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GreenCine Movie Talk
From Albania to Zaire, there's a whole world out there.

Music from Fez: don't keep it under your hat
Topic by: JGereben
Posted: April 13, 2007 - 11:37 PM PDT
Last Reply: April 13, 2007 - 11:37 PM PDT

author topic: Music from Fez: don't keep it under your hat
post #1  on April 13, 2007 - 11:37 PM PDT  
[US-made, but as "foreign" as they come...:)]

How about some Islamic songs about love and friendship - would that come handy just now? Against the sensational headlines and unceasing barrage of associating terrorists with millions of innocent people, a stunning, wonderful surprise awaited me in Morocco.

It was 2003, just a few months after the beginning of the war in Iraq, and yet at Fez ("Fès" in the French legacy) and its "Festival of World Sacred Music," there was this overwhelming musical-spiritual unity on display between Arabs, Jews, Christians, and just plain folk. Not since the Summer of Love - closer to home and 40 years ago - has there been such innocent, sincere expression of people trying to come together.

Fez is magic: in the maze of the narrow alleys of the ancient (but vibrantly alive and cell-phone saturated) medina, donkeys are passing in the middle of teeming humanity; they have had the right-of-way since the city's birth in the 8th Century, and the rule stands, even under satellite dishes crowding the roof of every building.

In this fabled imperial city, the festival brings together musicians from various cultures, societies, religions, ideologies, allowing them to leave all that excess baggage behind and celebrate music and humanity. The American opera singer Julia Migenes appears along with Iran's great Sufi singer Mohamed Reza Shajarian, Yungchen Lhamo of Tibet chants along with the Gospel songs of the Anointed Jackson Sisters, Brazilian Gilberto Gil and Indian Madhavi Mudgal, artists from Pakistan, Vietnam, Sénégal and, yes, even Iraq (the wonderful Farida Mohamed Ali) make the musical scene of this historically cosmopolitan and tolerant city a model of what the world should be.

The year before and the year after my experience of the Fez Festival, another Bay Area visitor, the film-maker Stephen Olsson went to Fez, and he returned with tons of video, from which he fashioned a remarkable documentary, "Sound of the Soul." Introduced at the Mill Valley Film Festival before, it's coming to commercial distribution now.

A concert film, a travelogue, a history lesson, a mild-mannered homily, Ohlsson's work is a grand upper, pulling together Berber women, a fabulous Portuguese Fado singer, a French early-music ensemble, players and vocalists from Afghanistan, England, Russia, Ireland, Mauritania, Turkey and finally, a gospel band from New York City. Among the featured groups: Farida Mahwash - the first woman in Afghanistan to be named an "Ustad" or master musician - and the Kabul Ensemble.

Ecstatic Sufi performers dominate the concert, but the sound, the music, the "message" are all suffused with sincere expressions of love and longing, against a great heritage of tolerance, an ancient sanctuary for people of different faiths. Yes, it's about time again for a dose of this artless art, these legions of Candides, whistling in the dark about the best of all possible worlds.

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