Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Fes Festival Day Five - Review

Another glorious day in Fez with many visitors expressing their delight in the Festival so far. Today there was a broad spectrum of music with some performances leaving the audience enchanted while others received a mixed reception

SHAMS-FLUX ENSEMBLE ENSEMBLE SHAMS 16:30 JARDINS JNAN SBIL Review and photographs Venetia Menzes

(Click on any image to enlarge)

Kaykhosroh Pournazeri : Tanbur
Sohrab Poumazeri : Tanbur Kamantché , Song
Tahmoures Pournazeri : Tanbur, Oud, Song
Khorshid Dadbech : Tanbur
Hossain Rezainia : Daf

From the Western Iranian province of Kermanshah, Ensemble Shams delivered a captivating performance underneath the baking sun of Fez’s Jardin Jnan Sbil. Inspired by a fusion of Sufi, Persian and Kurdish classical music, their work celebrates the poetry of the great Sufi Master Rumi. Ensemble Shams, founded in 1980 by Kaykhosro Pournazeri, who led the performance this afternoon, made history in being the first group to exclusively compose music for the Kurdish tanboor lute, a fretted string instrument that embodies a sacred symbolism in the Ahl-e-Haqq religion.

As Kaykhosro’s sons Tahmoures and Sohrab Pournazeri took to the stage, they took a moment to close their eyes, shut out all external stimulation, and turn inward. Sohrab began softly playing the tanboor, and then slowly gathered speed, tossing his long hair back and forth lacking any self-consciousness. As the rhythm climaxed, his brother Tahmoures joined as percussion on the Kurdish daf, a traditional drum made with hard wood and fish skin, introducing a foundational beat as his sibling riffed with the strings. Tahmoures hands moved as if possessed, vibrating the drum in both hands, spinning it as he played, mouth open, sweat beginning to bead on his forehead. From the moment they had sat down, they seemed in another dimension, sharing with the audience only what sounds they could hear from wherever they were.

The Ahl-e-Haqq religion, the ‘people of the truth’ is a syncretic faith that was founded by Sultan Sahak in the 14th century Iran. Also known as the Yarsaris, they believe that the sun and fire are divine, and that they value principles of equality, righteousness, and oneness. Two realms exist within the Yarsari faith, the internal, batīnī, and the external human realm, zahīrī, each having their structures and rules. The sacred tanboor is a portal that allows musicians and listeners to connect with and experience the inner realm of batīnī. As the Ensemble Shams, named after their almighty sun, performed with their eyes rolling back in their heads, they entranced both themselves and the audience with ease.

Khorshid Dadbech

The founder and composer Kaykhosro Pournazeri took to the stage half way through the set, along with a female musician also playing the tanboor. After the Islamic Revolution of Iran, female musicians were banned in 1978 and it was illegal for them to perform in public. The Yasari people have long been persecuted by larger religions, but Kaykhosro has fought to keep a female presence in the group, who arrived on stage proudly in handmade traditional clothes. As the Ensemble began playing in unison, a new energy was injected, and the microphones tempted the audience with the hope of vocals. Warping time as they played, the speed rose and fell in unpredictable ways, increasingly exponentially until unexpectedly diminishing. Suddenly, with the flick of Kaykhosro’s hand, the tone, pace and melody of the piece changed and he leaned forward to the microphone.

It was difficult to see him singing beneath his thick moustache, a sign of a proud Yasari male, as prescribed by their secret holy text Kalâm-e Saranjâm. The lower notes, lacking melody but hypnotic nonetheless, were matched by his younger followers, who patiently waited for his cue to begin strumming. It wasn’t until the end of the set where higher vocals were introduced, and Sohrab began to sing with the same lack of control with which he played the tanboor, that the concert truly reached its peak. The audience emerged from the performance unaware of how much time had passed, dizzied by watching these musicians perform as if vessels of a divine source.


