Sunday, June 16, 2019

Fes Festival - June 15

A beautiful day in Fez with Irish fairies in the gardens and the UK's Sami Yusuf captivating the crowd at Bab Makina in a concert that started on time!

Singers emerged from the audience

Venetia Menzies

Emerging from the lush foliage of Jardin Jnan Sbil, fairy-like women in green and red velvet dresses appeared within the audience. The Irish singers began softly harmonising, singing in their native Gaelic, as they took to the stage one by one.

The vocal ensemble ‘Anuna’, from the Gaelic ‘An Uaithne’, are named after the three types of sacred Irish music: Suantrai (lullabies), Geantrai (songs of joy) and Goltrai (songs of lament). Established in 1987, the Dublin based choir was founded by composer Michael McGlynn, in an attempt to create the ‘first’ Irish choral group. Since its birth, the ensemble has prided itself on bringing together Irish musicians from both sides of the border, even during The Troubles. The performers thanked the audience for attending their afternoon concert, saying they were overjoyed to be part of a festival that is based on the celebration of all cultures and faiths.

Beginning with a 9th Century ballad from sacred Irish texts, they successfully silenced the audience as they sang: “in the midst of life we are in death.” With an elegance and ease that the Festival’s organisers should take heed of, the performers introduced each song in both French and English.

Their next ode showed off their expert ability to harmonise acapella, sliding along minor scales creating a melancholic atmosphere. It was later explained that the song told the story of a young couple so lost in their love, that they went out for a winter walk without proper attire and froze to death hand in hand.

Before the audience became too saddened by this tragicomic tale, the ensemble moved onto Geantrai music- songs of joy and celebration. As the men took centre stage, they introduced a new energy and speed with their rapid incantations that bounced like an Irish jig.

Andrea Delaney's captivating solo, arguably offering the strongest vocals 

Disappearing from the stage, the men left the women to perform "Jerusalem", a 17th century Irish piece arranged in a heterophonic style of singing. A brunette soprano gave a captivating solo, arguably offering the strongest vocals out of the twelve-strong choir.

“When shall we come to thee
When shall our sorrows end
Thy joys when shall we see”

Akin to the angels in heaven that they sang of, the women walked slowly into the audience as they sang, their long velvet dresses dragging lazily behind them. Their different harmonies meeting from various spots around the garden, a surround sound experience had the audience entranced.

The beautiful Hannah was left on stage to give her solo, keeping her eyes closed in deep concentration. Just as the audience were beginning to doze in the warmth of the sun, a brass clarinet was hoisted by a male choral member, interjecting a sudden volume and energy that had the audience double taking.

The brass clarinet

Offering a songs in English for the Anglophone audience, they closed with a rendition of Scarborough Fair followed by the famous Danny Boy.

“But when ye come, and all the flowers are dying,
If I am dead, as dead I well may be,
You'll come and find the place where I am lying,
And kneel and say an Ave there for me”

The ensemble left the audience teary-eyed as they disappeared one by one from the stage as graciously as they had arrived. The Musical Director for the concert was Jan Kuhar.

Sami Yusuf

Bab Makina was full to the brim with a largely local audience tonight, with attendees even standing in the aisles and elbowing each other out of the way to get the best spot. The sun fell below the horizon as they patiently waited to see the British Sami Yusuf, dubbed by Time Magazine as ‘Islam’s biggest rockstar’.

Sami Yusuf

Born in Tehran to Azerbaijani parents, the Sufi singer has sold more than 34 million albums after rising to fame with his first album ‘Al-Mu’allim, where he sings in both Arabic and English. Mastering the piano, violin, oud, tonbak and sitar, Sami is a natural musician who infuses Western and Eastern traditions to create a unique fusion that has made him a global star.

Tonight his concert began on time, a Fes Festival first, after the audience began a sarcastic slow clap in anticipation of another late start. After an introduction that was stiffly read in Classical Arabic by a struggling narrator, Yusuf’s supporting musicians filed onto the stage with an array of traditional instruments such as the oud, sitar, and a variety of drums and flutes.

Yusuf bowed as he entered centre stage, and greeted the audience in both English and Arabic. With evident humility, he started by individually introducing each of his fellow artists, who were from various corners of the Islamic world: Turkey, Iran, Morocco, and Kurdistan. Paying a special mention to the artistic design team, he thanked the festival for inviting him back this year for a second time.

The backing musicians were given individual introductions

Before jumping into his performance Yusuf wet the audience’s appetite by announcing he would perform several songs tonight that have never been heard before, as well as rearrangements of his better known work.

After performing a lively Kurdish piece, he debuted an arrangement from his new album ‘Ecstasy’. Riffing off the words of 8th Century poet Abu Nuwas, the audience were soon singing along as the loud and frantic tempo built to a climax. Visibly enjoying being on stage, he sat calmly throughout the performance moving only his hands, which flayed back and forth as if conducting an unseen orchestra. Reading the audience’s eagerness to get involved, Sami initiated a call and response where he invited everyone to sing ‘Allah’ over and over as loud as they could until everyone was on their feet.

Turkish supporting musician

Repeating verses in both Arabic and English, a clear difference in his vocal tone emerged. The Arabic verses were velvety and soft, whereas the English in comparison came off as rather nasal and strained. Despite this, bilingual performances, which are a staple of his music, were in keeping with his desire to celebrate multiculturalism and unity.

Now a UN Global Ambassador Against Hunger, Sami uses more than just his musical energy to work towards a more equal and inclusive future that allows people of all cultures to thrive in unity. Exceeding the audience’s high expectations with his performance tonight, he left after multiple encores, relishing each moment as the large crowd ululated his departure.

Reviews and photographs: Venetia Menzies

Tomorrow at the festival


Venue: Jardin Jnan Sbil

Venue: Bab Al Makina

Weather: Partly cloudy and 31 Celsius

Review: Opening Night 



Michael said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The View From Fez said...

Thanks Michael