Gnaoua Festival Essaouira.
Festival d'Essaouira Gnaoua et Musique du Monde. World music. It's a genre, a classification, a box, the name I never understood. It is the 8th edition. 23rd to 26th of June 2005.
As one of the well publicised summer events in Morocco, it attracts foreigners and Moroccans from far. Nearly half a million are expected to attend the concerts. For month I have been meeting people with firm intentions to come. High are my expectations. And I have bought some CDs, Gnaoua back in Ouarzazate under Hamza's guidance, so understand a bit what is coming up. My ears are tuned.
Refreshingly new, it all sounds to me. And it has got me hooked, - before the festival. A bit it seems to me that's just what we need in Europe as a fresh impetus..
Interesting should be the fusion of European/American Jazz and Rock and African Blues with the spiritual trance music of the Gnaoua. Whether it works between musicians, who often never have played together before, depends usually on their improvisational talents.
With hindsight this is how I understand the festival. Most evenings are set up for the fusion thing to happen.
You usually have a Gnaoua warm-up, one or two groups performing Gnaoua music between 6 and 9 p.m.
The second part of the evening usually starts with the non-Gnaoua first, whether Jazz/Rock/Spanish/African.
Then the star of the evening, the you-don't-want-to-miss Maâlem (Master) Gnaoui and his band starts. By now it might be as late as 11. They usually come on stage very slowly, sometimes 10 or more bringing old and children with them.
The Maâlem usually plays the hajhouj, a guitar like instrument made of camel's leather and a special tree's roots with strings made of dried twisted sheep's or goat's colon.
A hajhouj is like a guembri, though a bit differnt in shape, Gnaoua seldomly use guembris, the strings of which are made of sugar cane. The way both instruments are tapped, picked and stroke at the same time is also different. This is what my Arab friends can tell me about.
But it is the Hajhouj/Guembri that gives it its distinctive bass. The bass line is what makes the song, not just in Gnaoua music.
Gnaoua music originally has been the hajhouj, some drum called ganga and lots of krakeb (castagnets/castagnettes/Kastagnetten), another percussion like instrument which looks like two rusty sheets of metal, making the constant sound of krakeb, krakeb, ... It is drum and base of facinating simplicity.
And then there is the voice of the Maâlem, which basically makes the whole song fantastic or not. He sings in Arabic, but sometimes my friends say he chants Gnaoui and they would not understand. The chant of the Maâlem, stating usually something spiritual, religious, psychedelic, sends its listeners into trance, is repeated by his folk, band, and can heal, they say. Wonderful, all I can say.
Usually at some stage during the song the speed of the rhythm (the krakeb) doubles, this is when finally everyone goes completely crasy, over the top, any thing can and does happen then.
After the Maâlem, lots later, anytime between 12 and 2 in the morning the non-Gnaoua act of the night joins the Maâlem on stage again and they try the fusion thing. The Gnaoua music and chant (as said drum and base and chant) fits extremely well with anything and anything might happen at 2 or 3 in the morning. Wow!
Maâlem Mahmoud Guinea, the don't-miss act on Saturday stops playing at 4 in the morning. "He never stops", Hamza. He plays for a total of 5 hours. But his last 2 to 3 hours, with the percussionists of Naïny Diabaté from Mali are just from a different planet.
Needless to mention, but Naïny Diabaté and her band before him deliver a great performance. Just a pity that the (local) audience here just wants (their) Gnaoua music and reacts a bit ignorant, unable to understand anything else.
On the other side it is the Western influence, with its high flying intellectualism that induces the change to the festival.
Again, on the other side it is a great musician like Mahmoud Guinea who seeks the fusion thing and performances with western Jazz musicians of highest grade in Paris, NY and else where.....
So on some days you have to wait a long time for what is supposed to and very often is the most exiting performance of the day/night. Sometimes I have feelings of having become very old (too old?) on some nights. I feel nothing but pain in my back and feet when I crawl into the back of the Land Rover.
