Friday, June 22, 2018

Fez Festival of World Sacred Music - Opening Night

The Fez Festival of World Sacred music kicked off its 24th edition at Bab el Makina with its trademark opening night extravaganza and theme of 'ancestral knowledge'.
a single oud player dominated by the fluid lines of Arabic calligraphy

And if the strings of the lute should vibrate
I shall sing my song
And, with my steady voice
Tunes full of symbols and metaphors
And you, making me drink divine wine from your amphora
And candles, like a lighthouse, spreading their light
In such a fine and dreamlike atmosphere. - Ahmed Lel Grabli 16th Century weaver from Fez

Lalla Hasna

The programme elaborated on the ambitious creation, saying that "in the Arabo-Islamic tradition, aspects of handicraft know-how are originally linked to a divine or prophetic revelation, as evidence for the desire to integrate a craft to a wisdom  and to a practical and daily spirituality. The craftsman models and works on the material in the same way as the divine intellect configures the Soul in order to produce the cosmos, using shapes and colours. Therefore, the craftsman’s gesture is like a fragment of the universal action of the Soul, creator of the universe. Such creation will, thus, be a great poetic and musical evocation of the privileged relationship prevailing in the City between architecture, handicraft, brotherhoods and crafts.  Such reflections shall be  nurtured by the thoughts of the great Arab philosophers, both ancient and modern, inspired by Greek philosophy, particularly that of Aristotle." The editorial went on to say that "the most prestigious artists from Morocco and the Arab world shall highlight the traditional and modern aspects of these art crafts".

Newness was in the air at Bab Makina tonight. The walls had been re-plastered, there was a new team in charge, and for the first time the King's sister, Lalla Hasna, swept in with her entourage.

The Fes Festival theme for 2018, Ancestral Knowledge, was beautifully realised in this intelligent and well thought out production. It successfully crossed cultures and celebrated the art of making and how it is connected with the wider world and the universe beyond.

It was a welcome reminder of the original reason for the Fes Festival's existence - to bring people and cultures together; to find common ground.

The audience was guided through the production by a Shakespearean-style narrator, dressed in black, who shepherded listeners into the intoxicating strums of a sitar, which swelled into a grand symphony of Indian brass. The narrator led the audience on a journey through the history of the ancient city - a village of stone houses by the river, the growth of the urban centre; then in the 14th century, the rise of the artisan. "They gave the city its soul," he said, in French. "Working by hand was humble, yet their creations were rich, and in them was the divine." The visuals morphed from speckled constellations and feather mandalas to what looked like ancient cave paintings. The music switched nationalities from Indian to Andalusian, now earthy and primal and full of raw undulation from the two male singers.

The narrator spoke only in French and Arabic, with no English subtitles or text provided, so the linking stories tying together different nationalities under themes of craftsmanship, humility, and ancestry were lost on the Anglophone members of the audience.

However, the music and lighting worked well together – beautiful flute-like birdsong wafting through pop-up-book images of birds and the jungle fanned the crenellated walls. As quickly as they appeared, they were replaced by the cheerful, shuddering energy of the High Atlas Amazigh whose glyphs painted the surrounds like golden temporary tattoos.

The return of the Moors from Spain, and how Andalous and the Maghreb have long influenced one another was a strong theme.

Suddenly, the mood changed. The walls resonated with the rumble of a tap dance, like choreographed horses. A nimble man in blue with an impish grin busted out his swiftest flamenco dance. His body built a soundscape, from his toes to his gnashing teeth. He then challenged an elderly Moroccan man to match him. A flamenco singer, and a Maghrebi singer showed how the style of their songs were different, while sharing essential elements of rhythm and style.

Each subsequent part of the performance celebrated a specific craft. The "geometry of vertiginous tiles" was one of the most affecting. The deep and rich voice of a female singer, with long dark hair and wild eyes, called without words, and it felt as if she was transitioning time and space.

Song without words was stunning
There were visual references to astrolabes and travelling, as the world of the artisans grew ever bigger.

Other delights followed - dainty Balinese dancers to Andalous orchestral accompaniment, joined by the Rajastani drummers and dancers; a single oud player dominated by the fluid lines of Arabic calligraphy forming above him; an Amazigh group playing the gembri, with a singer whose voice could echo across mountains.

The end section of the concert led the audience back to modern Morocco, where we were overwhelmed by not only visions of roses but the dizzying musky scent of roses, wafting from the stage  - with the roses consuming the walls accompanied by a seductive violin - an aphrodisiac for what’s to come for the rest of the festival.

...and a scent of roses

Technically the production was by:
Alain Weber – Stage production and conception
Ramzi Aburedwan –  Music direction
Christophe Olivier – Lighting designer
Franck Marty and Spectaculaires – Spectacle managers and image light operators. Scenographic creation (mapping)

Tomorrow at the festival.
Dhafer Youssef



Weather: A top of 33 degrees Celsius going down to 16 at night.

Credits: Suzanna Clarke, text and photography, Lauren Crabbe, text and photography Additional text: Sandy McCutcheon


1 comment:

tom vichta said...

Good luck with it guys......looks sensational!