Saturday, June 30, 2018

Fes Festival Day Nine - Review

The Festival ended on a high note with the audience responding overwhelmingly to a performance from the Soweto Gospel Choir  - with commentary and songs in English. Earlier in the day the audience were dancing in Jnan Sbil gardens

FEST NOZ SYMPHONIQUE 16:30 JARDIN JNAN SBIL: Review and photos Lauren Crabbe

The weather was warm again in Jardin Jnan Sbil, but Fest Noz Symphonique soon dropped the temperature with their cool fusion of old and new music from the Celtic region of Bretagne (Brittany). The ensemble seeks to push the boundaries of rhythm and tempo while retaining the traditional spirit of Breton dance music. The audience was treated to a rockstar performance from start to finish, which, at the same time, remained true to its ancestral roots.

grungy guitar solos by Gregory Dargent

The musicians (who also performed in Goran Bregovic's orchestral spectacle the previous night), sporting earrings, neck tattoos and sleek shades, alternated between sombre songs such as marches and gutsy jigs with shades of gothic rock, and plenty of cheery flute. The orchestra played with classical discipline under some fervent conducting, but boldly cut through with grungy guitar solos by Gregory Dargent and fierce accordion from Janick Martin.

Annie Ebrel

Annie Ebrel's galloping French vocals and stamping feet lent fiery energy to the ensemble, who were soon dripping with sweat and even tearing up at the emotional power circulating on the stage. At times, the backing music would cease as she sang alone, and all eyes were glued to her, utterly captivated.

It was Celtic music that grabbed you by the arm and dragged you to the dance floor; literally in the case of some people, who got up to dance during the encore. Sassy and full of spirit, it was a heartening concluding performance in the gardens.

Fierce accordion from Janick Martin

SOWETO GOSPEL CHOIR 21:00 BAB AL MAKINA - Review and photos Venetia Menzies

Amazing Grace - original member Shimmy Jiyane on the right

South Africa’s famous Soweto Gospel Choir performed the closing show of this year’s Fes Festival, with a performance that was one of the best of the Festival.  Bringing more colour, energy and joy to the stage than any other group of performers, the Grammy Award winning troupe had the audience on their feet dancing by the end of the night, a first for this Festival at Bab Makina. Indicative of their humility and pure joy for performance, they began the night by inviting the audience to clap to a beat, dancing and riffing over their rhythm.

In between powerful group harmonies, members of the choir would come forward one by one, showcasing a diverse range of vocalists, the rest of the entourage dancing in unison behind. The Choir, created in 2002 by David Mulovhedzi and Beverly Bryer, specialises in devotional gospel music, drawing on talent from across Soweto to celebrate and share the joy of faith through music.

South African music has been tied to ideas of revolution and salvation for decades, and during the final years of Apartheid (1948-91), ‘toi-toi’s became increasingly popular. These involved congregations of singers assembling to express their unhappiness and disapproval of government rulings through song, asking God to bring peace and order. Celebration of South Africa’s current freedom was a common theme throughout the performance, with songs being dedicated to both Nelson Mandela, whose name was repeated in chorus, fists raised in the air, and another to his late wife Winnie Mandela.

The narration in English and a wealth of Anglophone songs proved hugely popular to the audience, with cheers of appreciation in response. A tender song performed by the female vocalists was followed by a cheeky caricature of male flirting techniques by the men of the group, including screams of ‘Hey Baby’ at lucky audience members whilst making dance moves mimicking animals in the hunt. The sheer scale of movement on stage surpassed all previous nights, with vocalists continually dancing and belting out from their lungs.

English language narration and songs were a relief to many in the audience

‘I need God in the morning, I need God in the day, I need God in the evening’ the ensemble sang whilst slapping their thighs, touching their toes and dancing like Zulu warriors. They spoke to the audience on topics they can relate to, songs celebrating the power of faith and optimism. The undeniably powerful Amazing Grace, a song only to be attempted by the best, was performed flawlessly by four singers, including original member Shimmy Jiyane, each taking solos, reducing the audience to silence.

Mazwe Shabalala

As Choir Leader Mazwe Shabalala asked the audience if they wanted to go, or they wanted to sleep here, they began an impromptu encore that the audience did not expect. In another festival first, a traditional Fez Moroccan choir joined the stage in the last minutes, singing the Shahadah, praising Allah and making a statement of tolerance and unity between faiths. The Soweto singers danced around them as they rose in volume, harmonising with Hallelujahs, closing the festival on a celebratory theme of peace and cohesion.

Humdullilah and Hallelujah!


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