Friday, May 22, 2015

Opening Night of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music


The opening night of the 21st Fes Festival of World Sacred Music was held at Bab Makina - a venue transformed by sound and light into something entirely different. The opening night spectacular - Fes: in search of Africa - exceeded all expectations
Man's spirit is so much greater than his body ~  African proverb

Tonight Alain Weber and his team produced an event that stunned the audience. They took us beyond the crenelated walls of Bab Makina, on a musical, visual and cultural odyssey around Africa. 

The difference to the opening nights of previous years was noticeable even before the performance began. When the crowd rose to greet Princess Lalla Salma the security officers, instead of attempting to shield her from the cameras, stepped back and even indicated that it was fine to take photographs. 


Princess Lalla Salma at the Festival opening

Then came a difference that was very welcome and long overdue. The introductory remarks were delivered in Arabic and then in English. As one experienced journalist told The View From Fez "Having announcements in English before French is sending a signal in the language debate in Morocco".  Also very welcome was a request that there be no flash photography.

The performance itself was a cleverly structured tribute to the great mystical travellers such As Hassan Al Wazzan (c 1490-1550) Leo Africanus, known as Yuhanna Al Assad in Arabic, who forged historic links between Morocco and the rest of Africa. It concluded with an homage to the Tijani Sufi Brotherhood, whose founder, Sidi Ahmed Tijani, (1737-1815) is buried in Fes.

Just some of the beautiful projections on the walls of the Bab Makina venue

Using extraordinarily precise projections onto the walls of Bab Makina, Artistic Director Alain Weber's production took the audience on journey in music and dance from the banks of the Nile to the Niger River, from the vast sub-Saharan deserts of Mauritania to the Atlas Mountains, from the ancient empires of Mali and Songhai and from Timbuktu to Cairo. It was the perfect showcase for traditional artists from Morocco, Mali, Egypt, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Senegal.

Fes and its Medina are the link between Andalusia and Africa and as a starting point of the evening the Bab Makina gate appeared as the door to a madrasa in Timbuktu, a Hausa fortress, a Tijani Zawiya, the Karaouine mosque and a Bedouin camp. Arabic and Bambara calligraphy was also projected onto the walls.

The wise African narrator
Oud master, Driss al Maloumi
Leo Africanus

The performance began with a gentle oud piece played in front of a projection of moon and stars by Driss al Maloumi. He told the story of an Amazigh fable about the moon (aoune in Tamazight).Then the gates of Bab Boujloud opened and Hassan el Wazzan appeared to narrate his journeys.

At times, the transitions were a little slow, but given the logistics of mounting such a spectacle, that was to be expected.

Next came an Andalous group fronted by Nouhaila El Kalaa, who regular festival patrons will remember was a 13 year old sensation when she first appeared at Dar Adiyel during the 2014 festival.

14 year old Nouhaila El Kalaa
Amazigh star Chérifa

Amazigh star Chérifa and Griot Coumbane Mint Amartichtt from Mauritania were also welcome return guests.

At this point the tempo rose and against a backdrop of an African baobab tree and with an African narrator the audience was treated to a Bwaba ritual - Masks of the Moon - from Burkina Faso.

Masks of the Moon

Each change built on the scene before. At one point there were ten koras on stage, including Ballaké Sissoko and the Kora Ensemble of Bamako. Then it was off to Senegal and the colourful Doudou Ndiaye Rose Children and the Simb Lion Dance. This was followed by a crowd pleasing Tamango sand-shuffling tap dancer (USA, French Guyana) before the return to Fes and a projection representing the site of the tomb of Sidi Ahmed Tijani. The Tijani brotherhood sang to round off a splendid evening.

Doudou Ndiaye
Kora Ensemble of Bamako

The lighting design by Christophe Olivier, assisted by Gaël Boucault, with projection mapping by Caroline Bourgine and Lucianna Penna, was flawless. The Bab Makina venue is acoustically difficult but once again the sound engineers, Chris Ekers and Erik Loots, showed why they are regarded as among the best in the world.

Lion dance from Senegal
A perfect beginning for the Fes Festival

Hassan Al Wazzan's life of travel through Africa as ambassador for the king of Fes was recorded in his The History and Description of Africa and this opening night performance, some five centuries later, was a perfect beginning to the Festival.


Text and research: Sandy McCutcheon and Lynn Sheppard
Photographs: Sandy McCutcheon. 
(Click on images to enlarge)


Tomorrow at the Festival

Weather: A chance of thunderstorm and rain. Cloudy with a top of 29 Celsius and a low of 15.

9 am Batha Museum  Festival Forum  - Spiritual paths and trade routes - How is Africa presented in schools and textbooks?

4.30pm Batha Museum -  Payiz Ensembe from Iraq - Kurdish traditional music and poetry.


8.30pm Free Festival in the City (Boujloud Sqaure)  - Voices United Choir (CUV) of Al Akhawayn University Followed at 10.30 by Said Mouskir

9pm Bab Makina . - Introductory encounter between the Cap Caval bagpipe band from Brittany and the Lamkartass Ensemble from Tissa. This will be followed by Saber Rebaï from Tunisia - one of the "great romantic" singers.

11pm - Sufi Night at Dar Tazi - Marifat Sufi Band from Pakistan (entry free).

The View From Fez Festival is a Media Partner and will be reporting on all festival events and keeping visitors up to date with any change to the schedule via news stories and on Twitter :  @theviewfromfez

The View From Fez is an official media partner of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music

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