Thursday, May 12, 2016

Fes Festival Day 6 - Review

The Joy of OY

Day six at the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music was a mixture of music, sunshine and showers. The temperatures remained down and festival goers rugged-up. The offerings today included more appearances from the Chota Divina children from Rajasthan, songs from Palestine, Zoroastrian hymns and Iraqi Maqâm. However the highlight was a surprising one - OY, with a show called Space Diaspora - which was unfortunately poorly attended. 

In Fez expect the unexpected - OY "done good!"

OY -  Space Diaspora - Review by Faith Barker 

Psychedelic shifting patterns projected onto the wall of the Batha Prefecture, right between the portraits of Kings Hassan II and Mohammed VI, set the scene for OY’s afternoon performance. From the moment the duo stepped on stage it was clear they were going to take things in a different direction than the usual Fes Festival fare.

Lleluja-Ha  (think about it)

OY are a Berlin-based duo, consisting of Ghanaian-Swiss vocalist and musician Joy Frempong and producer/musician Lleluja-Ha. Their first album drew on sounds and proverbs gathered on a trip to Africa, transmuted to create eccentric and colourful music.

Today, Frempong wore a long tunic with a painted eye on the back, while Lleluja-Ha wore a headdress which obscured his face and had Cousin It-style dreads hanging from inside. Both looked like they had come from space – and in a way, they have. OY’s new album, Space Diaspora, imagines that the band were accidentally transported to a planet named Space Diaspora, inhabited by former earthlings. There they discovered strange customs, politics, and artistic practices. “I’m going to take you on a journey,” Frempong told the audience.

"You were born in translation"

Their performance delivered on its promise to elevate the audience beyond earthly mundanity. Lleluja-Ha was enigmatic at the drum kit, while Frempong radiated cool from behind her nest of synthesisers. She looped phrases, manipulating her soulful and versatile voice with electronic effects as well as creating her own by beating her chest with a fist as she sang into the microphone.

Life on Space Diaspora as depicted in the songs and the spoken-word sections between them is a reflection and distortion of our own world, conveying sentiments of modern alienation and transnational identity: “You were born in translation/You were found in translation”. At the same time it is tongue-in-cheek and playful: Frempong describes the political system of Space Diaspora where leaders stay in power only for a day, or tell jokes: “Joke number one – look in the mirror”.

“Change is gold”

The music is avant-garde but also highly danceable – on the song “Change is gold” Frempong chants trans- words (“transcendent, transport, transparent”) over a disco beat – recalling artists like Laurie Anderson and MIA. Projections of galaxies, sperm, and flashing colours were a visual accompaniment to the unique sonic landscape of richly textured synths and layered vocals.

Joy creates unique sonic landscape

“Everything is in constant flow, we do not know static moments on Space Diaspora,” Frempong said. This is a good description of how their music should be enjoyed. Unfortunately the audience at the Batha Prefecture were distinctly static.

“Everything is in constant flow"

Begonia, a yoga teacher living in Fes, pointed out: “They were fantastic, but I wish it had been at night and everyone was standing so you could get up and dance!” It is music for dancing - sweating and uninhibited - probably with something a bit stronger than mint tea. But the sparse audience, the time of day, and the fact that most people were on chairs meant no one was brave enough to dance.

Sadly, OY didn’t get much back from the audience – people seemed unsure of when to clap at the end of songs – and as a result the energy dipped a bit in the second half. However, it was lucky that the performance had been rescheduled at all after the group’s equipment did not arrive in time for yesterday’s evening concert. Even without dancing OY was one of the most interesting acts on the bill at the festival, and Frempong’s formidable voice and stage presence were captivating. As one Australian in the audience succinctly remarked, "OY done good."And so they did.

Review: Faith Barker. Photographs: Sandy McCutcheon


Lamar – Arab Songs from Palestine

Palestinian songstress Lamar presented a perplexing programme of tarab music at the Prefecture Hall. Wearing a white full-length dress with silver-sequinned belt and sleeve, she plodded along to the pedestrian pace of her percussion and bass, each heavy beat emphasising her unaccounted for despair in the first and second songs. Her expression was dispassionate, but her matter-of-fact style had a pleasing precision that betrayed her years of practice.

There followed an introduction for the flute of fluid phrasing that earned him the first spontaneous applause of the night. This seemed to warm Lamar up - or maybe that was the stuffy hall and stifling lights - and she started to sing lengthy and lyrical passages interspersed with solos for the oud and qanun. The orchestration was full and at times cinematic, but with everything neatly in its place - at least after the regular retunings made necessary by the heat - there lacked excitement.

That might have come with a change of style: Iberian influences came with castanets and a Cuban cajon piqued some interest but Lamar’s breathy tones made her sound even more like the porcelain doll that she looked, while cymbal crashes and familiar drum patterns got even closer to the cheesy pop her festival blurb promised wasn't her thing. This musical mishmash was indeed enjoyable listen to, but slightly uncomfortable to watch, and seemed even more uncomfortable for the Palestinian to perform, her sad, even bored expression saying she wanted to be anywhere except there. “A white priestess,” she was described as by one audience member.

