Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Fes Festival Day 5 - Review

Tuesday in Fez was, unfortunately, more of the same - rain, postponements, venue changes and cancellations. Yet, despite the inclement weather the majority of festival goers remained upbeat. It was a day during which the Chota Divina - the children of Rajasthan - filled in the gaps, performing in the afternoon and evening. 

Parvathy Baul in full flight - Photo Hedd Thomas

Chota Divana

Tucked away at the top of the Fes Medina behind Thami’s restaurant is the old Boujloud cinema. It has been closed for many years, but today played host to dozens of schoolchildren who came to watch Chota Divana: the children of Rajasthan. These young prodigies sing music which still plays an important role in the life of their community.

The songs track the cycles of nature and life, the wills of the gods, and the epic tales of popular heroes. The young audience at Boujloud had also watched a film, by Zaman Productions, documenting the lives of the boy singers.

It is always encouraging to see the festival organisers reaching out to ordinary Fassis in this way, responding to criticism levied repeatedly over the years that the festival is too elitist. The children clapped along with the musicians, and at one point two girls were ushered on stage by their teacher and danced. It was beautiful to watch their free and happy interpretation of Indian dance.

Jannat "I make it up in my head"

Jannat, 11, says no one taught her to dance like that: “I just make it up in my head.” Her teacher at Groupe Scolaire Les Champs told me that she had recently demonstrated her Indian dance skills at a school talent show.
Story and photographs: Faith Barker

Hawniyaz -  Review by Faith Barker

The dimly lit Batha Prefecture Hall was the perfect setting for the music of Hawniyaz, a contemplative creation which blends Kurdish folk music with jazz. The audience sat on carpets spread across the floor, some closing their eyes and lying down to appreciate the meditative and sometimes emotionally charged music of the group. The three artists play different styles of music but share common roots: Aynur is a celebrated Kurdish-Turkish singer who has become a symbol of Kurdish identity in Turkey; Salman Gambarov is a jazz pianist from Azerbaijan; and Cemîl Qoçgirî is a Turkish-Kurdish tembur player.

The music began slowly, with Qoçgirî closing his eyes and strumming the tembur softly and Gambarov joining him with gentle chords. After several minutes Aynur, a singer who mixes Kurdish folk tradition with contemporary influences, joined the musicians with her smoky, soulful voice. Her expression and tone recalled flamenco singing – she has in fact collaborated with Spanish flamenco guitarist Javier Limón -- and she drew the audience in with her emotional intensity and vocal agility. Floating between light sighing and powerful cries, Aynur blended beautifully with Qoçgirî and Gambarov’s fluid playing.

The three are usually joined by Kayhan Kalhor, a Kurdish-Iranian kamanche (spike-fiddle) player. It was perhaps a shame that he was absent, because while the music was pleasant, the arrangements lacked musical development and sometimes verged on the sentimental. There was little rhythmic intensity until their last song, “Hayder”, an Alawite Kurdish song which is used for trance. Qoçgirî strummed his tembur percussively, driving the music forward, and joining Aynur on vocals for the lively refrain.

At the Press Conference Aynur spoke passionately about the plight of the Kurds

Despite the occasional monotony, the audience seemed to enjoy it. They gave a standing ovation and the group returned for an encore, which happily turned out to be their most exciting song. Aynur dedicated the song, “Kurdish Girl”, to the women in the audience. It was a spectacular finish, showing off her full vocal range from wild almost-scatting to barely audible keening. While the concert could have contained more variety, the group captured the audience’s attention and briefly transported them from rainy Fes to the mountains of Kurdistan.


The performance by OY – Space diaspora –  was cancelled as their technical equipment did not arrive on time. According to Festival Artistic Director, Alain Weber, it will be rescheduled.  

The Dar Adiyel concert with Yulduz Turdieva was also cancelled. According to the Press Office it was due to visa problems.  In its place the Children of Rajasthan - Chota Divana - took to the stage for the third time today.

The Boujloud Free Concert with Daniel Masson & Omar Boutmazoukt was cancelled as was the Assaouia Tariqa Dar Tazi Sufi Night.

Chota Divana 2 - Review by Hedd Thomas

With the desperately damp Dar Adiyel bereft of Uzbek singer Yulduz Turdiyeva, once again it was time to bring in Divana and their child counterparts, Choto Divana. This would be the Rajasthani group’s fourth performance in Fez out of five this week, which, combined with the wet weather, made for few attendees. This was probably for the best, as the courtyard’s covered arcade was soon full.

The Langa and Manganiar musicians from the desert of India’s princely northern state began with a lively tune for kamaicha, a string instrument made from mango wood and goat skin, accompanied by the dholak (barrel drum) and, a festival favourite after Saturday night’s spectacular, the khartaal (castanets).

The rest of the concert was filled with folk and sacred songs, the children’s emotive melismas almost as slick as the courtyard’s zellige tiles, and interspersed with instrumental solos, the most memorable of which was Mehardeen Khan Langa’s on his double-piped satara.

Dar Adiyel was a pretty picture with rain on the slick zellij tiles
Story and photographs: Hedd Thomas

Ensemble Dialogos – Bosnia and Herzogovina. Heretic Angels: Popular Rituals and Beliefs - Review by Lynn Sheppard

Photo Philip Van Ootegem

Ensemble Dialogos, created by singer and musicologist Katarina Livljanić, is a constantly changing collaboration of singers and musicians brought together to interpret religious pieces from Medieval Europe. Anyone who accuses the Fes Festival of departing from its Sacred Music origins or who doubts the popularity of a concert consisting of the Lord's Prayer, at least three funeral dirges and John 1:1 needed to be at tonight's performance ... if they could have got in.

