Jazz au Chellah Festival
The evening breeze on summer nights caresses the walls of the fortress while seagulls hover all over the towers. The moon is discernible from afar. In the distance, you can spot swarms of people walking down a long alley leading to the shiny doors of the fortress Chellah. In the outskirts of Rabat, the vestiges of the old historical city of Merinids, usually visited by tourists interested in medieval ruins, is visited once a year by thousands of Jazz fans from all over the world for an annual festival held for five days: Jazz au Chellah.
In dim lights, and carpets laid next to the stage, the spectators are hosted in a cosy ambience reminiscent of Woodstock gatherings. The spectators can sit on the carpet, stand next to the stage, walk around the site, or simply sit on chairs. Annexed to the right wing of the scene, some chairs are positioned over a small hill giving a different view on the stage. When overbooked, people can sit on the stairs. As a matter of fact, the 18th edition reached an unprecedented record of 2000 spectators per concert. The venue could not welcome more and hence many people were unfortunately turned away.
Walking through the long alley to reach Chellah's ruins, one can hear various languages spoken. The heterogeneous swarm attending concerts is not fortuitous but is the result of the politics of the festival. The latter is organized by the European Union Delegation in Morocco in partnership with the Moroccan Ministry of culture. Based on the principle of this co-operation, European Jazz bands meet their Moroccan counterparts in workshops, with the purpose to come up with original songs they can perform at the closings of concerts.
Historically, the richness of Moroccan music has always been the target of great jazz figures, to name pianist Randy Weston
, probably the first musician to mix jazz with Moroccan music (Tanjah, Polydor Label 1973); percussionist Jauk El Maleh whose various academic experiments are still on the forefront; guitarist Pat Metheny
considered as a special guest at Essaouira Gnawa Festival; and many others such as Omar Sosa
, Wayne Shorter
and recently Archie Shepp
who found on the variety of Moroccan instruments and sounds interesting material to produce original jazz. Based on this idea, the festival seeks to sustain the close affiliation between jazz and Moroccan music. Day One:September 11 Naoko Sakata
trio was the band to open the festival. Made of three skilled young musicians: Pianist Naoko Sakata, bassist Anton Blomgren
, and drummer Johan Birgenius
; the trio released lyrical sounds followed by meditative pauses. On the lead Sakata, indulged in tripping solos and then switched to experimental sounds of a complex nature. The contrast between beautiful sweet notes and natural outburst was the hallmark of the young trio.
Next up was Papanosh Quintet. Hard to classify, the versatile French musicians swayed between bebop, hard-bop, classical themes, lyrical solos, swing, French valse, and creative sounds ranging from squeaks, horns, to bird like sounds. Somewhere between the New York underground and Charles Mingus
influences, but also touching upon old New Orleans orchestral renderings, Paponosh painted small portraits of Jazz genres.
Then the long awaited composer/vocalist Oum rushed onto stage followed by guitarist Patrick Marie-Magdelaine
. Renowned by her openness to other musical genres, notably in the album Soul of Morocco
(Lofmusic, 2012), Oum merged sweet melodies along with powerful outbursts. On a soprano note, she smoothed the Papanosh quartet frenzy through a rendition of an old Arabic song 'لما بدا يتثنى.' Oum then played new untitled songs resulting from her collaboration with the Papanosh Quintet. She also performed a new take of the famous Hassani traditional song "Taragalte" where notably vocal traditional youyous echoed breath-taking trumpet solos by Quentin Ghomari
. Oum's music reverberated naturally enough with brass instruments and the animated drumming of Jérémie Piazza
. Day Two: September 12
The second evening opened with Fugara
, a jazz band with a spiritual touch. The enchanting, deep and elongated solos offered by Fugara indulged the audience with a novel perspective on multicultural sounds infused with some African rhythms. Originally Dutch, German and Finnish, the four musicians voiced their vision of a worldly jazz open to many influences but unique to their improvising talent and ease at phrases with a dying fall.