Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Fès Festival - A Night in the Medina - 2nd Night

The second of the Nights in the Medina went ahead without a hitch. Despite the last minute swapping of concerts between Dar Mokri and the Batha Museum, all concerts were well attended. The obvious reason for the change of venues was the expected crowd for Rabbi Haim Louk. The organisers got this right. The Batha Museum was the right venue for the Rabbi, and even then, it was packed to capacity.

Once again the people of the Medina welcomed the hordes of visitors with typical Fassi hospitality. Security and signage was first rate.


Dar Mokri - Nour Ensemble – Christian polyphony and Persian mystical song (France & Iran)

Walking into Dar Mokri and hearing the sound of polyphonic a capella was a wonderful welcome to a concert whose only problem was that it was too short. The blend of influences from East and West melded like the perfect spice mix; hints of Gregorian plain-song, Spanish cantigas and the evocative music of a Persian Oud.

Well performed polyphonic singing takes the individual voices and makes them into a whole that is more than the parts. The five voices on stage at Dar Mokri achieved this perfectly. So much so that the inclusion of the Persian traditional instruments - percussion, oud and whistle - while played exceptionally well, never produced in the listener the same deep serenity from which a true feeling of spiritual pleasure emanates.

The Nour Ensemble move between sacred Occidental polyphonies to the declamation of mystical Persian song. But it is the polyphony that wins out every time. It is the pure essence of the sound that makes its appeal universal. These are the sounds that can be heard in churches or on the docks of Croatian fishing villages, in the canto a tenore groups in Sardinia and the gorgeous women's voices from Pirin in Bulgaria.

Barbara from Chicago was in the audience and told The View from Fez that... "the singing was so gorgeous I felt light headed"

Had she been around in medieval times she would have had many who agreed with her, but who did not necessarily think the music induced feeling was a good thing  The sensual indulgence that polyphonic singing offers caused it to be labeled non-spiritual - even evil.

It was not merely polyphony that offended the medieval ears, but fear of secular music merging with the sacred and making its way into the papal court. It gave church music more of a jocular performance quality removing the solemn element of worship. Harmony was not only considered frivolous, impious, and lascivious, but an obstruction to the audibility of the words. Instruments, as well as certain modes, were actually forbidden in the church because of their association with secular music and pagan rites. After banishing polyphony from the Liturgy in 1322, Pope John XXII spoke in his 1324 Bull Docta Sanctorum Patrum warning against the unbecoming elements of this musical innovation.

Thankfully such history is behind us and the Nour Ensemble showed us tonight how East and West can come together in harmony.

Click here for  a musical bonus

Batha - Rabbi Haim Louk and the Arab-Andalus Ensemble of Fes – The Art of Matrouz: Arabic and Hebrew poetry.

Rabbi Haim Louk 

It was probably impossible to squeeze another person into the Batha Museum venue. The huge crowd knew what to expect. Rabbi Haim Louk was heading the bill and so it was "party time with the Rabbi".

The Rabbi in a playful mood

There is no doubt that Rabbi Haim Louk is a scholar and a man well versed in Sephardic poetry and liturgy but above all he is a superb showman. From the moment he walked on stage he had the audience in the palm of his hand and had their hands clapping along.

Rabbi Louk was born in Casablanca, Morocco in 1942. He became famous at a very young age as a musical prodigy. Blessed with a beautiful voice and tremendous talent, he has produced scores of audio recordings of the authentic Moroccan Jewish liturgy. Internationally recognised as a virtuoso of classical Andalusian music, Rabbi Louk has given recitals to rave reviews in Morocco, Israel, Spain, France, Belgium, Canada, Poland, and the United States.

While Rabbi Louk was centre stage, those he shared it with, the Arab-Andalus Ensemble of Fes, directed by Abderahim Souiri, made a great contribution to the performance. The percussion and particularly the violin playing was up there trading licks with the Rabbi. The high spirits on stage were evident amongst the Arab-Andalous musicians and that spirit was infectious. Even those in the crowd who did not understand the words were moved.

Pierre Deladeriere, Fes resident and second time festival attendee said - "Unfortunately I don't understand the words but it's a very strong, good energy and this energy brings a hope of happiness. It's formidable because the energy is diffused to all the spectators and it creates a mood of solidarity. Everyone is in the same mood even if we don't understand the words."

