NPR logo The Fes Festival: Sacred Music From Around The World

The Fes Festival: Sacred Music From Around The World

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Photo Gallery: The Fes Festival In Morocco

Betto Arcos, host of Global Village on KPFK, shares highlights and presents a photo gallery from the Fes Festival in Morocco, which includes a diverse assortment of devotional music. Among his picks are Ensemble Lalla Rhoum El Bakkali, one of the few all-female Sufi musical groups in the world, and Tunisian musician Dhafer Youssef.

(Soundbite of song, "Eh Iaaoudii")

RHOUM EL BAKKALI: (Singing in foreign language)


These are the women of the ensemble Rhoum El Bakkali, one of the few all-female Sufi musical groups in the world. Our occasional musical contributor Betto Arcos saw them on stage recently at Morocco's Fes Festival, which is devoted to sacred music from around the world. He brought back this recording along with several others for his radio show "Global Village" on KPFK.

And Betto Arcos joins me now from NPR West.

Welcome to the program.

BETTO ARCOS: It's great to be with you, Lynn.

NEARY: So, tell me a little bit about this song that we're listening to right now.

ARCOS: This is a, you know, traditional Sufi song. It's a song that takes different chance of musical traditions of the - what's called a Sama. Sama is a Sufi tradition that's all about listening and listening to each other and responding back. As you can see in this piece, you hear the, sort of a main vocalist, a soloist, chanting these verses and then the chorus responds back to her.

(Soundbite of song, "Eh Iaaoudii")

RHOUM EL BAKKALI: (Singing in foreign language)

NEARY: Now, there's an amazing part at the end where one of the women begin ululating. What is that about?

ARCOS: It's a very particular way of responding to the music that - suggesting that the music is touching the people, the listeners who are absorbing this music.

(Soundbite of song, "Eh Iaaoudii"

RHOUM EL BAKKALI: (Singing in foreign language)

ARCOS: I had an opportunity to be in this audience listening to this ensemble, and I tell you, I have never ever felt anything so close to the real thing. It was like being part of something that you just don't get to be in ever. The ensemble is chanting and suddenly you hear in a sort of a burst of emotion women in the crowd suddenly respond back with this ululating. And it's just so powerful to be there.

(Soundbite of song, "Eh Iaaoudii")

RHOUM EL BAKKALI: (Singing in foreign language)

NEARY: Well, let's hear another example of some of the music that you've heard there. What do you have for us next?

ARCOS: The next piece is by this ensemble called Jil Jilala. This group came of age in the early '70s. It was really at a time when musicians felt that there was a need to reinvent Moroccan popular music, because at the time, a lot of the Arab music they were getting from was popular music from Egypt. And there were a lot of musicians that felt they wanted to get something out of their own culture, their own music because Morocco is really a powerhouse when it comes to music.

There are so many different musical traditions and this group came of age at that time when there was that sort of need to come up with something native to Morocco.

(Soundbite of song, "Al Jawad")

ARCOS: And what they do is they blend different music, including Sufi music and Gnawa music, which is also kind of a sacred, trance-inducing music, and they created their own sound.

(Soundbite of song, "Al Jawad")

JIL JILALA: (Singing in foreign language)

NEARY: All right. Now, we have another track here cued up, and this is by the Rajab Suleiman Trio.

(Soundbite of song, "Askadari")

ARCOS: This is one of the most sublime moments of the festival. It's the Rajab Suleiman Trio. Rajab Suleiman plays the instrument called ghanoon. It's an instrument that he puts on his lap and he plucks it and he plays it like that, like a sort of a dulcimer, I guess you could call it. And he's playing a song that is traditional to Zanzibar but it's also a song and a melody that is played in many parts of the Middle East. It's called "Askadari."

(Soundbite of song, "Askadari")

ARCOS: Now, what you hear in his playing and in the ambience of this music is you hear a lot of different things coming together, and this is the beauty of the music. He comes from a tradition of taarab music, which is the sort of popular music of Zanzibar. But in the taarab, you have influences from India, he is also influenced by Swahili, African music, and he's also influenced by music from the Arab world.

So, what you hear in this piece is really a confluence of sounds coming together in the most sublime, the most beautiful way.

(Soundbite of song, "Askadari")

(Soundbite of cheers and applause)

NEARY: All right. We have time for one more track, and this one is pretty different from what we've been listening to. Let's take a listen.

(Soundbite of song, "Khamsa")

Mr. DHAFER YOUSSEF: (Singing in foreign language)

NEARY: Now, I was surprised when I first heard this piece because it didn't seem to fit in with what I had been listening to up until that point. This is by someone named Dhafer Youssef. It seems a lot more Western to me. I can hear some jazz influence in there. What's the story here?

ARCOS: Dhafer Youssef is from a small town in Tunisia. He grew up as a muezzin, as the person who calls people to prayer to the mosque. But he moved to Vienna and he instantly began to be influenced by all the music that he heard in Vienna, especially jazz.

(Soundbite of song, "Khamsa")

ARCOS: His work is really influenced by this freedom that jazz gives artists. And in this record, what he's doing is a kind of homage or tribute to one of the great poets, Persian Arab poets, named Abu Nuwas. And he takes the poetry and he puts it to music and the result is just out of this world.

(Soundbite of song, "Khamsa")

Mr. YOUSSEF: (Singing in foreign language)

NEARY: It sounds like it was an amazing musical experience for you. Was it the first time you ever attended that festival or do you go to it regularly?

ARCOS: Lynn, I've been wanting to go to this festival for over 10 years. I've been to festivals all over. I have never been to the Fes Festival before. It was truly the most exciting experience for me to be in a beautiful city with great people and great music. It's just a fantastic time.

NEARY: That's Betto Arcos, the host of "Global Village" on KPFK in Los Angeles.

Thanks so much, Betto. It was good talking to you.

ARCOS: Thank you for having me, Lynn.

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The Fes Festival: Sacred Music From Around The World

Dhafer Youssef cover
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Khamsa "The Khamriyyat of Abu Nawas"

  • from Abu Nawas Rhapsody
  • by Dhafer Youssef

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Jil Jilala cover
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Al Jawad

  • from Al Jawad
  • by Jil Jilala
Rajab Suleiman
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Askadari (Traditional Music, Arrangement by Rajab Suleiman)

  • from Askadari
  • by Shakila & Rajab Suleiman Qanun Trio
Ensemble photo
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Eh iaaoudii

  • from Eh Iaaoudii
  • by Ensemble Rhoum El Bakkali du Hadra Chefchaounia

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