Saturday at the Fes Festival was all about great voices - Brazil's Virginia Rodrigues in the gardens, the tribute to Oum Kelthoum at Bab al Makina and Reda Taliyani drawing a huge crowd to the Boujloud Square. And along the way there was some very inventive instrumentation - a bloogle resonator!
Virginia Rodrigues – Brazil's Celestial Voice - Review by Lynn Sheppard
Virginia Rodrigues' band opened their afternoon performance appropriately with a song summery-sounding track which seemed to celebrate the improvement in the weather. Upbeat and sunny, it circulated around the audience like the light breeze which blew through the palms of Jnan Sibil and heralded the arrival on stage of Ms Rodrigues herself.
Before taking the microphone, she sprinkled the stage with holy water, presumably to appease the orixás (gods), who are as part of Rodrigues' heritage and upbringing as the Protestant and Catholic churches where she first learned to sing. From a poor, Afro-Cuban background, Virginia Rodrigues did not grow up in the kind of environment where opportunities are plentiful. Nonetheless, she was discovered by Caetano Veloso, Brazilian composer, singer, musician, writer and political activist and is now in a position to travel the world sharing her repertoire and her incredible voice.
Rodrigues' repertoire ranges across many genres. Some tracks sounded choral, like they wouldn't be out of place in a church, while others had a more festive, samba beat. Some, like the second track of her set, sounded more jazzy or drew on the famous Brazilian bossa nova rhythms. But the passion and emotion of the lyrics, not to mention the incredible range of her voice, immediately set Ms Rodrigues apart from vocalists of the easy listening variety, even for those of us who don't understand Portuguese.
Today's concert was an opportunity to showcase Rodrigues' new album, Mama Kalunga, which was released just last month. The album tracks were arranged by the three musicians on stage with her today: Bernardo Bosisio (guitar), Lura Ranevsky (cello) and Marco Lobo (percussion). The set also drew on her other four albums and showcased each of the musicians' talents as well as Rodrigues' vocals and her unusual grunts and gasps.
Many of the tracks were based around a huge range of traditional and less traditional percussion sounds, created from shells, bells, plastic tubing, a plastic bottle, a birdsong whistle and the distinctly more recognisable drums and tambourine. One track featured percussionist Marco Lobo wearing ankle bells and playing a berimbau (a single stringed percussion instrument resembling a bow) opposite Rodrigues in a kind of duel on stage.
Although Rodrigues began the set with more solemn and melancholic songs, as the concert continued, the mood lifted. With the fantastic weather and in the lush green setting of the Jnan Sibil gardens, it was impossible not to be joyous and once the vocalist introduced a samba from her native Bahia, several members of the audience - the young and young at heart - were on their feet dancing.
By the end of the set, Rodrigues was dazzling us all not only with her voice but with her smile. She would have brought a ray of sunshine to Fez, no matter the weather. She seemed to be energised by the enthusiasm of the crowd and began lift her skirts and wiggle her hips around the stage. At the end of more than 1.5 hours on stage, she shimmied off, only to be called back for an encore, which she granted with an absolutely stunning accapella spiritual track. And with that, our journey to Brazil was over and the crowd dispersed through the gardens into the medina of Fez.
Review and photographs: Lynn Sheppard
Tribute to Oum Kelthoum - Review by Hedd Thomas
The penultimate concert at Bab al-Makina saw a tribute to the “Star of the East,” Oum Kelthoum, performed by the Kawkab El Sharq Ensemble of the Cairo Opera Orchestra. Founded in 2014, the sixteen-man orchestra and four female singers perform every first Thursday of the month at the Opera House, just as the Arab World’s most famous singer did for many decades, but in Fez this Friday night they found themselves in the different environment of a cold and windy open-air stage. The compares promised “a journey of emotion” and thanked the huge audience for coming to the concert despite “the whims of the weather,” this being the first of the festival to see every seat allocated to sponsors taken
Dressed in natty black tie and with visibly slick, oiled-back hair, the members of the orchestra walked on stage to muted applause. By contrast, the conductor wore a straight tie and sported a grade one shave. A half-size mock up of the Bab al-Makina itself illuminated the facade, deep space stars, galaxies and nebula gorgeously but somewhat contradictorily beamed above the crenelation alongside a bright full moon. Needless to say, this bore little resemblance to reality tonight.
The orchestra struck up with an instrumental number, its rather tinny sound in need of deeper strings. Suddenly slowing, a keyboard solo emerged, its processed sound like a cross between a musical box and a computer game. It can only be hoped that a real piano is used in the opera house. Curiously for an institution of that type, their best players were those playing traditional Arab instruments: the oud and kanun player ended this opening piece with virtuosic delicacy, and the doumbek (goblet drum) player’s blistering solo in a later piece brought the oversized house down with clapping, in-seat dancing and even ululations from the thrilled throng.
The first of four singers entered, whose names were regrettably not announced or published, and after an introduction on the kanun to introduce the song’s tonality she proceeded to sing long, drawn-out syllables, milking almost every one for all their worth. Her voice was slightly husky and her presentation a little coy as smoke billowed up from back stage. The second song was a much darker affair that she sung from her chest at the bottom of her register while the lone cello and double bass upped the ante against the orchestra’s earlier tinny tone. The wind picked up and it blew through the microphones, seeming to take away with it much of the music’s momentum. A lengthy and lethargic section followed, which finally picked up towards the end, her trills and microtonal turns earning a rapturous applause.
Other singers took different approaches. Wearing a pink dress though not holding Oum Kelthoum’s trademark scarf, one had a voice that was powerful and rounded, if a little unfocused, and she sang with her emotions on full display. By their very nature, songs can be appreciated in full only by those who understand the text, preferably also with an appreciation for its context. The contrast between the locals and visitors tonight was stark, with the former clapping and singing along while many of the latter left early, intrigued, if not captivated, by what they heard.
Tomorrow (Saturday) at the festival
Jardin Jnan Sbil - 4.30 pm - Yom – The Silence of Exodus
Bab Al Makina - 9,00 pm - Samira Saïd – Moroccan Singing Star
Boujloud Square: 10.00 pm - Ba-jloud – Aminux
Dar Tazi Sufi Nights 23h00: The Fez Hamadcha Sufi Brotherhood
Thursday's weather: Mostly sunny. Some cloud and a cold night. High of 22 degrees Celsius and a low of 9.
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
Samira Saïd Preview
Sufi Nights & Boujloud Concerts