groups such as the Turkish Tariqa Khalwatiyya at the Batha Museum
Review: Lynn Sheppard & Hedd Thomas. Photographs: Sandy McCutcheon
Tomorrow (Friday) at the festival
Jardin Jnan Sbil - 4.30 pm - Virginia Rodrigues – Brazil's Celestial Voice
Bab Al Makina 9 pm - Tribute to Oum Kelthoum – Egypt and the Arab World
Boujloud Square: 10.00 Diego Cortés – Reda Taliyani
Dar Tazi Sufi Nights 23h00: Tariqa kettaniya : Saad Tamssamani
Thursday's weather: Partly cloudy morning shower Afternoon cloudy. High of 19 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
Sufi Night One Review
Day Three Review
Day Four Review
Sufi Night Two Review
Day Five Review
Sufi Night Five Review
Day Six Review
Tribute to Oum Keltoum Preview
Samira Saïd Preview
Sufi Nights & Boujloud Concerts