In Morocco, a Place of Pilgrimage for Sacred Music
14th Fes Festival of World Sacred Music set for June 6-14, 2008

American soprano Jessye Norman opens series to include spiritual music from Pakistan, Spain, Norway, Senegal, Vietnam, Syria and others

The 14th Fes Festival of World Sacred Music takes place this year from June 6 to 14th in the ancient city of Fes (Fez), Morocco. A global music destination since its inception following the first Gulf War, the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music lures both musicians seeking fresh ideas and renewed inspiration as well as international music lovers, many of whom return to the festival year after year. Attendees last year included the members of Irish rock group U2, classical composer Osvaldo Golijov, and Queen Rania of Jordan.

Visitors can expect a magical experience, because 2008 is set to be outstanding, with a spectacular international lineup devised by Artistic Director Gerard Kurdjian. It reflects diverse sacred forms of musical creativity – from grass roots folk music to popular entertainment to the formal European classical tradition. This year’s musical theme is “Paths to Creation.”

The star of the opening night concert, set in the magnificent setting of the Bab Makina palace courtyard, is the American soprano Jessye Norman, who will sing with the Avignon Lyric Orchestra conducted by Rachael Worby. Jessye Norman is one of the undisputed greats of the operatic world, especially acclaimed for her performances of Verdi’s Aida.

There will be two spectacular dance performances at the Bab Makina later in the week – flamenco from Spain’s Belen Maya Company in “Dibujos” and traditional sacred dances from Indonesia featuring the Panti Pusaka Budaya Ensemble. A special colloboration will feature Pakistan qawwali master Faiz Ali Faiz with gospel singer Bernice Johnson Reagon. The final concert in the festival will star Senegal’s Ismael Lo with Sufi brotherhood Hamadcha of Fes.

2008 also sees the return to the Fes Festival of the Sufi master musician Julian Weiss with the Ensemble Al-Kindi featuring guest vocalist Sheikh Hamza Shakour from Damascus. In collaboration with the Byzantine Tropos Choir from Athens, they will premiere a Christian and Muslim homage to the Virgin Mary in the form of a Stabat Mater Dolorosa.

More intimate afternoon concerts take place beneath a giant Barbary oak in the Andalusian gardens of the Batha Museum. This year’s program includes Mari Boine from Norway performing Sami sacred songs from the Scandinavian far north and Thanh Huong singing Vietnamese traditional sacred songs. European classical sacred music comes from Cantus Colln from Germany and Madhup Mughal from India offers a programme of devotional songs from the sub continent.

Late night excitement is generated in the medina’s Dar Tazi gardens where each night one of Morocco’s Sufi brotherhoods entrance audiences with ecstatic music into the wee small hours. And in the Place Boujloud the people of Fes gather at dusk for the Festival in the City series of free concerts.

This year the Fes Rencontres (Encounters) forum brings academics, philosophers and clergy to discuss the role of art and faith in the modern world.

Last year the Irish supergroup U2 spent time in Fes during the festival, writing and rehearsing their new album, set to be released this October. They have since spoken passionately about the transformational experience they discovered at the festival. “Fes is a holy place for musicians “says Bono, humanitarian activist and singer with the group, “we came to pay tribute and to learn. We are on a pilgrimage.”

Bono’s perspective is shared by Sir Nicholas Pearson, Chairman of The Temenos Academy: “Fes and its sacred music festival has a unique opportunity to become the place where Islam meets the West in open and fair-minded dialogue,” he says. “It is for this reason I believe Fes should become a place of pilgrimage for people of goodwill from all religions. We should come to Fes to resolve our differences and celebrate our common humanity. “


Fes, Morocco June 6-14, 2008

Friday 6 June
Bab Makina 20:30
Jessye Norman (USA), with the Regional Lyric Orchestra Avignon Provence (France). Conducting: Rachael Worby (USA)

Saturday 7 June
Batha Museum 16:30
Ghada Shbéïr (Lebanon) Songs of the Eastern Christian Churches

Bab Makina 20:30
Sacred African American and Sufi Songs Night
Faiz Ali Faiz (Pakistan) ensemble with and Bernice Johnson Reagon and the Sacred Sound Ensemble (USA)

Sunday 8 June
Batha Museum 16:30
Mari Boine (Norway) Sacred Songs of Sami of the Scandinavian Far North

Bab Makina 20:30
Al Kindi ensemble with Sheikh Hamza Shakour, the Munshid of the Great Umayyad Mosque and The Choir of Greece - Dir. JJ Weiss (Syria/Greece/France)
Stabat Mater Dolorosa: Christian and Muslim Homage to Mary