Rachid Brahim Djelloul Violin
Simon Elbas compositions, arrangements, song, luth
Noureddine Aliane Mandolin

An invitation to a journey through interwoven sonorities and musics, the repertoire of this concert was made up of of original Matrouz songs related to the Hebrew, Muslim and Christian cultural crucible of multicultural Andalucia. Compositions and arrangements are based on the interaction between languages, notably Hebrew and Arabic with French, Judeo-Spanish, Amazigh (Berber), Hebrew and Latin, and between musics : Judeo-Arabic, Oriental, Maghrebi, Andalucian, medieval and Judeo-Spanish.

"I am a fisher for the words of the heart," Simon Elbas

The cross cultural nature of this concert was evident within the first couple of minutes. The leader of the group, Simon Elbas, spoke to the audience in French, and sang in a mix of Arabic and Hebrew.

It was dedicated to the original Matrouz songs, which came from the  'golden age' of Andalucia, when Hebrew, Muslim and Christian were reputed to have lived together in relative harmony. There were also songs from other traditions, especially Judeo-Moroccan ones.

Rachid Brahim Djelloul 

Elbas emphasised the similarities between the traditions, with words such as shalom/salaam and hallelujah /hamdulilah.

His introductions were poetic, "I am a fisher for the words of the heart," he declared.

While another song, about the beauty of a garden, was performed, the scent of incense wafted across the exquisite setting of Dar Adyiel.

However, Elbas's singing was not always on key, and the songs lacked variation.

Noureddine Aliane

The audience was divided. While some closed their eyes in apparent appreciation, others looked around at the glorious architecture, and a few voted with their feet and left the venue.

Not everyone was impressed.

"It's not about the music, so much as the history," a Moroccan friend explained.

EN CHORDAIS EN CHORDAIS 20:00 DAR ADIYEL Review and photographs Suzanna Clarke

Kyriakos Petrás, violin
Drossos Koutsokṓstas, lute and song
Kyriakos Kalaïtzídēs, oud

En Chordias began their performance with a lively piece which was almost a jig, and the audience warmed to them immediately.

Their second song began on a more sombre note, with Drossos Koutsokostas's tremolo voice conveying the nasal, yearning quality that is characteristic of traditional Greek singing. As the other musicians joined in - Kyriakos Petrás on violin and Kyriakos Kalaïtzídēs on oud, it made the transition to a more upbeat tempo.

Originally from Thelassoniki, the En Chordias ensemble are the exponents of a cultural organisation dating back to 1993, which aims to promote Greek Music and the shared musical culture of the Mediterranean. The figures are impressive - ​the educational arm of En Chordias ha​s​ trained more than 5000 students, published 11 books, 30 CDs, and held hundreds of musical events.

However, this is far from an academic exercise​ - ​the​ ensemble is​ clearly absorbed in the music. In one song, The Art of Painting, Kalaïtzídēs, closed his eyes and played a melodic, mediative piece, which lead into a more lively instrumental, and then, as Koutsokṓstas's voice joined, an edge of sadness​ developed​, which spoke of things lost​ across the ages​​.

The transition between the tempos and the accomplished playing of the musicians kept the performance engaging and varied​, and the audience gave them an appreciative send off.

3 MA – MALI MADAGASCAR MOROCCO RAJERY , DRISS EL MALOUMI , BALLAKÉ SISSOKO 21:00 JARDINS JNAN SBIL Review photographs Venetia Menzies and text Lauren Crabbe

Ballaké Sissoko : Kora
Driss El Maloumi : Oud
Rajery : Valiha

You'd have to be hard of heart not to love 3MA -- the three MAs representing Mali, Madagascar, and Maroc. From the moment the lulling sounds of the kora filled the air and insects flitted lazily around lanterns, listeners were charmed, and grew to positively adore the playful trio over the course of 90 minutes. Rajery, with his impish grin and fierce laugh, on the valika; Driss El Maloumi, exuding the warmth of a jovial uncle, playing the oud; and Ballaké Sissoko, the gentle giant, on the kora.

