Morocco’s Fès Festival of World Sacred Music 4-12 June 2010 debuts ‘A Night in the Medina’ to its rich musical fare

16th edition features Ben Harper, Jordi Savall, Baghdad-Jerusalem Ensemble, plus performers from Africa, Cambodia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, India and more

“Music is a most powerful form of spiritual expression ; it is also the medium most likely to bring humans together” His Majesty King Mohammed VI of Morocco

Following the legacy of legendary performances from world renowned artists like Gilberto Gil, Ravi Shankar, Jessye Norman, and Youssou N’Dour, the 16th annual Fès Festival of World Sacred Music in Morocco’s oldest imperial city once again boasts a spectacular line-up of singers, dancers and musicians from the four corners of the globe. Along with evening concerts in the majestic surroundings of the Bab al Makina palace courtyard, more intimate afternoon performances at the Batha Museum’s Andalusian gardens, or late-night Sufi ceremonies at Dar Tazi, this year the Festival launches a new and evocative element, ‘A Night in the Medina’.

Founded in 1994, the Fès Festival sprang to life during the aftermath of the first Gulf war as a unique cultural bridge between increasingly divided Christian, Jewish and Muslim worlds. “Religion is too important to leave to clerics alone,”  states Festival founder and President Mohammed Kabbaj, echoing a famous phrase by Napoleon Bonaparte about war not being left to generals.

‘A Night in the Medina’ (7 June) carries forward this vision, with appearances by Ustad Gholam Hossain’s ensemble performing Sufi songs from war-torn Afghanistan, and Iran’s Kiya and Ziya Tabassian performing music for Persian lute, setar and tombak. Other performances throughout the labyrinthine alleys and passage ways of the medina – a UNESCO world heritage site and the oldest functioning medina in the world – include artists from Canada, Egypt, France, Mongolia and Turkey, performing at historic venues that include Dar Mokri and the Ben Danan Synagogue.

Viewers of VH1 may better know the historic Fès medina as the backdrop for U2’s recent video “Magnificent ” -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yi52HjJbwVQ The band began recording their last CD while attending the 2008 festival, and lead singer Bono has called Fès “a holy place for musicians.” And a world of musicians agree, making the festival a destination each year.

The Festival’s Gala opening is the evening of Friday, June 4th, where the grandeur of Bab al Makina will provide the dramatic backdrop to the Royal Ballet of Cambodia’s debut of choreography by Her Royal Highness Princess Norodom Buppa Devi. Saturday June 5th features an acoustic guitar concert by two-time GRAMMY award-winner Ben Harper from the United States in a special program exploring the roots of American blues.

The impressive line-up of international artists continues throughout the week: Master Drummers of Burundi ; Shahram Nazeri, Hafez Nazeri and the Rumi Ensemble from Iran; Jordi Savall with the Capella Reial of Catalunya, Spain debuting “Jerusalem, City of Celestial and Earthly Peace”; India’s Sizero Tabla Experience featuring Niladdri Kumar on electric sitar ; and Syria’s Great Voices of Aleppo with Sabah Fakhri. The grand finale of evening shows on June 12th is rousing American gospel double-bill featuring Sister Kee and The Blind Boys of Alabama.

More intimate afternoon concerts take place under the sheltering branches of the century-old Barbary oak inside the walled gardens of the Batha Museum. Offerings include: Acrobatic ritual dances of the Temples of the Orissa, performed by the Young Dancers of Gotipus, India ; Shakila Saidi and the Rajab Suleiman Trio from Tanzania; Morocco’s Ahmed Essyad with France’s Accroche Note Ensemble; Samul Nori Hanullim, South Korea’s sacred drum ensemble ; Parvathy Baul, and the mystical poets of Bengal ; the Baghdad-Jerusalem Ensemble exploring the Jewish musical traditions of Iraq; the Dhafer Youssef quartet from Tunisia ; and the Caribbean group David Murray and The Gwo Ka Masters, joined by American jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp.

Late night performances take place in the medina’s Dar Tazi Gardens where audiences will be entranced by a different Moroccan Sufi brotherhood each night at 11pm. A secular contrast, the Festival in the City is series of free Moroccan pop/fusion concerts for locals and visitors alike. At dusk, free concerts also take place at Bab Boujloud, a vast square flanked by ancient walls. Overhead, countless Alpine swifts suddenly fill the skies to signal the end of the working day. Visitors join the throngs of families who enthusiastically enjoy the evening’s boisterous fare, or head to the outskirts of the city for free evening concerts at the Aït Skato arena.

As a post 9/11 initiative, the forums of the Fès Meetings were created for academics, artists, religious leaders, political activists and politicians to share views, debate and develop dialogue on important contemporary issues. This year’s theme is ‘The Spiritual Voyage : From Mystery to Revelation’ with morning forums taking place at the Batha Museum gardens from June 5-9.

As Nadia Benjelloun, International Director of the Fès Festival and Director of the Fès Meetings, remarks: “In our agitated world, the Fès Meetings -- and the the entire Fès Festival -- is a remarkable example of the promotion of peace and fraternity among the peoples of the world.”

