Blind Boys, Amadou and Mariam Unite at Eclectic Fez Festival

Music fans from around the globe gather in Morocco for 16th annual world music event

July 1, 2010 5:59 PM ET

When the Blind Boys of Alabama hit the stage recently in Fez, Morocco, surrounded by the massive ancient walls of the majestic Bab Makina amphitheater, the four septuagenarian American gospel singers had an audience of about 5,000, many of them Muslims, stomping their feet and clapping their hands to songs like Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" and Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "Up Above My Head." It was the group's second appearance at the annual Fez Festival of World Sacred Music, one of the world's most eclectic music events. For 10 days — from June 4th to the 12th — music fans from around the world gathered to watch performances by everyone from Malian pop duo Amadou and Mariam to Sufi mystics to androgynous Indian acrobats, not to mention artists from political hotspots like Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Korea.

Check out photos from the Fez Festival.

That kind of cross-cultural communication is what Moroccan anthropologist Faouzi Skali hoped for when he founded the Fez Festival in 1994, troubled by media stereotypes of Islam in the wake of the first Gulf War. Seven years later, the United Nations honored the festival as one of the world's "Unsung Heroes of Dialogue." Since the festival's earliest years, attendance has grown from about 100,000 people for concerts at exclusive venues like Bab Makina, to some 300,000 people this year for performances across the city, including free shows in public squares where the thump of Moroccan hip-hop appeared back to back with the snaky melodies and ecstatic voices of Islamic Sufi singers.

"We always thought the best language was music," says Fez Festival president Mohamed Kabbaj, the former governor of Casablanca. "When you hear people playing the music of their cultures, you can't distinguish between, for example, the drums of Korea and the drums of Burundi. Music speaks to hearts and to minds."

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Music Main Next
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories

“Road to Nowhere”

Talking Heads | 1985

A cappella harmonies give way to an a fuller arrangement blending pop and electro-disco on "Road to Nowhere," but the theme remains constant: We're on an eternal journey to an undefined destination. The song vaulted back into the news a quarter century after it was a hit when Gov. Charlie Crist used it in his unsuccessful 2010 campaign for the U.S. Senate in Florida. "It's this little ditty about how there's no order and no plan and no scheme to life and death and it doesn't mean anything, but it's all right," Byrne said with a chuckle.

More Song Stories entries »