At the start of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music, arguably the most consistently high quality world music festival in the world, there were demonstrations there and elsewhere in Morocco. By the end there was a new constitution posted online, with the King renouncing some of his powers. As if reflecting the unsettled times, while the city is normally baking hot this time of year, the rain lashed down monsoon-style.
While there are several artists known in the West like the West African icon Youssou N’Dour whose band was on top bluesy, yearning form or the gospel-tinged music of Ben Harper, who said he was embarrassed this was his first trip to Africa, what is most enlightening in Fes is the unrivalled musical selection of artists who are celebrated outside the Anglo-Saxon world.
Abu Al Malik.
Foremost among them was the hugely charismatic “slammer, rapper and composer” Abd Ali Malik, who has lived in the Congo, but is now a big figure in France. Unlike most rappers, he surrounded himself with a first rate band of accomplished jazzers and his compelling tunes reflected that he is a follower of the mystical Islamic path of Sufism.
There were plenty of other top notch Sufi acts like the utterly charming group Syubbanal Akhyar from Java who performed under the famous, giant Barbary oak tree in the grounds of the atmospheric Musée Batha. One of the most striking examples of the religious tolerance the Festival is known for was a showing of Franz Olsen’s 1929 silent movie The Light Of Asia about the life of the Buddha, backed by gorgeous music from Hindi and Muslim musicians from Rajasthan.
But the biggest star of the week was the Iraqi heart-throb Kadem Al-Sahir. All of Fes turned out dressed to the nines for him, with many women in chic dresses and high heels. Accompanied by a swooning orchestra, under a moon by the gate of the Royal Palace, this was quite possibly the most romantic music I’ve ever heard. In exile from Iraq, with houses in Paris and Cairo, he pleased female fans of a certain generation with a song The Older You Get, the More Beautiful You Become and another about Baghdad, as he says “Even when I am unfaithful, living in other cities, she is the one I dream of”.
Original article by The Telegraph