June 4th
8.30pm - Bab Makina - Opening Ceremonies
Royal Ballet of Cambodia (Cambodia) The Legend of the Creation of the Khmer Kingdom

June 5th
4pm - Batha Museum
The Young Gotipuras Dancers of the Raghurajput Heritage Village (India) Ritual acrobatic dance from the temples of Orissa

8:30pm - Bab Makina
Ben Harper (USA) The roots of popular American music, from gospel to blues, from reggae to folk

June 6th
4pm - Batha Museum
Shakila Saidi & the Rajab Suleiman Trio (Tanzania) The art of taraab in Swahili tradition

8:30pm - Bab Makina
Africa Spirit: Mtendeni Maulid Sufi Ensemble of Zanzibar (Zanzibar) and Masters Drummers of Burundi (Burundi)

June 7th
4pm - Batha Museum
Ahmed Essyad and the Accroche Note Ensemble (Morocco) Forbidden Voices: mystical poems of Hussain Mansour Al-Hallaj

A Night in the Medina: (Various locations including the Batha Museum, Dar Tazi, Dar Mokri, Dar Adiyel and the Ben Danan Synagogue)

Camille with Clement Ducol (France): Creation: God is Sound and Bach: Le Canon Perpetuel
The Constantinople Ensemble and Barbara Furtuna (Iran & France): Canti di a Terra
Ustad Gholam Hossain and his ensemble (Afghanistan)
Epi (Mongolia) Songs of the Steppe Nomads
Gulay Hacer Toruk (Turkey): Songs of Anatolia
Kiya and Ziya Tabassian (Iran): Sitar and Persian tombak
Musicians of the Nile (Egypt): Tanoura Sufi dance and mizmar song from Luxor

June 8th
4pm - Batha Museum
Samul Nori Hanullim Ensemble (South Korea): Percussion and Sacred Dance of Korea

8:30pm - Bab Makina
Shahram Nazeri and the Rumi Ensemble (Iran): The Sufi poetry of Jalal Uddine Rumi

June 9th
4pm - Batha Museum
Parvathy Baul (India): Mystical poetry of the Bauls of Bengal

8:30pm - Bab Makina
Jordi Savall  and the Hesperion XXI Ensemble (Spain) with guests from Morocco, Iraq, Greece, Israel, Galilee and Armenia: Jerusalem, City of Heavenly Peace and Earthly Peace

June 10th
10am - Batha Museum
Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia (India): Morning ragas on a bansuri flute

4pm - Batha Museum
Baghdad-Jerusalem Ensemble (Israel & Iraq): Music of the Jewish tradition of Baghdad

8:30pm - Bab Makina
Sizero Tabla Experience (India & United Kingdom): Rhythmic India

June 11th
4pm - Batha Museum
Dhafer Youssef and his Ensemble (Tunisia): Sufi Songs revisited

8:30pm - Bab Makina
Great Voices of Aleppo with Sabah Fakhri, Sheikh Habboush, Mustapha Hilal, Ahmed Azrak and Safwan Abid (Syria)

June 12th
4pm - Batha Museum
David Murray and the Gwo Ka Masters with Archie Shepp (Caribbean/USA)

8:30pm - Closing Ceremonies - Bab Makina
Gospel Voices:
Part I: Sista Kee (USA); Part II: The Blind Boys of Alabama (USA)

6:30pm - Free Moroccan pop/fusion concerts Boujloud Square
8:00pm - Free Moroccan pop/fusion concerts at Ait Skato?
11:00pm – Free Moroccan Sufi concerts at Dar Tazi

Educational activities for children and art workshops at Al Quds or Al Houria Complex
Exhibitions at Batha Museum and at Dar Tazi

FÈS Forum MEETINGS June 5-9 2010 Theme: The Spiritual Voyage (from Mystery to Revelation)
9:00am to 1:00pm at Batha Museum

Note regarding A NIGHT IN THE MEDINA
From Abdelhak Azzouzi, General Director

Ever since its founding in 808, the city of Fès has hosted eminent Muslim, Christian and Jewish historical figures who have influenced the history of humanity as a whole. Cases in point are Maimonides, the great reformer of Judaism; Ibn Khaldun, the great historian, philosopher and Muslim man of politics; Ahmed Baba of Timbuktu, the scholar, and author of the history of Sudan; Pope Sylvester II; Averroes, the philosopher, man of medicine, jurist and Islamic theologian, to cite but a few. As so well demonstrated by Jorge Sampaio, High UN Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, the city of Fès is a real crucible of civilisations, thanks to its millennial legacy as a crossroad of cultures, influences, traditions, roots andidentities.

It is this very definition of Fès that inspires the debut of "A Night in the Medina" this year, to allow the festival-goers to discover the history of Fès where three civilizations -- Jewish, Christian and Muslim -- live. Faithful to itself and to its founder, Moulay Idriss, Fès remains a space for meeting, for sharing and exchange

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. 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 Fès 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

“Fès is a holy place for musicians. We came to pay tribute, and to learn” – musician Bono of U2