One of my favourite Arabic songs is the Algerian chaâbi classic, Ya Rayah, which was revived and brought to a new generation of North Africans, Europeans and Arabic speakers by the now almost mythical 1,2,3 Soleils concert of 1998. I heard the original by Dahmane el Harrachi (from the 1970s) on the radio in a taxi in Fez the other day and it prompted me to look into the song a little further. Continue reading
The 20th Essaouira Gnaoua Festival gets underway on 29 June 2017. For an overview of this year’s format and programme, see my post here. I am not able to attend this year, but if I were, here are the acts that I would most look forward to seeing.
Thursday, midnight, beach stage – Ribab Fusion
This Agadir band played at my very first Gnaoua Festival in 2011 and really impressed me with their energy and ability to take traditional Moroccan instruments and make them rock! Since then, the band has gained significant international recognition and is set to begin a U.S. tour after the summer festival season. The ribab is a traditional Amazigh stringed instrument from the southwest of Morocco and is often played by a solo player/singer or in front of a group of musicians, singers and dancers. If you are in Essaouira for any length of time, you will see local Berber street musicians playing a version of ribab, but don’t miss Ribab Fusion as they bring the traditions right up to date on the beach stage. Continue reading
The 2017 Essaouira Gnaoua Festival opens later this week and runs from 29 June to 1 July. As before, the event will open with an all-singing, all-dancing, multicoloured opening parade through the centre of the port city. The festival programme features Moroccan Gnaoua groups as well as world music artists from several continents.
All Moroccan summer festivals have experienced timing challenges since Ramadan has fallen in the summer months, reducing the number of weekends available for the organisation of festivals so that they don’t clash with either the Muslim holy month or each other. Following several years of deviation from the usual timing of the third weekend in June, the festival is almost back to its habitual calendar slot, albeit immediately after Ramadan, which may cause some practical issues in terms of preparation during the Eid public holidays. Nonetheless, the stages are already in place in Essaouira and this promises to be an exciting edition of the festival now in its 20th edition. Continue reading
The Fez Sacred Music Festival 2017 has come to a close. this year we were treated to a number of fabulous fusion collaborations. My three favourite acts of this year’s festival were Aziz Sahmaoui’s Cuban Project, the Songhai collaboration and Violons Barbares. I had expected the former two to be in my top three as the kora, Cuban music and Gnaoua culture are big interests of mine. However, the Barbaric Violins were a surprise hit for me. I loved their energy, their creativity and their musical entrepreneurship.
Read my contributions to the coverage of The View From Fez of the Fez Sacred Music Festival 2017 on my writing portfolio page.
In May 2015, I was fortunate to be invited to be part of the team at The View From Fez, the official English language media partner of the Fes Sacred Music Festival. Alongside editor Sandy McCutcheon (editor, reporter and photographer); Suzanna Clarke (sub-editor and photographer); Vanessa Bonnin (reporter and photographer) and Fatima Matousse (reporter), I reviewed the Forum and concert events on all 9 days of this year’s Festival.
As a Fes Festival first-timer, I found the 21st edition, which ran from 22 -30 May 2015, a great opportunity to see some acts I like, get to know some new artists and come to appreciate some new musical genres. My favourite concerts were: Omar Sosa and friends, Julie Fowlis, Fatoumata Diawara and Roberto Fonseca and The Royal Art of the Kora with Ballaké Sissoko. These are all acts I have seen and enjoyed before in different contexts. Of the acts which were new to me, I enjoyed Faada Freddy, Masks of the Moon and Ramadan Hassan and the Musicians of the Nile. I would have liked to have seen more of Benjamin Bouzaglou and Oumou Sangaré. Continue reading
Last night the Fes Sacred Music Festival opened in the former imperial city of the Moorish Empire, Fez. This year, the audience was treated to a spectacle of sounds, projections and artists from across the African continent. The theme for this, the 21st edition, is “Fes: An African Reflection” and the opening night’s concert reflected the full spectrum of African music, traditions and customs as well as a broad selection of the artists playing in Fez over the coming 9 days. Continue reading
Essaouira, 15 May 2015 – Yesterday, Essaouira‘s annual Gnaoua World Music Festival got off to a colourful start with the opening parade and concert featuring local and national gnaoua groups and international World Music artists.
