Morocco: The Fez Festival of World Sacred Music

As the 14th annual Fez Festival of World Sacred Music comes to a close, bloggers – both Moroccan residents and travelers – share their experience with this year's festival. The View from Fez bloggers, who were fortunate enough to be in the thick of things for all of the festival, shared their favorite bits of the festival, one of which was the Sami singer Mari Boine:

The Batha Museum was the venue for what we had picked as one of the outstanding concerts for the entire Fez Sacred Music Festival – and we were not disappointed. Mari Boine is an amazing performer and the selection of Sami chants and songs was pure magic.

Equally outstanding were the arrangements and performance by her band. The guitar of Georg Buljo wove beautifully through the songs along with Svein Schultz on bass, Ole Jorn Mykelbust on trumpet and Gunnar Augland on percussion. Departing from her published programme, Boine gave us a taste of her earlier work with Gula Gula and exhibited her traditional joik throat singing to amazing effect. For those used to seeing a singer open their mouth wide to reach for a high note, it was extraordinary the volume and pure tones achieved by Boine with almost closed lips. Her drumming added a wonderful touch, but as she said – “My drum is used to cold weather.” So she wet the skin with a bottle of Sidi Ali!

As the festival wrapped, The View from Fez summed it up in a few words:

Nine days of afternoon and evening concerts, Sufi nights, art exhibitions, children's events, free concerts in the medina and the new city, Rencontres debates on the sacred, more talks at Palais Jamai, fringe events at Dar Batha … all in all a very busy time. How was it for you?

They also had a few criticisms of this year's festival…

2008 was not a vintage festival and one is left with the impression that the programme was assembled on a very tight budget. The feeling is that the Fes Festival needs more money pumped into the artistic director's function of booking artists. In years past we've seen luminaries like Youssou N'Dour and Ravi Shankar, but such stars seem to be sadly missing these days.

…But in general were pleased with the work that went into it:

It's a huge job putting on such a big Festival, and The View from Fez congratulates the whole team.

Everything Morocco was also in Fez for the festival, and shared this tidbit:

Overall, this week at the Fez Festival has been a series of pleasant surprises, particularly Fahdel Jaziri's production of Hadhra and Abdelwahab Doukkali's special performance Thursday night at Bab Makina. We have seen Touaregs on the electric guitar, R&B saxophone in an Arab orchestra and all sorts of traditional instruments from every region of the globe. And there is no better place than Fez for all of this to come together at one time.

the art of the drum, who was just traveling through at the time, had much to say about the festival's commercialism:

In the most basic sense, sacred music seeks to create a spiritual connection with the Divine. Religious (sacred) music often is performed in the confines of a holy institution, like a church or temple, to eliminate worldly distractions. In the moments of a sacred music performance, is the stage not the temple? It is a doctrine of all religions to disavow any sort of commerce within the physical space of the institution? (Yes, yes, I have been to plenty of Hindu temples that sell souvenirs, and the Vatican does have a gift shop). Surely John 2:16 is not just a Christian prospect – materialism has no place inside of a mosque or synagogue or any sort of holy sanctuary, for that matter. How can proper devotion to the Divine be made when a vender is hawking Hagaan Daz a hundred feet from the stage? At what point do we distinguish between reverence and exploitation?

He also took issue with the sense of “orientalism” about the event:

Another reservation for me to endorse the festival is the immense sense of Orientalism that surrounds the festival. The concept of Orientalism, as written about by the great scholar Edward Said, essentially states that in the West, we have a very skewed view of the Eastern cultures. Strictly in terms of “religious studies,” some Westerners perceive Eastern religions as more “mystical” than Western traditions, and thus they are “better.”(You see this practice quite frequently in India, Westerns that “adopt” Hinduism because of the esoteric essence of an Eastern religion)

The blogger also added:

Clearly, I have very strong feelings about the essence of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music. Believe it or not, as you will read in future posts specifically about my experiences at the performances, I genuinely enjoyed the festival – despite my many, many reservations about it. Take what I wrote with a grain of salt: as Man Ray once said, “All critics should be assassinated.”

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