Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Mawazine Festival in Morrocco 4: Concert for Peace

Text and photos by Banning Eyre

Near the Tour Hassan, Rabat

The final night of 2011 Mawazine in Rabat (May 28) began peacefully, with one of the most spectacular instrumental performances I saw during the entire visit.  Nasser Shamma is one of Iraq's most respected oud players.  His technique, compositional prowess, and overall musicality are  overwhelming.  His performance at the Chellah ruin, certainly Mawazine's most picturesque stage, drew a large crowd, pretty much filling the available seating.  And Shamma's performance, backed by a trio of percussionists, was spectacular.  Shamma spends a lot of time in Cairo these days, and we hope to visit and interview him there this summer and learn more about his remarkable story and sublime art.

Nasser Shamma


From Chellah, I rushed to the Mohammed V Theatre to catch a luminous set from Algerian maverick singer-songwriter Souad Massi.  Massi began her career singing political rock 'n roll in Algiers--this is one brave lady.  She made her international career in her adopted home, Paris, and from the start, created a distinctive sound blending gently intimate songcraft with percolating grooves full of diverse African sounds and rhythms.  All that was on display in her Mawazine performance, before an audience peppered with die-hard fans.  Massi was so relaxed and so completely in synch with her band that the mood could shift from a near-whispered lullaby to full-on, grooving rock in a flash.  Massi's band was pretty much the same as the one that toured in the US about five years back, and they sounded better than ever.



Souad Massi


In the portion of Massi's set that I heard, there were familiar titles, like the lyrical "Deb," and also songs from her 2010 CD O Houria (Liberty).  I had hoped to stick around and chat with Massi after the show, but word came through that I could have an interview with Egyptian pop star Amr Diab if I hurried to Espace Nahda across town.  So--Egypt ever on my mind--I jumped, also passing up the chance to see Mory Kante with his full band (that hurt!).  Keep in mind that while all of this was going on, by far the largest audience of the entire Mawazine festival was gathering at OLM Souissi for the most anticipated act of the year: Shakira.  Shakira's boyfriend plays soccer for Barcelona, which had beat Manchester United in the UEFA final that very night.  This "football" event alone would have put a crowd on the streets of Rabat, so the combination of all these things created monstrous gridlock.

Nevertheless, I made it to the scene of the Amr Diab show in time, but sadly, only in time for a runaround.  There was no interview.  The star was late.  This show began nearly 2 hours after its scheduled time (meaning I could have interviewed Massi, and caught a bit of Mory Kante...had I known...)  But when Amr Diab hit the stage and his massive crowd--including many, many women--went nuts, I was in the moment, enjoying the final night in Rabat to the pumping beats, and elegant crooning of Egypt's most beloved pop star.

Crowd for Amr Diab

Amr Diab





Concert for Peace in Marrakesh

On April 28th, just three weeks before the Mawazine festival began, a terrorist bomb in Marrakesh's famous central square--Jemma El Fna--killed seventeen people.  In recognition of this tragedy, Maroc Cultures (the non-profit organization behind Mawazine), organized an additional "Concert for Peace," to be held in Marrakesh on May 29.  The original plan had been to stage the concert in Jemma El Fna, but one look at that crowded, circus-like square--full of snake charmers, henna painters, monkey trainers, gnawa musicians, and vendors of every sort--revealed the impracticality of that idea.  So the concert was held a little out of town at a large outdoor venue.


The concert lasted over five hours, and included a number of key acts from the earlier Mawazine nights, including some I had missed.  The retrofitted Nass El Ghiwane, with Safy Boutella directing, began with a rousing set of nostalgic, people's poetry and song that got much of the crowd singing along.  Sapho sang Andalusian songs with an Edith Piaf air.  Idir sang in Tamazight, the language of his Algerian Berber origins.  Hindi Zara followed with her own hybrid if Moroccan Berber songs, Billy Holiday jazz, and desert blues--one of the great discoveries of this festival.  Mory Kante performed in redux--just kora, guitar and balafon--lending the grandeur of old Mande song to the occasion.  Bharati, an ensemble that brings the song and dance of Bollywood to the stage, and that was a big hit in Rabat, performed a longer set, to sustained adulation from Bollywood-mad Moroccans.  Fnaire, a group of Moroccan MC's threw down the sound of young Morocco, and directly afterwards, Hajja Hamdaouia played the sound of vintage Moroccan pop--elegant strings, rolling percussion and a seasoned diva at the helm--truly special.

Quincy Jones came on stage to show the crowd some love, and to introduce Siedah Garrett, who sang with backing tracks, but so compellingly that it didn't matter.  She began with a song dedicated to the occasion--"No matter what the question, the answer's always love." And she ended with the megahit she wrote and recorded with Michael Jackson, "Man in the Mirror." From American soul diva to Saharoui desert diva, Saida Charaf (the similarity of their first names is intriguing), the evening took a turn to the roots.  Charaf was also one of the great discoveries of this festival, a fabulous singer covering a satisfying range of styles, but most pleasing when in her deep-trance, Saharoui mode.  And finally, the man described to me as the "Barry White of the United Arab Emirates," Hussein El Jasmi took the stage in full Bedouin garb and gave the crowd a bracing set of khaleeji (Gulf) pop that ended around 2:30 AM.

That's it for my blog rundown of the music at Mawazine.  Stay tuned to NPR's All Things Considered for a piece on how this Festival highlights Morocco's unique place in the politics of the Arab Spring.  And of course, stay tuned for a full hour Afropop Worldwide program with lots of music and interviews from the festival.  I leave you with images from the Concert for Peace in Marrakesh.

Sapho
Idir
Hindi Zarra
Kids present check from Maroc Cultures
Mory Kante



Marrakesh crowd
Bharati
Hajja Mamdaouia


Quincy Jones
Siedah Garrett
Saida Charaf


Hussein El Jasmi



Goodbye, Morocco!
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