Monday, June 13, 2011

Performing Malhun at the Festival

Someone let me on stage! The View from Fez just posted my thoughts.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Youssou Ndour, Explained

The View From Fez used a few of my comments on their article about Fes Café's concert last night.

They also let me add some meat to their Youssou Ndour article, explaining a bit of the unexpected ending that highlighted the performance.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Photos from the Festival of Sacred Music

For the duration of the festival, I'm going to try to upload some of my favorite photos each day or so. Since I'm fairly lazy, and just putting up a long series of posts here of only large pictures would drag down the entire page, I'm going to go ahead and use Facebook's photo uploader. If you don't have an account or are not my friend (why would that be?), you can access the constantly expanding album here. Check back often!

Nass al-Ghiwane and Darqawiyya - great sounds from different worlds

Nass al-Ghiwane rocked Boujloud last night. Here is the article. PS: The titles of these things are not mine...

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Saida Fikri @ Boujloud and Harakiyya Brotherhood at Dar Tazi

As the Fez Festival of Sacred Music gets underway, I'm going to be writing for a local blog (that gets many more hits than mine). Check out the first article here, about Saida Fikri's performance at Bab Boujloud and the beginning of the Sufi Nights afterward.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The View from Fez...

The folks at The View from Fez, a blog about life in and around the city, have asked me to write for their coverage of the Festival of Sacred Music. While I'll be posting a few things here and there, much of it will mirror what I send them, and since many, many more people read that, it's going to get my attention for the week. I recommend following the site for a while to keep up with this dense time of activity!

Leyla et Majnun: and the Festival Begins

Starting with a bang. (Sorry, I couldn't help it.)
Tonight, with the world premiere of Armand Amar's "Layla and Majnun or the Mystic Love," the 17th Fes Festival of Sacred Music opened its doors. The event began with pomp as the crowd waited for the arrival of Princess Lalla Salma. After her arrival, when the guests returned to their seats and after a few opening remarks, the newly composed oratorio began.

The piece was a setting of a classical Arabic story in which Qays ibn al-Mulawwah falls madly in for Layla, whom he met while a young man. Yet, his love overcame him, driving him to the point of madness, causing her father to forbid their marriage. He becomes known instead as Majnun, a term reserved in Arabic for the insane or possessed.

The performance opened with a reading of the story, featuring the sound of the Arabic poetry. Once the oratorio was fully underway, however, the array of solo vocalists performed in Arabic, Farsi, Urdi, Turkish, Mongolian, and French. As the movements continued, it became obvious that this was a composition about the sound and flexibility of the human voice. For a quick example, this ( was one of the included techniques, something few of the audience members likely knew was possible!

Waiting for Royalty
To be completely honest, however, I must say that it was Bruno Le Levreur who stood out among the impressive cast of performers. His contra-tenor (singing in the high female soprano range) was controlled, lyric, and graceful. When his moments approached, the bed of music around him lowered into simple, classical accompaniments. The purity of his tone emphasized the balanced melodies and heightened the aura of elegance that spread across Bab al-Makina.

The composition itself straddled that difficult line, bringing Arabic musical ideas and stylings into Western classical space. Amar negotiated the space between the melodically-driven "Eastern" elements and the harmonically-centered "Western" by often privileging the modes, melodies, and ornaments that are so common here in Morocco and elsewhere in the Arab world. Phrases were long, exercising the listeners' patience, rewarding them with beautifully rendered cadences and closures. Non-Western scales pervaded the work, but they were often underpinned by similarly expansive harmonies from the strings or pulsing rhythms from the deep percussion.

It is easy to become used to hearing vocal acrobatics in the form of high, fast, or powerful notes and sounds, but the featured performers tonight challenged, and ultimately extended, expectations. By including vocalists from unique traditions across North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, the oratorio focused on exploring the breath and sound of the human body. In doing so, it attempted to make concrete the connection between spirit and body, of the sacred of religious experience and the sacred of artistic expression.