Whoa! Has it really been that long? More than two months! My apologies. Last week I returned from a trip to Fes, Morocco where I took in the annual Fes Festival of Sacred Music. The city was incredible—rooted in the distant past, while struggling with the present, pervasive poverty but a fighting spirit. The medina was spectacular, tiny little stalls packed with all sorts of goods—many in plastic bags from China—but many more haphazardly hung, or in the case of many slabs of fly-speckled meat, simply sitting out on marble counters. Here’s a photo of one of my favorites stops, which sold hand-jarred olives, harisa, preserved lemons, and other such pickled treats.
The musical offerings were a mixed bag, but the music from the North Africa—as well as the Azerbaijani mugam singer and Malian superstar Salif Keita—was almost uniformly excellent. On all but the first evening of the festival, the proceedings closed with the “Sufi Nights” series, featuring a slew of traditional music groups from Morocco. I didn’t see them all, but there was no doubt that the highlight was the performance by Tariqa Aïssaouia from Fes. This is trance music at its best, with a super chill front man singing deep soul like he was absently snapping his fingers; a number of group members played the double-reed rhaitas, delivering piercing, nasal lines over a hard-hitting phalanx of hand percussion for an irresistibly funky breakdown. The local audience went nuts over them,literally kicking up dust and clapping in wonderfully complex, synopated patterns. I picked up a number of cds by the group, all of the album and song titles in Arabic; therefore I’m unable to provide any specifics for the track here, but since it seems highly unlikely that these releases are findable here in the US—although they’re all on the Belgian Fassiphone imprint, I couldn’t find any reference to them on the label’s website—it shouldn’t matter too much.
(COPYRIGHT SUZANNA CLARKE 2006)