Monday 9 June
Batha Museum 16:30
Thanh Huong (Vietnam) Traditional and sacred songs

Bab Makina 20:30
Belen Maya Company (Spain) “Dibujos” Flamenco dance

Tuesday 10 June
Batha Museum 16:30
Tartit Women's Ensemble (Mali) Folk and sacred songs of the Tuareg

Bab Makina 20:30
Panti Pusaka Budaya Ensemble Sacred Traditional Dances of Bali/Indonesia

Wednesday 11 June
Batha Museum 16:30
Ysaÿe Quartet (France) The Seven Last Words of Christ (J. Haydn)
Text: Michel Serres, Narrator: Michael Lonsdale

Thursday 12 June
Batha Museum 16:30 The Roza Enflorese (Belgium) Sephardic sacred and traditional songs Bab Makina 20:30 Abdelwahab Doukali (Morocco) Friday 13 June
Batha Museum 16:30
Cantus Colln (Germany): Around JS Bach/Spiritual Paths
(Buxtehude - J. Rosenmüller - JS Bach), Director: Konrad Junghanel

Bab Makina 20:30
Mohamed Abdou (Saudi Arabia)

Saturday 14 June
Batha Museum 16:30
Madhup Mudghal (India): Bakhti devotional songs

Bab Makina 20:30
Ismael Lô (Senegal) with the Brotherhood Hamadcha of Fes (Morocco)
From Dakar to Fes: from heart to soul

The Fes Festival of World Sacred Music has been profiled in The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Billboard, Gramophon, Down Beat, Jazz Times, Global Rhythm, Songlines, The Village Voice, CNN, BBC, El Pais, TV5

The Soul of Morocco by Seth Sherwood 4/7/07


“Sacred voices can be magnificently individual like Aretha Franklin testifying or Alim Kasimov, a singer from Azerbaijan, turning devotional poetry into finely turned soaring melismas full of incandescent fervor and pinpoint control…Style, creed and era aside, the music presents itself with something that has almost disappeared from the arts: humility before the power of God(s) inspiration and time. Even for skeptics, the music itself is something to believe in.” The New York Times

"Not all the star power was onstage. Among those seen grooving in the audience was U2 frontman Bono...in town with the rest of the band, reputedly absorbing the atmosphere and writing tracks for an upcoming record at a local guesthouse in the city's historic medieval medina. Also spotted...were the Queen of Jordan...and two members of the Moroccan royal family. These sightings, plus the ever-present crush of European media and international festival-goers underscored just how big the Fes Festival has become in recent years." National Geographic World Music

“Every June since 1994, music fans from around the globe have been flocking to Morocco for the annual Fès Festival of World Sacred Music. Attendees are seduced by the medieval Moorish ambiance of the walled city, where green-tiled imperial palaces have been reborn as luxe hotels and daily life goes on in the twisting alleys of the medina much as it has for generations.” Global Rhythm

“We very consciously work to create bridges between these cultures, to understand each other and to start a real dialogue. Of course, making such music is a social statement – when audiences se that we can be so happy singing and playing together, maybe they will question why do we then make war ? “ musician Jordi Savall in Billboard

"When it comes to music festivals, globalism is too often wielded like a truncheon, clobbering listeners with second-rate practitioners of international traditions. In stark contrast, the annual Fes Festivval of World Sacred Music in Morocco takes exquisite care in its programming, attracting some of the world's finest practioners of disparate musical disciplines and presenting them in glorious surroundings: the 5,000-capacity Bab Makina, a city gate and entrance to the Royal Palace, as well as the intimate, tree-lined courtyard of the Batha Museum." Down Beat

"[The Fes Festival's} kaleidoscope of voices is a wonderment." American Record Guide

"It would be hard to imagine another festival so lofty in its ideals, so ambitious in its range of attractions, and so accomodating in its actual execution as the Fes Festival, nor any place on earth better suited to host such an event than Morocco, a Muslim nation with a longstanding tradition of tolerance and peaceful coexistence." Signal To Noise

"The Fes Festival expanded my musical vocabulary significantly, lodging haunting new rhythms in my psyche....Now when I think of Islam, images of burkhas and bombers are overwritten by memories...of hospitality, visions of Gnawas and Whirling Dervishes -- and the memory of being lost inside the labyrinthine medina of Fes." Yoga + Joyful Living