Katarina Livljanić - a pasionate performer

Those fortunate to gain entry to Dar Batha - which unfortunately has a significantly smaller capacity than the original venue, the Complexe Culturel Sidi Mohammed Ben Youssef  - were treated to an extraordinary event.

Sadly, once the venue reached capacity, many others were turned away in the rain, including those who had bought tickets.

The piece performed tonight, Heretical Angels, is a study on mortality examined through the religious ritual music of medieval Bosnia. Comprehension was assisted by Livljanić's passionate and theatrical performances. However there were only French surtitles and as has so often been the case at the Festival the many English speakers were ignored.

Through a collection of solos by Livljanić herself - many of them accapella, interludes of polyphonic chanting by a men's choir and instrumental sections - the ensemble performed the results of Livljanić's meticulous musicological research. Instruments particular to south-eastern Europe and the era featured, including a rebec (a lute-shaped medieval fiddle), gusle (a single-stringed instrument often used to accompany epic poetry) and a dvojnice (a Bosnian double flute). The entire performance was acoustic and you could have heard the proverbial pin drop (and every click of a camera shutter).

This is surely what is special about the Fes Festival - the opportunity to see something really unique and sacred performed by a prize-winning and avant-garde musical group. What made this performance all the more special was the juxtaposition of medieval Christian texts against the backdrop of a building in the contemporaneous style of Moorish Fez. Heretical Angels has been lauded all over the world and the ecstatic reaction of tonight's audience demonstrated that those many accolades have been well-deserved.

Parvathy Baul and Mehdi Nassouli – Poetry of Wandering Mystics: from Bauls to Gnawas

Despite the day’s troubles, it ended on a high with one of the most hotly-anticipated events of the festival. Bengali Baul poetress Parvathy Baul and Moroccan gnawa Mehdi Nassouli came together to explore the shared essence of their musics and delivered a triumphant performance to a capacity crowd at Prefecture Hall made up of visitors and locals alike.

"No-one comes and no-one goes"

Parvathy Baul started with a slow song that was a great introduction to her art. Dressed in saffron and playing the tabla and one-stringed ektara, she had everything she needed to sing her praise. Unlike in a trance, she moved with control, focusing her body and breath on mudra-like gestures and other traditional Baul movements. She followed this with a devotion to Ardhanarishvara, the Hindu synthesis of masculine and feminine energies of the universe and a mirror that reflects the whole of humanity. It was a tender but powerful performance with notes at the very top of her range sung with a clarity and confidence that could only have come from a strong belief in herself and in the text. Ending with a meditation on yoga, she explained that “In this world, no-one is dead and no-one is born: one comes from the five elements and goes back to the five elements. No-one comes and no-one goes. There is a world beyond the world we can see.” With anklets a-jangling, ektara a-twanging and dreadlocks a-spinning, she soared on a harmonious wave of joy and was rewarded with a thunderous applause.

Mehdi Nassouli - "I dance with shoes on".

With the ancient earthy sound of the gimbri, Mehdi Nassouli delivered a performance of fascinating similarities and differences. With dreads of his own, he sat rather than danced and delivered a calm, reflective set of songs about the saints, the jnun and Allah, pleasing the crowd with a clappable beats and rumbling riffs.

The climax came when Baul and Nassouli shared the stage together. With culture clashes comes humour, and the Indian teased the Moroccan for bringing his babouche on stage, saying, “In India, we never perform with shoes!” before picking them up and depositing them out of sight. A little later, the gnawa artist wanted to dance and had to fetch his footwear again, retorting, “In Morocco, we never dance without shoes!” Whatever differences may be, the similarities were striking, not least the monotones of their pizzicatos and the potency of their voices. In two difference languages, they managed to pull off an extremely rare thing in music: a genuine cultural exchange where the sum was so much greater than its parts. Away from the talk of “tolerance” and endless empty “dialogue,” this was a meeting of minds and music, a synthesis of souls, which is what the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music is all about.

"We dance without shoes"

Review and photographs: Hedd Thomas

Tomorrow (Wednesday) at the festival  - NOTE TIME AND VENUE CHANGES

Oy rescheduled - at Prefecture Hall at 4.30


Prefecture Hall - 9 pm: Lamar – Palestine Arab Songs from Palestine

Prefecture Hall. 10.30pm  Farida Mohammad Ali – Iraq The Voice of Maqâm

Boujloud Square: 10.00 Najat Atabou | l’ambassade du Pakistan

Dar Adiyel – 11pm: Ariana Vafadari – Iran and France Gathas: Zoroastrian Song

Dar Tazi Sufi Nights 23h00: Machichiya Tariqa: Al Houda Ensemble from Tangier

Tomorrow's weather: Clouds and a high chance of more rain with a high of 20 degrees Celsius and a low of 11.

The View From Fez is a Fes Festival official Media Partner

See our Fes Festival reports:
Opening Night Review
Day Two Review
First Sufi Night Review
Day Three Review
Day Four Review
Sufi Night 2 Review

Nights in the Medina 3 Preview
Istanbul to Fez Preview
Tribute to Oum Keltoum Preview
Samira Saïd Preview
Sufi Nights & Boujloud Concerts


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