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Jazzablanca Festival 2014: Casablanca, Morocco

Jazzablanca Festival 2014:  Casablanca, Morocco
Mehdi El Mouden By

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Hippodrome Anfa
Jazzablanca Festival
Casablanca, Morocco
March 29-April 3, 2014

Jazz breathes new life through the Jazzablanca Festival. Rethinking Jazz culture is a difficult process, as no findings about jazz audiences in Morocco exist. Jazz is only brought to the fore of discussion at festival time. The media does not publicize jazz the rest of the year otherwise, only partnering with festivals for coverage purposes.

Hence, the elitist question around jazz has not been solved and is always present, especially considering expensive tickets, let alone the mystery revolving around the aesthetics of jazz and its culture. To shortcut that distance and reach a wider audience, festival organizers went to the street. Fez and Tangiers experimented with that concept, and this year it was Casablanca's turn to present jazz in a sprawling metropolis.

Casablanca may not be as exotic as other Moroccan cities, but has charm of its own. It is the country's economic capital and represents trendy Morocco with art galleries, upscale stores, numerous restaurants and hip night clubs. Mostly built in the 20th century during the time of French protectorate, it was redesigned by French architect Henri Prost, per the request of the first French resident.

The wide boulevards, old white houses, public parks and fountains keep the memory of French design intact. The wall-protected Medina embodies Morocco's traditional, sinewy back streets, shopping stalls and famous clock tower. At the crossroads stands Place des Nation Unies, a recently restored terrace hosting free Jazzablanca concerts.

Six shows were scheduled to charm fans and passersby. From jazz, funk and blues to fusion, the 9th edition sought to create a musical bubble in the city.

The off program also included concerts at a hotel, as well as gigs in a jazz club next to main stage for preludes and afters featuring highly respected artists like Jan Prax, Karim Ziad, and Majid Bekkas. Even more, to open up the festival, a late morning, outdoor parade in the beachfront of Ain Diab corniche was given by the French brass band Le Gros Tube. Five main concerts were scheduled as usual, on the racecourse of Anfa Hippodrome, a unique leisure venue for horse racing and events that has hosted Jazzablanca since 2012. This year's lineup centered on the worldly dimension of music. In fact, the festival has been renamed as Jazz & World Music Festival, thus featuring illustrious musicians of different genres : British soul singer/songwriter Joss Stone, smooth American singer/songwriter Stacey Kent, Franco- Lebanese composer and trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf, American rock icon Patti Smith, and the Electro Deluxe Big Band, a powerful, witty French ensemble.

Day One: March 29

Barefoot in a sleeveless dress, short blond tresses around her neck and a big smile on her face, Joss Stone passionately hopped on stage to deliver beautifully charming notes. In a few minutes, her fragile yet strong voice had cast a spell on an audience which yearned for energy and soul. A colorful Motown style was a good balance between trendy popular music catering to all tastes and a touch of soul that contextualized the festival's jazzy feel.

Stone focused mainly on songs from her album Soul Sessions Vol II: "I got the... ," "(For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People" , "Teardrop," "High Road" and "Sideway Shuffle..." Similar to the album's takes, this performance was an opportunity for Stone to converse with her audience, invite them to respond to lyrics, and test their ability to recognize songs flowing into each other. Stone surprised everyone by inviting Moroccan singer/composer OU on stage for a duet, which inflamed the crowd. More astonishing yet was Stone's smooth rendition of Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart" and Bob Marley's "Turn Your Lights Down Low."

Day Two: March 30

Well versed in languages, originally specializing in literature and open to cultures, Stacey Kent was a female voice which aroused curiosity. She brought serenity to the stage and, through her languid vocals, absorbed the void of the complex. Silence and pauses became sounds of great intensity and allowed dynamics and melodies to have a greater impact. Be it in English, French, or Portuguese, Kent can bring joy, together with sorrows. The refined melancholy of Kent is the landmark of her compositions along with Jim Tomlinson.

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