The tenth annual Mawazine Festival in Rabat, Morocco, is off to a dizzying start. This 10-day musical extravaganza takes place on 8 stages around the Moroccan capital between May 20-28. After three days and nights taking in music, I can report that this is a one-of-a-kind musical event. While much of North Africa and the Middle East is engaged with fundamental issues of destiny and governance, Morocco is moving ahead with its tradition of spring and summer public festivals. Mawazine is without question the most ambitious of them all. Called by some "the king's festival"--because it is largely funded by a non-profit organization called Maroc-Cultures, which gets significant personal support from King Mohammed VI--this festival delivers an overwhelming diversity of international music. Where else could you see Kanye West, Salif Keita, Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), Nass el Ghiwane (pioneers of Moroccan roots pop), Kadim Saher (one of the most respected classical pop singers of the Middle East), Ernest Ranglin, and Sahraoui desert diva Saida Charaf, all within the space of a few days?
|Kanye West in Rabat, Morocco|
|Saida Charaf, Mawazine Festival|
With eight stages going, some of them a good 20-minute drive apart, it is impossible to catch even half the action in any given night. You have to make hard choices. Are you in the mood for icons of Western pop? An Afropop superstar? A revered singer of Arabic art music? Or your choice of Moroccan music, from Andalusian majesty to Sufi trance or raucous roots music? For Moroccans, who can attend the concerts for free, or pay a modest price to stand in an area closer to the stage, one concert a night probably does it. For insane journalists like the folks I'm moving with, you try to thread the needle, catching a bit of this then charging across town to experience something different. Take the first night, Friday, May 20. Following an opening ceremony that featured an all-female drumming ensemble from Japan, I headed to the seaside Espace El Menzeh to hear gnaoua modernizer Majid Bekkas making a scintillating, multi-national fusion with German pianist Joachim Kuhn and Argentine percussionist Minino Garay.
|Joachim Kuhn, Majid Bekkas|
|Kanye West at Mawazine|
|Nass el Ghiwane, Omar Essayed seated in hat|
|Nass el Ghiwane crowd|
|Crowd at Sale|
|Saida Charaf and Rachida Talal|
|Drummer for Saida Charaf|