Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Will the Mawazine Festival Survive?

The Mawazine ("Rhythms") Festival is a festival of pop music featuring Arab and international music icons. It has been running since 2001 and takes place annually in Rabat. Mawazine is one of several events which are intended to promote an image of Morocco as a tolerant nation, with a post on the event's website declaring that the festival intends to promote and "support Rabat, as a city open to the world". However, Mawazine has never been far from controversy. Now questions are being asked about its future.

Over the years a section of the community has criticised Mawazine for "encouraging immoral behaviour". There has also been criticism from politicians. As The View from Fez reported back in 2010, (see story here) the head of the Justice and Development Party (PJD) parliamentary group, Mustapha Ramid, led the attack on Sir Elton John's appearance at the Mawazine Festival, "We categorically reject the appearance of this singer because there is a risk of encouraging homosexuality in Morocco," Ramid said at the time. "The problem is not with the singer himself but the image he has in society," another leading party member, Lahcen Daoudi, added. "Moroccan society has a negative perception of this singer and we must take it into consideration."

Elton John performs at Mawazine

The performer Kayne West became embroiled in a Mawazine controversy in 2011 (see our story here) when he refused to speak to the press to help promote the festival’s theme of peace, hope, and tolerance. Moroccans were also disturbed by the amount he was paid. West received a reported $1 million for his nearly two-hour performance. One festival organiser, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “In this poor country, we could have built two or three schools with that money. The least he could have done was sent a message of hope to the people via the media.”

Kayne West at Mawazine

At a time when the Internet has become fertile ground for Moroccan activists, social media has become an important set of tools for those wanting to take a stand against the festival. There are a number of  Facebook pages calling for the government to cancel the festival. The most active page,  “The National Campaign for the Abolition of Mawazine Festival” has the slogan,“We are not against art but we are against wasting people’s money”. The page has a total of more than 35, 511 supporters of the campaign.

Abderrazak from Casablanca states in a comment on the site: “The ruling party PJD, that was always preaching and raising its voice for the abolition of the previous editions of the festival and exposing the huge amounts of money that were spent there, should react to what’s happening this year too. They are ruling the government now and they didn’t issue any statement towards this year’s edition of the festival and in the meanwhile, the organizers are still signing contracts with foreign artists. This is a black spot in the history of the current government.”

It seems like 2012 will be a repeat of previous years as the 11th edition of the Mawazine Festival (18- 26 May) is again being criticised, not for the morals of the performers, but for excessive payments to artists. According to reports, Mariah Carey, is due to receive more than $830,000 for her gig at the closing ceremony of the festival in Rabat.

Mariah Carey - to perform for $830,000

Nidal Chebbak, writing for Morocco World News, says that with her performance pay, Mariah Carey will rank second on Mawazine’s list of the highest paid entertainers, just behind the late Whitney Houston who received US $890,000 for her 2008 performance. Ms. Carey’s performance pay will also top that of her Colombian counterpart, Shakira, who recently received $772,000 for 30 minutes on stage.  And, according to Chebbak, "These obscenely high compensations are heavily criticized by the majority of Moroccans who object to the lavish music festivals for their waste money on international singers as opposed to meaningful investments that could help improve living conditions of millions of Moroccans".

A very good point is made in the Morocco World News article when they ask questions about the intentions of the new PJD government. Given the political party's previous strong statements concerning the festival, one would have expected a rapid response to the controversy over payments to foreign performers. After the last festival, and before coming to power, Mrs Bassima Hakkaoui, now the PJD's Minister of Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development, stated that she was, “totally against such events where money is wasted, instead of directing it towards a human societal cause that would benefit the people. The millions that were spent on the festival could have been invested to secure jobs for the unemployed Moroccan youth, or to provide food for the hungry, or set logistics for democracy. We need those billions that were given to a dancer to come to the closing ceremony of the festival,” she said.

Mawazine critic Bassima Hakkaoui

Morocco World News ends their story with a clever aside about sport and politics, saying that the Mawazine issue comes amid a heated controversy over the salary being paid to Morocco’s national team’s coach Eric Gerets. According to many news reports, he earns a monthly salary of 250,000 Euros, which turns him into the highest paid coach of a national team in the world. In exchange for this exorbitant salary he rewarded Morocco’s fans with a early and shameful elimination from the first round of the African Cup of Nations, which was hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

Read the Morocco World News article here. Morocco World News
Festival organisers: Maroc Cultures
Festival Website:  Mawazine



Ali El-Kassass said...

Mawazine isn't worthy to survive cause money huge money spent on it with no benefits only what so called ART .. and do you think what happen in Mawazine a real ART .. the question is, Mawazine "Festival" is the worthiest or the shanty towns and unemployed protesters ?"

Anonymous said...

You have touched on a very sensitive nerve for Moroccans.
I have no doubt that Mariah Carey is a worthy singer and entertainer, and she should get what one thinks she really is worth.
But when one puts things in perspective, these obscene, because they are obscene and then some, compensations paid for 1 or 2 hours worth of mediocre music, are nothing but a slap on the face of Morocco as a whole.
How can Morocco afford these huge payments for a music that does not even qualify to be called as such?
Festivals are one thing, but these huge payments are something completely different.
one thing worth noting here is that the man behind the Mawazine festival is nothing more than the personal secretary of the king: Majidi.
The real reasons behind these festivals have nothing to do with art, although one can always argue what does art have to do with Kanye West or even Mariah Carey. There are more obscure reasons behind this festival.
I don't want to turn your blog into a political forum, that's why I will not elaborate more on the real reasons behind these festivals.

The View from Fez said...

Hello Anonymous, thank you for your comment and sensitivity about not turning the blog into a political forum.

The View from Fez team

MR.H said...

I am from the U.K and a big Mariah Carey Fan.
Is it popular for people from the U.K to attend this festival?