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Jazzablanca Festival 2014: Casablanca, Morocco

Mehdi El Mouden By

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Kent dug into her repertoire of originals and standards. From Antonio Carlos Jobim's authentic rendition of "Waters of March" and "One note of Samba" to the sensual, tango- driven "Mi Amor," written by Claire Denamur, to the wistful "Jardins d'hiver" originally composed by French troubadour Henri Salvador, the Kent's musical voyage is marked by graceful interpretation. Not adventurous, Kent seems to have the vocal abilities to make her music livelier, but prefers to play it safe even when the audience clapped and sang to follow up "Jardins D'hiver."

Day Three: March 31

On Monday evening, the most awaited artist of the festival walked on stage: Ibrahim Maalouf, who modestly appeared in the background among his brass band. Blowing at the same wave length or echoing each other on a par, Maalouf and his band took the audience to the summit of enthusiasm. Blowing Arabic melodies through the four- valve trumpet invented by his father-Nassim Maalouf- Maalouf produced quarter-tones familiar to the Moroccan audience yet within a rock groove. One cannot say that the exoticism sought by Maalouf is savored merely by non Arab audiences, since Maalouf does not re- create Arabic solos based on maqams, but defamiliarizes Arabic music.

Maalouf's orchestral show along three trumpeters was reminiscent of big band, especially with a verse chorus form predominant in songs from the album Illusions. Similar to a voyage, Maalouf flowed songs into each other even when he played totally different songs such as "Beirut" and "Diagnostic" from the album Diagnostic. The synchronized yet improvised music through solos merged rock, pop, funk and jazz that could not but fascinate the crowds gathered at the concert.



Day Four: April 2

April the first was a day off for main stage shows and thus, an opportunity to party in the jazz club with three enthusiastic bands:Blues Ramblers, Karim Ziad, and Sophia Charai. The bands presented their finest work, each with a touch of their own through either blues, bebop, or gypsy music. On Wednesday, 67-year old rock icon Patti Smith appeared on the main stage,with Lenny Kaye on guitar, and Tony Shanahan on bass. Unplugged, the performance was a folk demonstration of Smith's catalog. Between youth's passion and motherly wisdom, Smith read, sang and spoke to an audience impressed by the artist's legendary dimension. The storyteller opened with her famous rendition of Van Morrison's "Gloria." After warming up, Smith played the best of: "Free Money," "Elegie," "Because the Night" ....to finish with "People Have the Power," sung by the audience.

Day Five: April 3

To achieve a ceremonial closure, the choice of a big band is relevant. The XXL format of jazz guarantees celebratory sounds. Less purist but overtly open to swing, fast rhythms and funk, a big band seems to reach a wider, less demanding audience. Not surprisingly, the Electro Deluxe Big Band, obviously unknown to this audience, conquered the stage with 18 musicians who flipped their lids. Conducted by saxophonist and arranger Thomas Faure and fronted extravagantly by American vocalist James Copley, the band swayed in a dance-like rhythm.


One of the things Jazzablanca surely sought is variety. The ninth edition pushed the concept of diversity further through the 'world music' dimension, and featured eclectic musicians with distinct musical styles. It seems that the overall aim is to attract more people to the Jazzablanca village. However, jazz purists may feel ostracized because less specialized music is featured. The truth about Moroccan jazz fans lies somewhere in between, while the considerable number of people attending concerts may be a good incentive for future happenings.

Photo Credit: Mehdi El Mouden

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