In the past two weeks, Casablanca has come to Edinburgh! The showing of Sofia by Meryem Benm’Barek in the 2019 Africa in Motion Festival coincided with the exhibition on the Collective Museum of Casablanca at the City Dome on Calton Hill. Both give pause for thought on the lives and lived experiences of marginalised groups in Morocco’s biggest city. Here, I consider Sofia and its messages around women’s rights. Continue reading
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.
Thanks to my work on multicultural diversity and built heritage with the High Atlas Foundation, I was selected as a participant in a documentary about Christians, Jews, Muslims in Essaouira, city of peaceful cohabitation. The documentary (in French and Arabic) follows 3 Essaouira residents in their daily lives, each of a different cultural/religious heritage, representing the three main groups which historically and still today cohabit peacefully in the town. The documentary was shown on Al Jazeera in February 2017.
Essaouira naive art is known world-wide. The colourful style is reminiscent of aboriginal and outsider art from other cultures in Africa and on other continents. The Swiri artists are self-taught and many are principally employed in agriculture and fishing.
As I wrote in the Fodor’s Guide to Morocco, “The work of the naïve Souiri artists is frequently exhibited locally, and you can track down artists such as Abdelaziz Baki, Ali Maimoune, and Asmah Ennaji at their workshops in the joutiya, Essaouira’s flea market in the industrial quarter to the north of the medina. Here, their colorful work is displayed in two and three dimensions, often incorporating found objects or up-cycled items from the nearby market.”
This summer, Swiris and visitors will have a unique opportunity to see two exhibitions by local artist, Ben Ali (Abdelghani Didouh). The exhibitions are being held to raise funds for Essaouira-based charity Project 91, to establish a fund for the widows of fishermen lost at sea. Continue reading
Although Essaouira has long held a reputation for being an arty kind of town and has many artists in residence and galleries to prove it, the street art scene here has taken some time to develop. Unlike Asilah – a bohemian port town further north up the Atlantic coast – Essaouira has not made a concerted effort to develop such a scene. Asilah, although about a third of the size of Essaouira, and even sleepier, is known for its annual mural festival. Although there are some murals in Essaouira, these are typically individual initiatives and not part of a larger programme. This is all about to change, as the 6th Marrakech Biennale lands in town with street art in Essaouira! Continue reading
The more observant maroc-o-phile readers will have noticed that I haven’t been posting much on the blog lately. Although I didn’t spend so much time in Essaouira last year, 2015 was quite an eventful year for me and I have a lot to be grateful for.
A few years ago, I met a young artist at Dar Souiri, Essaouira’s cultural centre, who explained to me the concept of “el hamdudlilah” (often shortened to “hamdud’lah”). “Allah phrases” as I call them, such as this, are key in an Islamic society like as Morocco. El hamdudlilah literally means “thanks be to God”, or a more secular expression might be “thank goodness,” and it peppers every conversation between Moroccans. The automatic way in which Moroccans use this phrase, I believe, demonstrates their innate gratitude. They don’t just use it to be grateful for exceptional good fortune; it is used as a reminder of those less fortunate than themselves. In many instances, a better translation would be “thank goodness, it could be worse”. So, when enquiringly of someone’s health, they will alway reply “hamdud’lah,” no matter how they are feeling, and even when disaster has struck, a Moroccan would express gratitude that the situation wasn’t even more disastrous. Continue reading
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