This is the 18th edition of the event, which is the largest in the festival calendar of this small port town on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast. Other annual festivals include the Festival des Alizés, a celebration of international classical and traditional music held every Spring, and the Festival des Andalousies Atlantiques, a festival celebrating the Judeo-Muslim musical traditions of Al Andalous, which are also a frequent feature of Fes festivals such as the Sacred Music Festival, which begins next week in Fes on 22 May 2015.
Each year, the Essaouira Gnaoua Festival gets underway with a parade through the centre of the Essaouira medina of all the gnaoua groups in their finest regalia, embroidered costumes and caps studded with cowrie shells. The bands are often accompanied by standard-bearers carrying huge flags and feature the typical gnaoua instruments: the krakeb castanets, the stringed gimbri and the tbel drum, which is played with a crooked stick.
Every so often, the groups pause to demonstrate the fervent whirling and acrobatics which simulate the trance induced by the heavy beats of the instruments. In the street, though, in this carnival atmosphere, these movements are more for show than religious practice and the circles the gnaoua form resemble an elaborately coloured dance-off between rival acrobatic troupes.
Gnaoua music originated in sub-Saharan Africa. With the trade in goods and men across the great desert, African slaves brought their traditions and their experience of hardship and exile into Morocco. Over time, their traditions were absorbed into Islam and Gnaoua brotherhoods of adherents gathered around a maâlem (master) developed in zawiyas (centres devoted to religious learning). The Gnaoua tradition is strong in Essaouira, with its previous role as a major trading port and its centuries’ old connections to Timbuktu and other West African cities.
Swiris -the natives of Essaouira – are particularly proud of their home-grown masters, such as Maâlem Mahmoud Guinéa and his brother Maâlem Mokhtar Guinéa, Maâlem Allal Soudani and others. However, they are also welcoming of the big names of Gnaoua music from other cities, such as Maâlem Hamid el Kasri, who opened the festival this year alongside Humayun Khan of Afghanistan. When a great maâlem is on stage, throughout the audience, one hears young and old singing along, responding to the chant of the master, and clapping out the frenetic polyphonic beat.
The Gnaoua Festival is also a stage for some of the best Moroccan and international stars of the World Music scene. The most exciting concerts are those on the main stage (on Place Moulay Hassan) late at night. The fusion concerts bring together a gnaoua group with artists from a completely different genre for a unique kind of mash-up unlike any other. Gnaoua jazz? Sufi-Voodoo fusion? Gnaoua-folk? Everything is possible under the starry skies and the gusting trade winds of Essaouira!
This article originally appeared on the blog, The View From Fez.
The Essaouira Gnaoua Festival 2015 started yesterday, 14 May with a colourful carnival parade of the gnaoua artists through the main street of the Essaouira medina.
The festival continues now until Sunday 17 May with concerts, exhibitions, open air shows and intimate gigs all over the city, much of it for free.
The setting was magical: a modern rig of a stage placed at one end of the massive cortyard at the centre of the 16th century El Badi Palace in Marrakech. As the sun began to set, the heat of the day lifted and hundreds of candles set in lanterns around the place began to twinkle. The famous storks of the Kasbah (King’s Quarters) returned to roost on the crumbling ochre walls to watch the scene unfold. We were here to experience the magic – not only of Marrakech, but of one of jazz’s greatest legends, Herbie Hancock. Continue reading
This year will see the 18th edition of the Essaouira Gnaoua World Music Festival.
The Essaouira Gnaoua Festival is the largest of Essaouira’s annual music festivals and attracts artists and an audience from around the world. In 2015, the Gnaoua Festival will take place earlier than usual from 14-17 May 2015 (to avoid a clash with Ramadan).
The format of the festival is large open-air stages in 3 locations across the city, plus intimate concerts in smaller venues and a side programme of discussions around related themes (for example, this year’s Forum is on African Women). The four-day musical extravaganza is opened by a carnival parade of colour featuring the Gnaoua and Sufi groups playing in their traditional costumes playing their instruments and dancing, plus über-dimensional puppets which tower above the crowds.
The Essaouira Gnaoua Festival programme features something for everyone. It’s hard to choose between the local gnaoua acts and the invited World Music stars, but here is my pick of the best of the 2015 line-up: Continue reading