The meeting of the two cultures is the matrouz that subtly mixes Arabic and Hebrew words. As Fr Joseph Chetrit put it..."This embroidery of poetic words of poems from all epochs, down the ages, of all types and on all subjects, this matrouz, is the soul and the very essence of multiculturality. A culture that is plural cannot but embroider its differences and its different elements. Life is embroidery. One embroiders in every sense."

Tonight at the Batha Museum the audience were enthralled by this embroidery. A generous, spirited and joyful performance had both the crowd and the musicians grinning from ear to ear. There was a lot of love in the room.

Dar Adyel - Cherifa, Berber poetess of the Middle Atlas Mountains 

The second night at Dar Adyel showcased another female Moroccan singer, but there the similarity ended. Exuberantly dressed in hot pink and black flowing robes, Cherifa, the Berber poetess, was imbued with a joyful energy that was palpable.

A headband adorned with sequins and colourful threads held back her flowing black hair and both she and her musicians proudly wore Tamazigh letters embroidered on their costumes.

“We wear these symbols to represent Tamazigh culture to the world,” Cherifa told The View From Fez after the concert.

She began singing as a child and said she was self-taught: “My voice was a gift from God.” However she listed her greatest musical inspirations as the singers Hadawaki, Rwicha and Ben Nasrouk Khoya.

“I am very happy when I am singing,” she continued. “I love music and people and people love me.”

And love her the audience certainly did. Accompanied by a violin, a lawtar and drums the concert quickly built up to a joyful crescendo, the violinist’s fingers flying and the instrument (held vertically) pivoting on his knee.

Her plaintive but powerful voice sounded as if it was suited to calling across mountain valleys and being flung out at the sky. At one point she sat cross legged on the stage to engage more fully with the audience, and with a shimmy of her shoulders showed the crowd how to dance sitting down.

Others preferred to stand though, and enthusiastic lines of dancers, arms linked, showed their appreciation in true Moroccan style.

A truly joyful concert.

*Bjork spotting continues – she was in the audience and sat amongst the crowd on the carpet, captivated by the music, a half smile on her face and swaying to the rhythm.


Tomorrow's Programme
Wednesday June 13th
9.00 – 12.00 @ Batha Museum – free entry
Fes Forum: Giving a Soul to Globalisation
Theme – Towards a Strategy for Civilisation

14.30 – 18.30 @ Houria Cultural Complex
Children’s Activities
Expressions of Body and Soul / Calligraphy / Theatre

15.00 @ Palais Jamai, seminar room – free entry
Lecture of Michael Barry presented by Saad Khiari: Sun Bird, Soul Bird and Bird of Wonder - From Shaykh Attâr’s “Canticle of the Birds” to Saint Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the World’s Creatures”: visions of the Bird of Wonder.
Presentation of the book “Les 50 Noms de l’Amour; Le Jardin des Amoureux” by Fatima Mernissi

20.00 @ Dar Mokri (Nights in the Medina)
Al Arabi Ensemble (Morocco)

20.00 @ Dar Adyel (Nights in the Medina)
Terra Maïre - Medieval Sacred Songs of the Occitan People (France)

21.00 @ Batha Museum (Nights in the Medina)
The Song of Songs and a Tribute to Mahmoud Darwich by Rodolphe Burger

22.00 @ Dar Mokri (Nights in the Medina)
Al Arabi Ensemble (Morocco)

22.00 @ Dar Adyel (Nights in the Medina)
Terra Maïre - Medieval Sacred Songs of the Occitan People (France)

22.00 @ Bab Boujloud Square – free entry
Festival in the City
Asmae Lazrek
Abderrahim Souiri

23.00 @ Dar Tazi – free entry
Sufi Nights
Darkawiya Brotherhood (Essaouira)


Festival Programme
Festival in the City
Sufi Nights
Festival Forums
Festival Eating Guide
Art during the Festival #1
Art during the Festival #2
The Enchanted Gardens of Fez
Last Minute Accommodation

Reporting: Vanessa Bonnin, Sandy McCutcheon
Photographs: Suzanna Clarke, Sandy McCutcheon, Vanessa Bonnin

The View from Fez is an official Media Partner of the Fès Festival of World Sacred Music


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