What became immediately obvious was the connection between the men and their instruments; caressing the strings with swift tenderness, leaning in close with their faces as though listening for a heartbeat, closing their eyes and letting their ears and fingers take the lead, moving their whole bodies and willing sounds with their heads, necks, and shoulders. The musicians emanated passion from every pore, and the result was music drenched in personality, bursting with heart.

Rajery  - the joker

It was immensely endearing to watch their personalities unfold onstage. Rajery (Madagascar) quickly revealed himself as the joker in the pack, chuckling constantly as though remembering inside jokes and being the chief gesturer and raspberry-blower during a song about African politics. Driss (Maroc) was the main communicator, who talked lovingly of his craft (in French): "Music is the reason for rising in the morning -- a small journey." Ballaké (Mali) was more reserved than the other two, saying little but humming from the heart, playing like nothing else existed in the world.

Driss El Maloumi 

All three smiled often, with their cheeks and shoulders, exchanging joy like currency, projecting spirit and buoyancy through the audience with songs sweeping from the top of Africa to tip. From Agadir to Antananarivo, each song derived meaning from one of the musicians' home countries; family life; politics; even one about an "African jungle taxi". Some songs contained clicking or popping sounds, made by plucking flattened strings or tapping the body of the instruments, reminiscent of words in certain African click languages.

There were laughs and cries and jokes and fist-bumps all round, and the audience (a full house) didn't want to let 3MA go. The musicians received a standing ovation, as well as demands for an encore, which they were happy to give. Driss also took the time to congratulate the crew -- a much-appreciated gesture that proved just how much compassion the trio had to give. A truly heart-warming performance that plucked listeners' heartstrings like those of the instruments.


 The Balinese orchestra, the Gamelan is an essential part of Balinese dance - and so is humour.  There was certainly plenty of that as well as a touch of drama for the very small audience at the Ben Youssef Complex.

The Gamelan orchestra

The word gamelan comes from the low Javanese word gamel, which may refer to a type of mallet used to strike instruments or the act of striking with a mallet. To people raised on European music, the sound is discordant and it takes a while to tune into the subtleties of Balinese music.

 Gamelan is the traditional ensemble music of Java and Bali in Indonesia, made up predominantly of percussive instruments. The most common instruments used are metallophones played by mallets and a set of hand-played drums called kendhang which register the beat.

Balinese performances are difficult to categorise because of its dynamic and heterogeneous nature. The varying forms run the gamut from holy ritual to secular buffoonery, with no strict definitions delineating one from another. But there is an underlying unity. Running through them all is the implicit acknowledgement of a profound affinity between the spiritual and mundane worlds. Even the most outrageous popular melodramas contain elements of the divine temple dramas from which they were derived. And even the most sacred rituals possess elements of crowd-pleasing theatricality. This thread that links the ridiculous to the sublime is at the core of Balinese theatre.

I Made Djimat,

The Tri Pusaka Sakti ensemble is directed by I Made Djimat, one of the most renowned dancers in Bali. After an introductory piece, by the orchestra, he made his entrance, dressed in white and carrying a ritual offering of incense, flowers and fruit. After settling down centre stage, he rose again and blessed the audience with scented water. Having done so, he moved in with the Gamelan orchestra and played a small flute.

Then the drama commenced. A dancer in an ornate costume and much makeup, entered and gave a threatening performance. Those in the audience, for whom the Gamelan music was unfamiliar, relaxed and realised that the show was not just about the music.

As the dancer made his exit. five women in brightly coloured costumes and sparkling jewellery proceeded to entrance everyone. That the significance of hand gestures was lost on many was unimportant as the sheer control and brilliance of the performance was enough.

According to the ensemble's director, I Made Djimat, a good dancer should possessthree things;  abilities, enthusiasm, and discipline.  It was obvious that this group had all three in abundance and it was clear we were being treated to something special. A superb performance.


Tomorrow @ the Festival


Festival weather: Again another perfect day, warm but not too hot. 31 Celsius top with night temperature down to 17


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