Born African and Muslim, but Embracing All Faiths:
Morocco’s Acclaimed Fès Festival of World Sacred Music Announces 2009 Program

Sacred Music Traditions Convene in Spectacular Venues throughout the Ancient City

An Inspiration to U2 and others, Festival Concerts Run May 29-June 6

Globally, the fractiousness, warfare, and ever-intensifying political rhetoric of our era often makes it seem as if there are unbridgeable chasms between cultures that no amount of effort or good intention can surmount. However, the first Gulf War also inspired the extraordinary Fès Festival of World Sacred Music in Fès, Morocco in 1994. Now in its 15th year, the festival brings together celebrated artists from Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu and other faiths to perform sacred music and to offer in these concerts, in a spirit of mutual respect and collaboration, a glimmer of hope during a dark time. Bypassing issues and arguments, cultural differences and divides, the audience is connected only by music, which speaks the language of the heart.

The 2009 Festival, which takes place in and around the ancient medina in Fès, runs from May 29th to June 6th. A must-do festival for world music insiders throughout Europe, the Fès Festival of World Sacred Music resonates now with Americans who have elected a new President whose background includes Muslim and African traditions.

The festival’s profile will also get a boost in the U.S. this March with the release of U2’s new CD No Line on the Horizon, much of which was inspired by their visit to the Fes Festival in 2007. “Fès is a holy place for musicians, “ says Bono, singer with the group and humanitarian activist. “We came to pay tribute, and to learn. We are on a pilgrimage. “ That the CD traces its roots to the festival is reflected in the track “Fez – Being Born. “

Evening performances are staged in the Arabian Nights splendor of the Bab Makina palace courtyard. A major attraction this year is the Lebanese singer Marcel Khalifé, performing a tribute to the great Arab poet Mahmoud Darwish. This year’s evening shows also include American gospel star Marwa Wright, a pair of sacred Whirling Dervish ceremonies from Turkey, and an Arab Christian oratorio by Syria’s Abed Azrie. The world debut of a cross-cultural project by the Iranian musician Kaynam Chermirani will include performers from Morocco, Greece, and Spain. Also set to make their festival debut are young Algerian world music diva Souad Massi, UK Arab folk singer Sami Yusuf, a collaboration between France’s Didier Lockwood and Morocco’s Zaman al Wasl ensemble, and a closing concert of pre-Christian Celtic legends from Loreena McKennitt.

Intimate afternoon concerts take place under the 100-year-old Barbary oak tree at the Batha Museum, where the birds from the surrounding Andalusian gardens often join the performance. Artists performing this year include Indian dancer Shantala Shivalingapa, Corsican group I Muvrini, sacred Eastern Orthodox songs from Serbia’s Dovna , Baroque music from Switzerland’s Elyma Ensemble, mystical Kurdish music from Iran’s Razbar Ensemble, and Judeo-Arab songs from U.S.-based singers Yuvan Ron and Najwa Gibran.

Many festival attendees may choose to stay up all night, because once again Sufi Nights, the enormously popular late night rituals performed by Moroccan Sufi brotherhoods, seem certain to attract big crowds. The hypnotic and ecstatic atmosphere of the Sufi Nights begin at midnight in the Dar Tazi gardens, right in the heart of the Fes medina.

The music program is the brainchild of Artistic Director Gerard Kurdjian, whose work has established the festival as most artistic event in Morocco’s cultural calendar. In addition to music lovers, the festival also attracts academics, philosophers and religious leaders who gravitate to each year to the Fès Encounters, a series of meetings organized by International Director Nadia Benjelloun that take on the challenges of modern faith and culture, all set against the backdrop of an ancient city that remains the religious heart of Morocco.

The western-most country in the Arab world, Morocco has a long history of acting as a bridge between the Islamic world and the West. The Fès Festival of World Sacred Music was launched in 1994, shortly after the Persian Gulf War, in an effort to support understanding among people of all faiths. In 2001, the festival was honored by the United Nations as one of seven Unsung Heroes of Dialogue.

Artists in the festival’s history are a virtual who’s-who of global music. They include Miriam Makeba, Salif Keita, Jessye Norman, the Hilliard Ensemble, the ARC Gospel Choir of Harlem, Enrique Morente, the Kabul Ensemble and Youssou N’Dour. The festival has also spawned two Spirit of Fès tours in the U.S., in 2004 and 2006.