Review and photographs: Hedd Thomas

Farida Mohammad Ali – The Voice of Maqâm

After a quick set change following the late-running Lamar, the 8-piece Iraqi Maqam Ensemble was seated on stage and ready to begin. Mohammad H. Gomar, band leader and husband of singer Farida Muhammed Ali, introduced the musicians. Alongside classical instruments from the western tradition such as two violins and a cello, were typical instruments of the orient: a ney, a qanun, a darbuka, a riq tambourine and Gomar himself on the djose, a 4-stringed instrument played with a bow and not dissimilar to a mini rebab. Gomar promised a night inspired by ancient Mesopotamia and 1001 Nights, which drew some spontaneous applause from a mixed audience of young and old, festival-goers and locals. Our appetites suitably whetted, the band launched into the muqadimma, a brief instrumental prelude.

Instantly, we were transported to a favourite cafe in a Middle Eastern city; the familiar rhythm of the darbuka overlaid by the sounds of the various strings creating an atmosphere of warmth and familiarity. However, our soundtrack for the evening was not to sentimental Egyptian film scores or Arabian pop. The role of the qârî (singer or reciter) in the Iraqi tradition is to deliver verses of qasida Arabic poetry or texts from the great Persian poets Hafez or Omar Khayyám. Our qârî, Farida, was guided on to the stage in a stunning royal blue faracha (butterfly) kaftan, dripping in gold brocade, sequins and beading.

A key characteristic of maqam is that the performers improvise within set rules. Farida's vocals portrayed tragedy and longing, accompanied by dramatic hand gestures which helped even the non-Arabic speakers in the crowd to get the gist. Behind her, the band got into the swing of things, delighting us with some stunning solos, encouraged by Gomar's smiles, nods and murmurs of appreciation. Despite the fact that some pieces were at least 10 minutes long, the performance was over in a flash and suddenly we found ourselves not sipping coffee on the banks of the Euphrates, but back in damp soggy Fes at the end of another day of festival surprises.

Review and photographs: Lynn Sheppard

Ariana Vafadari – Zoroastrian Song

After the “White Priestess” of the Prefecture Hall earlier this evening, Dar Adiyel hosted a “Black Priestess,” a French-Iranian mezzo-soprano of few consonants but many glorious vowels. Breathing life into the ancient Gathic language, Ariana Vafadari and her three-man band performed hymns of Zarathustra using traditional techniques with a contemporary twist.

The ethereal solo tones of a ney opened, which were soon met with jazz-style double bass pizzicatos. It was evident from the get-go that this was going to be a performance with a difference. Ney player Arman Sigarchi suddenly switched to an oud, the second of his three instruments that night, before Ariana Vafadari entered with a smooth and redolent timbre. There were level issues with the sound system, her bass and percussionist suffering distortion and clipping while Vafadari sounded very distant. It would have been interesting to compare the same concert without amplification.

Removing her fiery paisley-pattered shawl to reveal a svelte black hourglass dress, it would be a cliché to say that in the rest of concert she “soared above” her accompanists with her voice that was somehow both dark and clear, but that’s exactly what she did, her hands and arms leading the way with skyward gestures. It was all reminiscent of something out of Cirque du Soleil or perhaps a Ridley Scott film set long in the past . Perhaps the most evocative song of their set was the fourth, an a cappella duet between Vafadari and her percussionist-cum-singer Habib Meftah Bouchehri. Like the monumental stellated structure behind them, it was like a gateway into another realm, and though there was trepidation that the double bass may spoil the mood, it simply changed it to one that worked well in its own way, if by now a little repetitive.

The whole performance was sadly marred by mobile phones, their tinny 8-bit ringtones and noisy notifications cringingly audible above the serenity of a silky voice and open-stringed drones. There is never an appropriate time to be called at a concert but tonight showed just how many inappropriate moments there can be. Worse still, as it can’t be called an accident, was the sheer number of apparently professional photographers who haven’t yet discovered the electronic shutter on their DSLRs and amateurs who don’t know or don’t care that their point-and-shoots have a mute. The imperative to impair everyone elses’s view to take the perfect shot and the contorted positions some photographers found themselves in would have been comic had it not been so tragic, leading to many a disgruntled audience member admonishing their newfound neighbour. It was a detraction from what should have been a memorable concert for all the right reasons.

Review and photographs: Hedd Thomas

Tomorrow (Thursday) at the festival 

Dar Tazi - 10 am - Chota Divana and the school choirs of Fez

Jardin Jnan Sbil - 4.30 pm - Agraw – Mystical Amazigh Chants

Riad Dar Ben Souda - 6 pm - Shaykh Hassan Dyck and Muhabbat Caravan – Sufi meditations

Bab Al Makina 9 pm - Istanbul < > Fes – Turkey and Morocco

Boujloud Square: 10.00 Mahmoud Al Idrissi | Orchestra Khalid Ali

Dar Tazi Sufi Nights 23h00: Tariqa Boutchichia
 (Note: the Festival website says Tariqa Derkaouia but this is believed to be incorrect)

Thursday's weather: Partly cloudy with little chance of rain.  High of 21 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
Day Five Review

Istanbul to Fez Preview
Tribute to Oum Keltoum Preview
Samira Saïd Preview
Sufi Nights & Boujloud Concerts


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