Julia Boutros at Bab al-Makina
The French Hevrat David Hamelech Chorale kicked off Sundayʼs program at the Batha Museum. As on the previous day, the courtyard of the beautiful Hispano-Moorish palace was ﬁlled for a concert focused on the human voice in prayer, accompanied by a local Andalusian orchestra led by Mohamed Briouel. Based in the Alsatian city of Strasbourg, the Chorale specializes in a Judeo-Andalusian repertoire, including liturgical chants and piyutim (Hebrew poems sung to different melodies during religious services). This performance left a vision of past and present co-existence between Jews and Arabs especially resonant in Morocco, considering that an estimated 5,000 Jews still live in the country, and their vibrant legacy in the arts is often overlooked.
Later that night, at Bab al-Makina, excitement ran high for a completely different sort of performance–the Lebanese Christian vocalist Julia Boutros' Fes debut. By 8:30 pm, both my section and the paid sections behind me were jam-packed of elegantly dressed Fassis and tourists. I wasnʼt sure what to expect, but when the orchestra ﬂipped from a swooping violin-led melody into a sassy disco beat, I was hooked. From the 24-piece ensemble to Boutrosʼ spangled crimson gown, everything about this concert was larger than life.
|Fans eagerly awaiting Nass el-Ghiwane|
Despite the intense atmosphere at Bab al-Makina, I left a bit before the end of the concert in order to see every second of the next show. I had been waiting years to catch the legendary Moroccan band Nass el-Ghiwane in performance, and tonight I would have a front-row spot. However, I was not early enough to beat the crowd at Place Boujloud.
|The current lineup of Nass el-Ghiwane|
|Rachid Batma, Larbi Batma's nephew|
The band ran through a set of their hits, including “Fin Ghadi Biya Khouya?” (“Where are you taking me, brother?”), “Ma Hammouni” (“My Sadness”), and “Lebtana” (“The Sheepskin”), which starts with a poetic indictment of poverty and inequality and stretches out into a grooving Gnaoua jam session.The crowd started yelling for “Es-Sinia” early and often, and I could tell by the grins on their faces that the band had decided to move the song up in response. They began the song with a long acappella intro--after each line, the band responds “Oh, sinia.” Watching Rachid Batma, the nephew of the late Larbi Batma sing his uncleʼs song, and hearing well over a thousand voices joyously cry “Oh, sinia!” behind me was absolutely unforgettable. A few minutesʼ walk away, at Dar Tazi, a troupe of Suﬁ Darakouiya from Essaouira were performing, but I couldnʼt tear myself away from Nass el-Ghiwane.
Day Three of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music was an excellent showcase of the intimate relationship between music and spirituality, and the various ways the artists chose to honor their spirituality and glorify it through music.
Contributed by Kendra Salois