The Fès Festival of World Sacred Music has been profiled in The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Billboard, Gramophone, Down Beat, Jazz Times, The Village Voice, CNN, BBC and media outlets throughout the world.

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

NEW YORK TIMES story on Fes Festival music :

PHOTO GALLERIES of Fes Festival OF World Sacred Music 2008 :
From Joe Boyd (Guardian UK)
From Derek Beres (Popmatters)

U2 recording in Fes :

PRESS QUOTES about the Fès Festival of World Sacred Music :

“Sacred voices can be magnificently individual like Aretha Franklin testifying or Alim Kassimov, 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

"When it comes to music festivals, globalism is too often wielded like a truncheon, clobbering listeners with second-rate practicioners of international traditions. In stark contrast, the annual Fès Festival of World Sacred Music in Morocco takes exquisite care in its programming, attracting some of the world’s finest practicioners of disparate musical disciplines and presenting them in glorious surroundings…..” Down Beat

“An annual celebration of music, culture and diversity, the Fes Festival attracted an impressive roster of international musicians, artists and academics to the walled medieval city… world music superstars, sacred and traditional musicians, local Moroccan favorites and Sufi brotherhoods.” nationalgeographic.com

“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 see 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


Friday May 29th
OPENING CEREMONIES – 8:00PM Bab Makina Marcel Khalifé with Al Mayadin Orchestra: “Homage to Mahmoud Darwish”, with Oumeina Al Khali (LEBANON) Saturday May 30th
4:30PM Batha Museum: Shantala Shivalingapa: Kuchipudi Dances: (INDIA)
8 :00 PM Bab Makina: Marwa Wright – Gospel (USA) Sunday May 31st
4:30PM Batha Museum: Mohammad Motamedi – The Art of the Radif (IRAN)
8:00PM Bab Makina: Dervish Trances : from Eternity to Modernity
1st Part: The Whirling Dervishes of Konya (TURKEY)
2nd Part: Ziya Azaz: “Icons”: Contemporary Dervish Dance (TURKEY)

Monday June 1st
4:30PM Batha Museum: Yuval Ron with Najwa Gibran – Judeo-Arab songs and music (USA )
8:00PM Bab Makina: “Strings and Soul”: First Performance by Didier Lockwood (FRANCE)
With Didier Lockwood String Sextet and Caroline Casadesus with Ihsan R’Miki and the Zaman al Wasl Ensemble (MOROCCO)

Tuesday June 2nd
4:30PM Batha Museum: “Women of Mayotte’s Deba”: – Sufi ritual (MAYOTTE)
8:00PM Bab Makina: Souad Massi – “Mesk Elil – Honeysuckle”: (FRANCE/ALGERIA)

Wednesday June 3rd
4:30PM Batha Museum: I’Muvrini: Sacred and popular Corsican songs (CORSICA)
8:00PM Bab Makina “Melos”Mediterranean Song WORLD DEBUT– Keyvan Chemirani (IRAN) Musical Dir. with Samira Kadiri (MOROCCO) Esperanza Fernandez (SPAIN) and Giorgis Xyloyris (GREECE)

Thursday June 4th
4:30PM Batha Museum: Dovna: Sacred Orthodox Songs (SERBIA)
8:00PM: Bab Makina: “The Gospel according to John” – Oratorio by Abed Azrié – Mediterranean Youth Orchestra – Instrumental ensemble and Choir of the Damascus Higher Institute of Music (FRANCE/SYRIA)

Friday June 5th
4:30PM : Batha Museum: Gabriel Garrido and the Elyma Ensemble -- Monteverdi: Baroque Sacred Songs and Music (SWITZERLAND)
8:00PM Bab Makina: Sami Yussuf : Spiritual songs from the Arab world (ENGLAND)

Saturday June 6th
4:30PM Batha Museum: Razbar Ensemble – Brotherhood of the Ahl-e Haqq – Mystic songs of Iranian Kurdistan (IRAN)
8:00PM Bab Makina: Loreena McKennit– “The Book of Secrets”: Celtic legends from West and East (CANADA)


Free MOROCCAN fusion groups perform at dusk each evening at BAB BOUJLOUD SQUARE


SUFI NIGHTS with one of Morocco’s Sufi Brotherhoods performing each evening (11PM at Dar Tazi Gardens)


FES ENCOUNTERS meetings May 30-June 31 held at the French Institute, Dar Batha 2009 Theme : Life Between Sacred and Secular