Saturday, May 14, 2016

Fes Festival Day #9 - Review

The final day of the Fez Festival of World Sacred Music was a mixture of totally different styles of music. Contemporary Music from Yom, Arab pop from Samira Saïd and a wildly exuberant Sufi performance from the Fez Hamadcha. Add in the sunshine and it became a perfectly fine way to close the festival

Samira Saïd still going strong

Yom – The Silence of Exodus - Review by Lynn Sheppard

Yom took the stage at Jnan Sbil and introduced his band members: Farid D on cello, Claude Tchamitchian on double bass and Bijan Chemirani on percussion. He explained that the concert they would give today, The Silence of Exodus, was his own composition and would be performed without a break as one single piece.

The Silence of Exodus is based on the story of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. It was billed in the festival programme as dealing with "the universal confrontation of the human being with his existential solitude through all types of exodus." Anyone in the sparse crowd attending the concert who had not read this would frankly have found it hard to understand the meaning of the music.

It began with solemn, sad, jarring chords on the double bass, which were joined by Yom's clarinet adding a wistful, longing feeling. As the percussion was introduced, the sense was of walking or marching, but again this impression was influenced by having read the synopsis.

Reflecting the central role of the instrument in Jewish music, Yom barely stopped - his clarinet was present throughout almost all of the 70 minute piece. Although our surroundings in the lush and well-watered gardens were far from the barren desert traversed by the Jews, today's sweltering heat seemed to multiply the feeling of unease generated by the discordant music, replicating the discomfort of exile.

This was a challenging piece of music - the more upbeat, jazzy sections didn't last long and it was clearly intended to be provocative. Nonetheless, the talent and stamina of the musicians was remarkable and when our uncomfortable journey came to an end the audience rose to its feet in admiration and awe. One British festival-goer said "I loved it!"; Thomas, from Spain was moved, saying it was "masterly".

Review and photographs: Lynn Sheppard

Samira Saïd – Moroccan Singing Star - Review Hedd Thomas

The final concert at Bab al-Makina saw Morocco’s very own pop sensation Samira Saïd perform to an expectant audience of old and young. The former might remember her best from her 1980 Eurovision Song Contest entry ‘Bitaqap Khub’, which earned Morocco a measly sept pointe on their first and only attempt. Despite this, it launched her career, which has gone from strength to strength, earning her a whole host of international awards. The younger ones here tonight might have been more familiar with her latest albums, Ayza Aeesh and Mazal, which take Arab pop to uncharted territories of commercialism. She has been lauded and lambasted in almost equal measure for thrusting Arab music into the pop-for-profit arena of 21st century music. The question would be, who would she please tonight? Which half of the audience would be wishing they were instead watching the final of the 2016 Eurovision, which, by coincidence, was happening at exactly the same time?

Bass has been missing in much of the Arab music this week but not so with Saïd, her bass guitarist dishing up a feast of funky riffs. Some stylish snare drumming and a little Latin flair on the congas gave her second song a fresh feel, forcing most people in the central stalls to their feet, phones and babies in hand. Security was tight, and they had to deal with scrums for empty seats and complaints about others standing in their way, so it was a relief to see sense and fun prevail, with most taking a “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach and getting up to dance.

Many of Saïd’s songs continued with this Latin layer sandwiched between the Arab pop, with Cuban jazz twinkling across the piano keys and the conga player switching every now and then to the bongos. After the earlier relief of the bass guitar, though, it was pumped up to too much of a good thing, his previously lucid vibrations now amplified into a messy sine wave soup. Samira’s soulful singing wowed the crowd, who sung along to ‘Ah Bahabek’s repeating line of “Ya Habibi” and delighted in singing whole chorus when she turned her microphone towards them. Yoi-yoi calls came from pockets of women in the cheaper seats, which visibly moved the honoured Moroccan. Many foreign festival pass holders admitted that the performance surpassed their expectations.

Date night in Fez

Leaving the Bab al-Makina while the music was still playing, it was clear just how young this audience was. Groups of boys and girls, teenagers and students, all huddled at the back of the palace chatting, laughing, determined to have a good time. Some looked around for friends, some for potential partners, some seemed to be on dates. Walking to the concert earlier, it seemed a shame that an artist with seemingly little to do with sacred music should be closing this festival, and ticketed at a price beyond what most of her adoring fans could afford. It felt like it should have been a free concert at the Bab Boujloud. But this was a chance to dress up, a chance to buy your fancy a ticket, a chance to impress and be a little grown up. It suddenly felt like this was a fitting event in a fitting venue, a fitting tribute to our young Fessi hosts, and that Samira Said was helping these young people to navigate their way through their confusing, changing world. Maybe with the right ears and an open heart, all music can be sacred music.

Review and photographs: Hedd Thomas

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 
Sufi Night Six Review
Day Seven Review
Sufi Night Seven Review
Sufi Night Eight Review


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