Tag Archives: reviews

Fez Sacred Music Festival 2017

Cirque Shems'y

Opening Night of the Fes Sacred Music Festival 2017

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.

What’s new in Essaouira in 2016

Essaouira beach and port

work has begun on Essaouira beach and port

Keen followers of maroc-o-phile.com will know that I haven’t been living in Essaouira full-time for a while now. I have been fortunate to be there twice this year already and things are a-changing, albeit at a slow, sleepy Swiri pace… Here’s a round up of what’s new in Essaouira for 2016. Continue reading

Essaouira book review: The Heat of Betrayal

Essaouira book review: The Heat of Betrayal by Douglas Kennedy

Photo: Amazon.co.uk

Although it has been the set for plenty of films, and unlike its larger and more celebrity neighbour, Marrakech, to my knowledge there are not many works of non-fiction set in Essaouira. I was intrigued, therefore, to read Douglas Kennedy’s latest work, The Heat of Betrayal. This is my Essaouira book review. Continue reading

Vegan Restaurants in Essaouira

While it is easier for those who eat meat or fish to find interesting and nourishing food in Essaouira, it is not impossible to find vegan food in the city, although you will meet people who don’t quite understand the concept. Morocco is a country abundant in fresh vegetables and no stranger to pulses. With a little preparation and forward planning, you will survive and might even have a couple of truly excellent meals!

I compiled this list of vegan restaurants in Essaouira and other vegan options for finding vegan food.

Read my post for Travel Exploration about meat-free travel in Morocco for ideas.

If you’d like to cook vegan Moroccan food at home, check out my recipe for chickpea tajine.

Reporting from the 21st edition of the Fes Sacred Music Festival

Fatoumata Diawara at the 21st Fes Sacred Music FestivalIn 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

21st edition of the Fes Sacred Music Festival

Opening night of the 21st edition of the Fes Festival of World Sacred MusicLast 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 Gnaoua Festival – 18th edition

Opening parade of 18th Gnaoua Festival 2015 EssaouiraEssaouira, 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.

18th Gnaoua Festival 2015 EssaouiraEvery 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.

18th Gnaoua Festival 2015 Essaouira main stageSwiris -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.

3 poolside restaurants in Essaouira

poolside restaurants in Essaouira

Les Jardins de Villa Maroc

The Essaouira medina is small and compact, and few hotels (apart from the prestigious L’Heure Bleue Palais) have the space for a pool. Some larger hotels outside the medina have pools, but often lack much of the charm of the riad guesthouses of the medina. Get the best of both worlds by staying in a medina riad and taking a day trip out for lunch to one of the poolside restaurants outside the city. The bonus is that being set back a little from the coast, these locations are also warmer and less windy – perfect for topping up your tan! There are many to choose from, but here are my top three.  Continue reading

Essaouira Gnaoua Festival 2015 is underway!

The 18th Essaouira Gnaoua festival opened with a  colourful paradeThe 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.

Continue reading

The Best of Essaouira: Cookery classes

couscous, the Moroccan national dish - made gluten free with cornmealThe cuisine of Morocco is becoming increasingly well-known abroad and a popular holiday activity is a cookery class where students can learn about the intricate blends of spices, the diverse influences on Moroccan cuisine and attempt to create their own culinary masterpieces. Over the past year, I have tried two cookery classes in Essaouira – one a well-established brand, the other a homely newcomer. I enjoyed both immensely, even though I could already make some key Moroccan dishes. If you want to do a cookery class in Essaouira, I recommend one of these two options. Continue reading