Monday, June 16, 2008

Fes Festival - it's a wrap!

Nine days of afternoon and evening concerts, Sufi nights, art exhibitions, children's events, free concerts in the medina and the new city, Rencontres debates on the sacred, more talks at Palais Jamai, fringe events at Dar Batha ... all in all a very busy time. How was it for you?
Marie Boine

Our pre-Festival pick was the Marie Boine concert, which we thought was one of the highlights of the Festival. The Qawwali fusion with Gospel was delightful, and the Bach sublime.

Qawwali and Gospel

Another attempt at fusion was less successful: the Julien Weiss Al Kindi Ensemble overwhelmed the Greek choir but the whirling devishes were fabulous as always. Many cognoscenti appreciated the Vietnamese afternoon, and the Balinese were beautiful to watch. The Touregs were very popular as were the Sephardic songs from La Roza Enflorese. Less successful was the somewhat wooden Quatuor Ysaye with their Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross and Ismael Lo's final performance of very old material, though it was good to see the Hamadcha Brotherhood on stage. Not at all good was Jessye Norman's opening night.

2008 was not a vintage festival and one is left with the impression that the programme was assembled on a very tight budget. The feeling is that the Fes Festival needs more money pumped into the artistic director's function of booking artists. In years past we've seen luminaries like Youssou N'Dour and Ravi Shankar, but such stars seem to be sadly missing these days.

The festival retains its magic largely via the Musee Batha concerts, where serious afficionados listen in respectful, silent appreciation. It's at the Batha that you experience the weird, the wonderful and the big surprise -- the artist you think you aren't going to like who ends up making your heart dance.

Sticking to sacred music would also be a good idea. Just because Ismael Lo is a member of the Tijaniyya brotherhood doesn't make his music any less pop-oriented.

Some criticism:
  • let's have readable, good English translations in both the press kit and the information sheets handed out at concerts.
  • the late lamented big marquee at Bab Makina was missed, where you could sit in comfort and someone would bring you tea. The bank-sponsored pavillion occupied too much space, most of which did not appear to get used.
  • Even during sublime musical moments the crowd at Bab Makina shouted at each other across the rows or talked loud and long on mobile phones. There has been a request for 'no-talking zones' but to no avail.
  • audible simultaneous translations at the Rencontres would be a good idea
  • we noted fewer bums on seats this year. The Festival has to move forward and grow into new ideas - what's being done about this?
Hamadcha Brotherhood and Ismael Lo

And some noteworthy praise:
  • it's a great idea to have the free concerts programme on banners throughout the city and and excellent policy to feature local bands
  • the press photographers were much better behaved this year with the first 10-minute rule of photographing the artists-
  • It's a huge job putting on such a big Festival, and The View from Fez congratulates the whole team.
What's your view of the Festival? Comments welcome.

Report by Lumen and Mary Finnigan. Photo credits: Sandy McCutcheon.


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