When Ben Harper announced his last-minute cancellation due to a skateboarding accident, blind Malian Afro-pop duo Amadou & Mariam stepped up to the plate. The duo delivered a set of seething funk, smooth vocals from the husband-and-wife duo and sexy moves from the back-up dancers. Amadou and Mariam's performance left the audience at Bab Makina asking, ?Ben who??
The feminist pop singer Najat Aatabou wowed some 10,000 fans, who danced and sang along to her songs in the vast Boujloud Square outside the Fez medina during a Sunday night public performance. Aatabou's often controversial songs question traditional values in Islamic societies, namely those involving women's rights and issues. Her 1993 hit ?Just Tell Me the Truth? brought her music to Western audiences when the Chemical Brothers sampled it for their 2005 hit ?Galvanize.?
The Fez Festival's opening-day ceremonies featured appearances by everyone from Moroccan Princess Lalla Hasnae to the Royal Ballet of Cambodia. But the ones who dazzled festival-goers the most were these acrobatic dancers from India. Dressed ambiguously to show the androgynous nature of divinity, these male children performed feats that would shame the best yoga practicioners.
During a Sunday afternoon performance underneath a huge oak tree in the courtyard of Fez' Batha Museum, Zanzibar's Rajab Suleiman Qanun Trio were interrupted by the throaty voice of a muezzin calling Muslims to prayer from a nearby mosque. The group's music features the feathery strings of Suleiman's qanun — a zither-like instrument — set against the high-pitched, Asian-like vocals of Shakila Saidi, who sings an East African musical style known as taarab, which in Arabic means ?having joy with music.?
The music of Sufis — the mystic branch of Islam in which believers use hypnotic rhythms, trance-like vocals, and poetic lyrics in an attempt to become one with their god — was a big part of the Fez program. Each night at a lush, outdoor venue in the medina called the Dar Tazi gardens, Sufi musicians ranging from an all-female group to a 23-year-old wunderkind performed late-night concerts. Among the most moving was the Monday night performance by Ustad Gholam Hossain's ensemble from Afghanistan. Their rhythmic melodies and dramatic use of percussion drew roars of applause and ovations when the group left the stage.
This large group of Sufi dancers and singers from Zanzibar mesmerized the Bab Makina audience during a Sunday evening performance of ritualistic chants, choreographed swaying and hand gestures that made the members appear at times like cobras doing ballet.
Tunisia's Dhafer Youseff not only is a virtuoso oud player, but he's also a master singer who creates unearthly sounds by placing his hand against his nose and singing high notes that would make Mariah Carey blush. His ensemble's mix of jazz and traditional Tunisian music during a Friday afternoon show at the Batha Museum encapsulated the festival's multi-cultural mission. So did his band's lineup: the piano player was from Armenia, the bassist from Canada and the drummer from the U.S.
Another American music ambassador at Fez was legendary jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp, who improvised on some solos with fellow American saxophonist David Murray during the final Saturday afternoon show at the Batha Museum. The two performed as part of Murray's Caribbean-jazz ensemble the Gwo Ka Masters.
One of the criticisms of the Fez Festival in past years was that the performances were too exclusive: not enough music was offered to local Moroccans who couldn't afford the big-ticket shows at Bab Makina and the Batha Museum. Organizers in recent years have added popular concerts held at the vast Bab Boujloud square next to the medina, which can hold up to 10,000 people. In this photo, mostly local music fans wait for Moroccan Sufi star Abdellah Yaakoubi to perform on Saturday evening.
An ocean away from their Alabama home, the Blind Boys closed the Fez Festival at Bab Makina on Saturday by testifying about their love of Jesus to a audience of mostly Muslims. It was a fitting finale for a festival designed to open eyes and minds to different cultural traditions.