Festival of World Sacred Music

Our annual conference was scheduled to begin the week after the Festival of World Sacred Music in Fes, which I had long wanted to attend, so I was very happy to discover that the cheapest way to get to the UK was on Royal Air Maroc, meaning a change of plane in Casablanca - and that there was no additional cost if I took a few days' stopover there.  Inexplicably, I decided to spend only three days at the festival (why??) - three days that were so good that I will almost certainly have to go back another year to see and hear more, even if I have to pay for my own flight next time.

This festival covers sacred music from all over the world, but I missed contributions from places such as Bolivia and Iran.  Nor did I get to see the late night performances of Moroccan sufi music as my 3am start to get to Morocco, and my 4am start to leave three days later, did restrict me somewhat.  However I attended a concert in the Jnan Sbil gardens by 3Ma (photo above), a trio of musicians from Mali (Ballake Sissoko), Madagascar (Rajery) and Morocco (Driss al Maloumi), each playing a traditional instrument from their country.  This one I knew I would like (I have a CD of theirs in my collection).  I was less certain about Mystical Breaths, a concert in the same gardens taking in Gregorian chants accompanied by harp and Indian flutes, but it was also very enjoyable.

The best of all, however, was a concert entitled "In the Heart of Sufi Africa", encompassing sufi musicians from Egypt, Zanzibar, Morocco and Senegal, that took place in the large walled Bab al Makina.  The music was beautiful, as I'd expected, but the spectacular light show was a big surprise.  Here are three shots of some of the different lighting effects behind the musicians:

Really breathtaking.

Of course I also had some time to explore the city - somewhere I hadn't been for more than twenty years.  There is rather more hassle of tourists (especially blonde, female tourists) than I would like, but still I really love this city.  It is unlike anywhere else, with the ninth century medina of some 9,000 alleyways (apparently), its only traffic being donkey- or horse-led carts, as well as countless other ancient walls, gates and palaces throughout the city.  A place where you can just wander aimlessly but know you will be rewarded. 

I did though re-visit the famous tanneries,

where leather (from cows, goats and camels) from throughout the country is treated.  Firstly in the limestone pits to the left of the picture, where pigeon droppings are the main ingredient in the solution that removes all flesh and other unwanted elements from the leather, and then secondly in the pits to the right, used for various dyes to give the leather its colour.

Apparently they still do not use any chemical inputs, with all dyes coming from natural ingredients such as poppies (for the red) and safron (for the yellow), although the latter is dabbed on sparingly on rooftops, rather than in the pits given its cost.  All the pits are owned by different families, so the work passes from generation to generation.  Tough work, by the looks of it. 

Of course the pressure to buy something made of leather afterwards is quite strong, but I already knew that I wanted a leather bum bag (following the recent attempted robbery), and was reasonably happy to get it for less than half the price the sellers started at.  Especially as my hostel in the old medina was costing me only 8 euros a night including breakfast!

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