Thursday, June 07, 2007

Fes Festival so far ...

A sadly depleted View from Fez team has been attending the major Festival events. The opening evening was a glittering event complete with the Her Majesty the Queen of Jordan (pictured below) and Their Royal Highnesses Princess Lalla Salma (pictured above) and Princess Lalla Meryem.

Friendly waves and a request to meet the performers at the end were all nice touches. However, the evening failed to enthrall; Barbara Hendricks' voice isn't what it once was, and we didn't really need to sit through Stabat Mater again when we heard it at the same event last year. Her encore was a wonderful Negro spiritual song, and it would have been good to hear more of that from her.

Technically it appeared that the sound system was also not on a par with previous years, and the lighting design? Frankly not up to a teenage rock concert standard - certainly not suitable for a royal opening night.

Pink neon hallucination?

Saturday was a good day. Iranian Parissa and her Dastan Ensemble performed one of the highlights of the Festival and the Batha Museum garden was packed with punters. In the evening, Johnny Clegg held the audience in the palm of his hand. He's a good showman, and his excrutiating French endeared him to everyone. While his music may not be all that spiritual, it does have a message of tolerance and peace, and his Zulu dancing - and Zulu backing singers - were highly entertaining. It hit the spot - away went the stuffiness of the first night, with everyone on their feet dancing and singing along.

Sunday ... well, those of us who got up at 3.30am were mostly disappointed with the dawn concert at the Merinides Quarry. Yes, the horse was beautiful and obviously well-trained. Yes, it was a good idea. But
the Sufi musicians Kudsi Erguner and Nezhi Uzel were playing for the horse, not for the audience, and there's only so much dressage at dawn that holds the attention. French members of the audience told of great Bartabas shows they'd seen before that included lots of horses and daring feats ... but this was sadly lacking. Lumen found herself looking at her watch and wishing she'd had time for coffee. A good touch was breakfast served after the show.

The Coro Gregoriano from Lisbon in the afternoon also failed to entrance. While Gregorian chant is a rigid form of music, there was no joy or animation in this concert, the singers were wooden and the conductor had an irritating style.

In contrast, Claire Zalamansky on Monday afternoon was lively and interesting with her range of Sephardic songs from Spain and France.

By far the most spiritually moving experience was the first ever performance of the Ayin-i Djem Sufi ceremony on Monday evening. A small audience sat hushed and overwhelmed by the seven whirling dervishes, musicians including the Pan-like Kudsi again, and the members of the Kadiria and Mawlawiya brotherhoods from Turkey. It's this and Parissa that stand out so far in this year's Festival.

Tuesday's Batha Museum concert featured Mauritanian singer Aicha Mint Chighaly and her ensemble. The audience were clearly happy with this offering. In the evening, Pakistani qawwals were thoroughly enjoyed. On Wednesday, a small (again) audience heard three Maghrebi women singing a rather 'popped-up' version of Arab-Andalous songs that didn't quite work.

Concerts at Bab Boujloud have been well-attended, especially when they feature local artists. Sufi nights draw lots of people, but certainly not the crowds of past years. The tea, soup and cookies stalls stand forlornly without customers.

We don't have figures, but it looks to us like attendance is down. Gone are the French (and other) intellectuals who used to attend Faouzi Skalli's Rencontres de Fes Colloquium. In fact, Faouzi's great contribution of starting the Festival 13 years ago along with Mohamed Kabbaj, doesn't even get a mention in the Festival literature or on its website. There's something missing this year ... something that just doesn't quite gel ... but we're not sure yet what that is.


There has been a great problem with members of the press this year. From the audience's side, it is very irritating and distracting to have some guy with a huge TV camera come and spoil your view at a concert. One man on Monday afternoon got up and left in disgust at such behaviour on the part of a particular cameraman.

From the point of view of the press, it is very difficult to get the right shot if you can't get close to the stage. To not have a press area is a display of absolute ignorance in the modern festival circuit. Getting the press to attend your festival is your first goal - the second is LOOK AFTER THEM! The newspaper or magazine has spent a lot of money getting their top people there and they have to come up with the goods.

But the attitude of the Festival management is the most bewildering. On Sunday morning at the dawn concert, the audience was asked not to take any photographs. Why not? Yes, it was understood by most that flash would disturb the horse, and the press refrained from using flash although members of the public did. However, a leading Australian photographer was told angrily by Festival staff that they were sick of members of the press being there to make money out of the Festival. A weird point of view when the press gives such great coverage throughout the world!

This problem is found at many Festivals. It has to be dealt with, and soon, if the Festival wants press coverage, that is. Perhaps an area specifically for members of the press would be better for everyone.

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