By Elisabeth Myers and Amjad Hmidach
By Elisabeth Myers and Amjad Hmidach
Fez – Princess Lalla Salma, consort of King Mohammed VI, chaired on Friday the opening ceremony of the Fez Festival of World Sacred Music.
Honoring Fes’ history and spirit of tolerance and transcendence, Morocco’s Princess Lalla Salma, wife of King Mohammed VI, opened the 21st Annual Festival of World Sacred Music yesterday in Fes with a spectacular opening concert, in essence an overture of the festival featuring 100 musicians and dancers from the Middle East and Africa and other parts of the world, giving a taste of the 50 concerts to come during the course of the festival which runs from May 22-30th to a standing room only audience.
After welcome remarks given in Arabic, English, and then French, the concert began with a solo cello at stage left, leading into what sounded like a lullaby on a solo oud at center stage as a little djellaba-clad boy carried a lantern across the dimly lit stage, eventually growing to a full Andalusi orchestra, followed by a series of narrations in French interspersed with a diverse array of musical offerings reflecting the theme of this year’s festival — “Fez: Through the Mirror of Africa.” This musical, cultural, and spiritual aural migration was accompanied by vivid graphics projected using highly advanced multimedia technologies onto the majestic gate and walls of Bab al Makina, the concert venue, spellbinding the audience.
Narrators told the life stories of two of Morocco’s most beloved heroes, Hassan Al Wazan and Ahmed Tijani whose journeys have shaped the historic relations between Fes, Andalucía, and Africa. As the characters travelled from one place to another, each region was represented by native artists performing the music and dance of their handed down heritages.
Through the music, the audience transcended time and space travelling from Fes to sub-Saharan Africa, to Andalucia and back again to Fes, the colorful graphics projected on the walls providing the geographical context of the migration. Said Taghmaoui portrayed the character of Hassan al Wazan narrating his migration in a resounding baritone voice leaving the audience in a trance.
The images projected on the walls of Bab Al Makina marked the transitions of Al Wazan from the landscapes of Andalucía, Morocco, and Africa depicting desert sands, rivers, mountains, and waterfalls, as well as traditional blue and green Fassi zellige and architecture, fiery torches, and painted African masks.
The musical offerings included traditional Andalusian music with vocals and oud, a full ten-piece orchestra of balafons (finger picked instruments played vertically and sounding something like a harp), a classical cellist providing atmospheric transitions, drummers and dancers from Senegal, Saharawi women vocalists accompanied by drums.
Of special note was the performance of Nouhaila Al Kalaa, only fourteen years old and a student at the Fez Music Conservatory. Nouhaila sang a beautiful piece of Malhoun traditional music from Fez, describing Fez and its history, astonishing the audience with her delivery.
The Doudou Ndiaye Rose Children performed the thrilling Simb Lion dance from Senegal evoking the adventures of Leo Africanus (the nickname of Al Wazan) in the jungles of Africa. The opening ceremony concert, produced and directed by Alain Weber, was truly spectacular, and if it is any indication of the rest of the festival, audiences will not be disappointed.
Zeinab Elashi, 62, a concert-goer from Vancouver, Canada, told Morocco World News that this is the third year that she has travelled to Fez specifically to attend the festival, this time bringing her daughter and daughter-in-law to experience the extraordinary event. Elashi said that she has been profoundly affected by the simplicity of the Festival, by the people of Fez, and by the not-so-subtle message the festival promotes of religious and cultural tolerance and co-existence.
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