Fez says "Salem Alaikum" to Christine Salem from La Réunion - Review by Hedd Thomas. Photographs by Faith Barker
In stark contrast to yesterday, the afternoon concert at Jardin Jnan Sbil was sparsely attended. There had been intermittent light showers all day and one decided to break just as the public were leaving their hotels and riads. Around a hundred thought it worth the risk and, with hoods and umbrellas up, were happy to see the wet tarpaulin lifted off the stage at exactly 4:30 pm.
Festival director Alain Weber provided a monolingual introduction to Christine Salem and her French/Réunionnais band, assuring the crowd that it wouldn’t rain anymore as the musicians had just performed a ritual to stop it. Sporting her iconic afro, the maloya singer began her set with ‘Walé’, a cool track from her new album Larg pa lo kor that saw electric guitarist Sébastien Martel play a series of funky extended chords before percussionists David Abrousse and Harry Périgone took up the tempo.
The band stopped as the drizzle became a hazardous rain, Martel announcing that, as the father of two young sons, he was in no mood to be electrocuted. It’s a wonder why a canopy couldn’t have simply covered the stage for the whole week, and the microphones were picking up talk by management of cancelling the concert. The musicians were having none of that, though, and retreated under a single standing umbrella to continue, Christine Salem singing through the lone working microphone while the others turned acoustic.
Sometimes out of chaos comes joy, and this was certainly the case this afternoon. With the electric guitar out of commission, what was meant to be part of a promotional tour for Salem’s new album became a rendition of favourites from her 2013 guitar-free CD Salem Tradition. Harry Périgone supported the lead singer with heavy beats on his barrel drum and some vocals of his own, beaming with pure bliss in responding to her calls of “Pile,” “Alouwé” and “Djinn” despite their heavy subject matter: slavery, aggrieved ancestors, political oppression and the fight for a free Réunion.
With smokey alto tones, Salem accompanied herself on the kayamb, a flat, tray-shaped shaker made from reeds and seeds. From gently tossing it like a green leaf salad to shaking it with the vigour of a bad cocktail mixer, she showed that the simple instrument found throughout the Mascarene Islands has a remarkable versatility. David Abrousse tried in vain to make his triangle heard and Sébastien Martel had little luck in improvising on his harmonica, so it was to everyone’s relief that the rain finally let up and allowed them all to plug back in.
With the return of the electric guitar, the percussive mood that characterised the first half gave way to a second that was more melodious. It was now that Salem’s unique dexterity could be fully appreciated, her gutsy vowels and crisp consonants making clear why she’s the reining Queen of Maloya. Dressed in just a jacket, t-shirt and jeans, the natural performer commanded the stage, and it was easy to see why with leaders like this the entire genre of maloya was banned by the French in the 1970s. Its power to inspire people to action was best felt in her latest album’s eponymous song, ‘Mi larg pa lo kor’, which featured intense spoken word alongside heartfelt song and earthy, gritty, persuasive percussion. Every beat went through the body with a thud - though that might have been the huge speakers - and forced those of a youthful spirit to rise up, if not in arms or political protest then at least in dance, much to the annoyance of those who wanted to remain seated and still see the stage.
|Singing through the rain|
Despite the rain, Paul from Wales and Harriet from England both really enjoyed the concert and were so glad they decided to keep playing, “but it’s a shame about the guitarist, he was really bluesy and fun.” The star dancer in the audience was Fabian from Belgium, who had been following Christine Salem for a while on Spotify but was clearly having the time of his life at hearing them live for the first time. In a way, the Fes Festival was the wrong place for this concert: Christine Salem’s raw, penetrating music demanded a physical response, and her band’s energy deserved an audience ready to strip off their wet clothes, submit to the music and dance in the rain. With the weather forecast as it is and her CDs here on sale, that might be something to try this week.
|Star dancer Fabian from Belgium|
Bab Al Makina: Divas of the World - Les-Divas-du-monde - unless it rains.
This concert with two powerful women - Hindi Zahra and Oumou Sangaré - promised to be a festival highlight, but at 8.55 pm, five minutes before the concert was due to start, and after queuing for an hour outside in the rain, hundreds of decidedly damp and disgruntled festival patrons were finally told that the event was cancelled.
Oumou Sangaré must feel she is jinxed in Fez, as she suffered the same fate last year when her concert with Tiken Jah Fakoly was cancelled due to the very wet weather.
"We need to know our origins, where we are from. As artists, we are trying to get close to these roots through our music. Africa is rich. Africans aren't poor. We are rich in everything which is necessary." - Oumou SangaréIt is too early to say if the concert can or will be rescheduled, but one thing is certain, Oumou Sangaré is unlikely to try her luck again next year.
|Hindi Zahra's many fans were disappointed|
It is little consolation for visitors that Hindi Zahra is considered a local and therefore more likely to be performing somewhere in Morocco in the next few months. Hindi Zahra is from Khouribga in Morocco, and a descendant of a long line of Amazigh and Tuareg musicians, her ancestors are members of the Oudaden tribe and it was her parents and uncles who introduced Hindi Zahra to the Amazigh culture and taught her the rudiments of traditional Gnaoua music.
It was also disappointing that the festival not only had no plan B, but made no mention of the cancellation on their social media sites (Facebook & Twitter).
But as compensation, here is Hindi Zahra singing in the Amazigh (and English) language!
Boujloud Square 22h00: (Free concert) Mourad Bouriki | Lamia Zaidi
|Only a few fans braved the steady rain at Boujloud|
Dar Tazi Sufi Night - Tariqa Harrakiya from Safi - Cancelled
Tomorrow at the festival (inshallah)
Monday 9 May Jnan Sbil Gardens: 16h30 Officina Zoé – Italy
Women’s songs of love, work and healing with Maria Mazzotta (voice) and Maristella Martella (dance)
NIGHT IN THE MEDINA I: EVENING RAGAS
Dar Adiyel: 18h00 Rageshri Das presents Khyal songs from Kolkata, India
Prefecture Hall (opposite the Batha Museum) 19h00: Shashank Subramaniam and Rakesh Chaurasia
Masters of the Bansuri flute from Chennai and Mumbai, India
Prefecture Hall 20h30: Ustad Irshad Khan – Toronto, Canada
Sitar and surbahar
Dar Adiyel: 20h30 Rageshri Das
Ghazal song from Kolkata, India
Boujloud Square: 22.00 Batoul Marouani: Hassani Song | H-Kayne
Sidi Mohammed ben Yussef Cultural Centre 22h30 The King of Ghosts: Premiere – India & Morocco. Cinema/Concert : composed by Soumik Datta, Johannes Berauer and Cormac Byrne for the film Goopy Gayen Bagha Bayen by Satyajit Ray (1969)
Dar Tazi Sufi Nights 23h00: Al Touat Tariqa
Tomorrow's weather: Rain early then cloudy with showers. Evening should be cool and cloudy but little rain. 20 Degrees Celsius down to 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
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