Monday, June 07, 2010

Triumph in the Medina - a night of music

It's been a very festive Monday night in the Fez Medina with concerts held in some wonderful venues: a sultan's summer palace, the music conservatory, a pacha's garden, a beautiful riad and a synagogue.

The View from Fez team set out to cover as many concerts as possible. Along the way we had a little help from our friends. Mary Finnigan from the UK was in the Mellah, the old Jewish quarter, for the concert by Gulay Hacer Toruk of Turkey. Here's her report:


Gulay Hacer Toruk is a young chanteuse from the Anatolia region of Turkey. Her contribution to Monday night's a la carte concert menu in and around the Fes medina took place at Arsat Ezrab in the heart of the Mellah, the old Jewish quarter.

Arsat means 'garden', but it is more like a city square which sits alongside the Ben Danan Synagogue. Now not a single member of the remaining 200 Fassi Jews lives in the Mellah.

But echoes of their history remain and are especially evocative for present day Jews who are keenly interested in their heritage. One of them is the UK's Mr Music, Norman Lebrecht, who is visiting Fes for the first time with his wife Elbie. Exploration of Jewish history together with the Sacred Music Festival was a dream ticket for them.

Elbie and Norman Lebrecht

"It is one of the oldest Jewish settlements in the world" says Norman, "A number of Jews came to Morocco as slaves with the Romans and although most of them have gone, they were part of the spectrum of religious and cultural tolerance that is embedded in the Moroccan state" .

The Sacred Music Festival is a manifestation of this tolerance and one could see a reflection of it in the concert in the Mellah. A Turkish diva singing about life, love and the Sufi spirit next to a Synagogue and before an international audience drawn from the five continents.

The local people too, were enchanted by an entirely new experience, especially the children who were shooed away by a large posse of police but defiantly crept back to positions on high walls and in windows all around.

Gulay Hacer Toruk sings from the heart with a touch of melancholy. She was accompanied by percussion and a clarinet.


Over at the music conservatory, Dar Adiyel, the renowned Mongolian musician Epi conjured up the sound of the wind over the steppes with his horsehead fiddle and overtone and undertone chant. His superb performance was one of the highlights of the Festival to date. His humour, stage presence and musical ability won over the audience of over a hundred. It seems a pity that such a strong performer cannot be seen in a larger venue. As one audience member commented "It is such a waste".

"Rarely does the voice of man come so close to nature", read the programme notes. And certainly in Epi's remarkable voice and playing, the land, the distant mountains, the rivers, the sheep and above all, the horses, were audible.

There are so many English speaking visitors to the Festival these days but the additional programme information is unfortunately still in French, so when Epi used English to speak to the audience he recieved a great reception.

The acoustics in the traditional medina houses are usually superb, and Dar Adiyel is no exception. The house is magnificent, with carved plaster, zellij (mosaic tile), fountains and carved cedarwood screens (mashrabiyya). It's good to see the house used for events such as this concert.


Tarramit Acrobats of Agadir

Dar Tazi was nonstop action tonight. Between acts the Tarramit Acrobats of Agadir gave a wonderful tumbling and human pyramid display.

British visitor Chris Gilchrist was at Dar Tazi this evening. Here's his report:

"Monday’s ‘night in the medina’ at Dar Tazi saw performances from the Musicians of the Upper Nile, Ustad Gholam Hossain from Afghanistan and the Mtendeni Maulid of Zanzibar who had given an electrifying performance at Bab Makina on Sunday. Dar Tazi’s atmosphere was more subdued than on Saturday or Sunday, and the all-paying audience got carpets to sit on in the newly paved area rather than the simple rush matting that had served on previous nights when public access was free.

The Upper Nile musicians as a group are no strangers to the Festival, though only two of the original group remain from the early 1970s. Their trio of mizmars (metallic oboes) created a haze of sound through which jazz-like improvisations emerged.

The audience seemed unsure what to make of this at first, but were soon entranced by the dancer, who whirled in spectacular style in a double-skirted wheel of colours, at one point disappearing inside what became a gyrating tent as he lifted the upper skirt above his head.

Ustad Gholam Hossain’s group comprised lute rebab, flute and percussion. Their Afghan melodies, similar to those of North India, are framed in a more declamatory and dramatic context, with abrupt pauses in the song resumed variously by percussion, rebab or voice. One sensed the group playing with the audience’s expectations, as they drew out such pauses before launching into new variations on their theme. Between these rhythmically powerful sections the singer had space to imbue the lyrics with a delightful warmth and fluidity. The audience were clearly disappointed when their set ended.

The Mtendeni Maulid has appeared in red at Bab Makina, but at Dar Tazi (see review here) they were in white. Again they were in two lines, the tall men standing behind and the youths kneeling in front, making sinuous synchronised movements as they swayed in time with their chants. They soon had the audience swaying with them, but one wished for the presence of more of the Fassi who would surely have responded more enthusiastically than the largely European audience to the devotional quality so evident in this performance."


The Constantinople Ensemble teamed up with the Corsican polyphonic quartet Barbara Furtuna in a remarkable concert at the Batha Museum.

Founded by the Tabassian brothers from Iran and Canada, Constantinople specialises in the music of the Mediterranean and the east dating from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Barbara Furtuna continues the age-old tradition of polyphonic singing found in Corsica. The repertoire is both popular and sacred, found at weddings, funerals, and sung masses.

The Batha Museum garden makes a good evening venue, particularly with the good lighting tonight. However, the reserved signs on every front-row chair is becoming somewhat annoying, especially when the 'important people' don't turn up.

Our report here doesn't cover all the concerts on offer this evening. Security in the medina was excellent - and there were lots of children were on hand to show people the way to the next venue!

Paticularly pleasing was the number of locals who made a point of attending. This evening was a great innovation and an even greater success. So many of the visitors to the Festival prefer to stay in the Medina and this night was a wonderful Medina event.

Locals Sanae Elogri at Batha with her mother

Mellah photographs: Mary Finnigan
Dar Tazi photographs: Lynn Evans Davidson and Sandy McCutcheon
Dar Adiyel and Batha Museum photographs: Sandy McCutcheon
With thanks to our contributors.

To see all the Fez Festival 2010 stories on The View from Fez, click HERE!


Rachid said...

Wow! You guys have it covered! Great work and great pics

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the second performance at the 'Synagogue' was not a triumph. The singer herself complained that she had expected to be playing inside the synagogue and she was clearly struggling against the noise of crowds of screaming unruly children in the square. The police did nothing to quiet them and the organisers should consider this next time they relocate to an outside venue at the last minute - it was extremely frustrating and disrespectful to the performers.