Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Guest contributor Mary Finnigan is a great friend of Fez and well known in Medina as the UK Co-ordinator Fes Festival of World Sacred Music. Here she shares some thoughts from abroad.

The drum beats get gradually louder as you negotiate Somerset country lanes, approaching the site where The Tribe of Doris is in full, glorious manifestation. The 2007 gathering started on a Wednesday, but I couldn’t get there until the Friday, so being drawn into the magic of the event by the sound of the drums was a bonus which made up for late arrival.

In case you are wondering why a festival in rural England is featuring on The View from Fes, let’s set this context without further ado. The Tribe of Doris is the brainchild of Siobhan Kierans who lives in Bristol, UK and also owns a house in the Fes medina. Siobhan has a Moroccan ex husband. She lived in Meknes for several years and speaks Arabic. She bought her house in Fes so her two sons could have a foothold in Moroccan culture.

Doris is now a much loved annual fixture, attracting visitors from many countries. People who return year after year – not to sit, listen and watch like a conventional music festival, but to take part in a plethora of participatory workshops. You can drum with world music stars like Seckou Keita and you can sing, dance and play music with teachers from all corners of the globe. For five days, everyday responsibilities are put aside as 1,200 Doris devotees pitch their tents or park their motor homes and plunge joyfully into a kaleidoscope of sights, sounds and activity. There’s a Well Being area offering massage, Reiki etc: There are lots of excellent food stalls, there are hot showers and the loos are cleaned twice a day. Heaven – additionally blessed this year with uncharacteristic hot summer weather.

Siobhan is nursing an ambition to introduce Doris-type events into the Fes festival landscape. If her energy and enthusiasm stay at their present level, I have no doubt whatsoever that she will succeed.

This year, for the first time at Doris, my partner Chris Gilchrist, assisted by Gwill Wright, held daily Quarterstaff sessions – which were much appreciated by blokes who feel a bit left out from workshops like belly dancing. Quarterstaff is a British martial art -- resurrected by Chris and his friends at Cambridge university in the 1970s. It involves moves, passes, flourishes and sparring with big sticks and aims at creating poise, discipline and depth of understanding of the way of the warrior.

Chris (pictured above) “discovered” the Fes Festival via an article in The Daily Telegraph. We turned up for the first time in 2003 and fell immediately under the Fes spell. I thank Chris for many things – most importantly his love and companionship – but also for bringing the Fes Festival into my life and coming with me almost every year to enjoy it.

There is a more subtle link between Doris and Fes which rests in their shared foundations in spiritual awareness. While Fes celebrates the sacred with performance, Doris insists on experience. Nothing illustrated this more vividly this year than a five hour lila led by the formidable Algerian Berber dance teacher Amel Tafsout (pictured below)

Anyone who arrived at the Dome tent at 8.00pm expecting just to learn how to spin like a dervish was in for a big surprise. Amel’s role as a dance teacher is rooted in her devotion to the Sufi path – and her knowledge of how to put it into practice. Superficially she teaches dance – at a deeper level she teaches esoteric insight. Amel led us through a series of powerful breath and movement exercises, explaining along the way that the aim of the evening was to introduce us to the trance state.

As the emphasis on this increased, several people dropped out. Those of us who stayed learned to spin and find our still point in the process. It was not at all easy to do this on rugs laid over slightly sloping meadow grass – and I regretted the two glasses of wine I’d had with my supper. Finally we moved into hadra – inducing and experiencing an altered state of consciousness generically described as trance. I am sure it was different for each individual. In my case the “letting go” aspect seemed similar to Chaos in Five Rhythms Dance -- but the effect was different. A very relaxed, comforting bliss state. It was past midnight when we dispersed.

My last and most unexpected Fassi connection happened in the Saffron Kitchen curry tent on Sunday night while the Celebration Party was in progress. I’d seen a couple I vaguely recognised while we were part of the circle enjoying the fun. But when Christopher and Sonia walked into the curry tent, the penny dropped. They were in Fes in 2006 and took part in the healing ceremony Chris my partner and our friend the journalist Peter Culshaw organised for me with Shiekh Said Guissi and the Aissawa Sufi brotherhood.

I was happy to report “so far, so good” with my cancer treatment.

Sonia told me that she too, is in love with Fes: “I’d buy a house in the medina to-morrow – but we have four children and they’re all still at school.”


1 comment:

Bijoy said...

hi there, i stumbled across your blog while randomly searching the blogosphere, nice one you have here, i also find the design to my liking. do keep up the good work.

warm regards from the other side of planet earth. i'll be back for more.

Deep Regards

Biby Cletus