It is the music and the quality of the performances that keep me standing up listening for more then 8 hours on all days. Gnaoua music.
Maâlem Mustapha Bakbou and band.
Crowd and stage.
Naïny Diabaté (griote du Mali).
Maâlem Mahmoud Guinéa.
Happy dancer on edge of stage
Our camp, a centre to meet and eat.
Fin du festival.
Sunday, finally all over, Youssou N'Dour from Senegal has closed the Festival in the afternoon hours.
People gather on the city walls in Essaouira that face the sea, to watch the setting sun. So do we.
The two shots above 34 seconds apart, same settings (F5.6, 1/90, ISO400, Focus: manual, White balance: Auto), colours differ a lot. The setting sun is disappearing quickly and cools down the ambience?....
Sidi Kaoki with Nico and Julie
We spend 2 days near Sidi Kaoki with Nico and Julie. They're on their way down to Segou, Mali to start working in August for next year's edition of the festival sur le Niger. It seems logical for me right now to be there in February. But on the voyage it is all about timing. And February is a long time away.
PS. Who could imagine in Essaouira what this friendship would bring.
Agadir, and Generation Amazigh
Hasna leaves for Casablanca, a wedding. I make it to Agadir on my own. But soon meet up with all the friends. It is another festival that gathers the crowds. Festival Timitar d'Agdir. "Timitar" means sign in Tamazigh (language of the local Amazigh-Berber population). Signs and culture, the sub-title of the festival. Hasna joins me again half-way through the festival.
The Agadir festival is more divers then Essaouira, lasts 8days, 2nd to 10th of July, 400 artists, 46 concerts. From Arab Classic and Amazigh women's rhythmic desert chant to electronics/rap/reggae from Europe/Africa/South America. It is less well known and publicised. You can hardly find its web-page. As a result it caters more to the local audience then to festival floking tourists.
Agadir is the centre of the Souss, a region firmly in Amazigh (Berber) hand. Nearly half the performances are bands with at least some Amazigh roots. Agadir is one festival that takes account of the now wanted awareness that Morocco is Amazigh and Arab.
Until the start of the reign of king Mohamed IV some 6 years ago (official) Arabisme has denied Morocco its Amazighity. For many Arabs Morocco was an Arab nation. Still today TV commentators often wrongly call their own football team Arab. Some Amazigh say that they make up 75% of the population. Some say their share is rather at 40%. Morocco is both Amazigh and Arab. And it has to be stressed that there are no problems between the two. Many families have Arab and Amazigh roots, inter-marriages have been going on for more then 1,000 years.
So the young Amzigh use "their" festival to fly their banners and signes, make themselves heard and in a way this is what it is here for, to invoke discussion and raise awareness. Telquel a Moroccan weekly titled its front page "Génération Amazigh".
Agadir before the next adventure....
15th of June. The Agadir festival has ended nearly a week ago, After Essaouira I was not really looking to shoot another festival. Without being accredited it is just too much hassle, be stuck in the crowd with all that equipment. But nice shots I could have landed.
On the top of the shooting hassle the real work always starts afterwards. Valuing, selecting photographs, work them on the computer, put the story together, the backlog was big enough from Essaouira.
Hasna has left me for Casablance. Many things need her attention. I hang out here. Try finish off the backlog.
I have checked the Land Rover too. Still seems alright. Changed oil. Bought some additional water canisters (I am going to the desert).
I want to travel/drive for about a month. South to Plage Blanche, and even further south. Then somewhere turn east reach Zagora and Ouarzazate again Unlike hazy Agadir with nice temps between 25 and 30 most of the time, it will be very hot there.
But I have a month, and sadly time is running out fast in Morocco, need to leave by 12 of September.
I have a month to reach Casablanca to see Hasna again and to meet my parents there. Yes they are coming!
Stay tuned. I let you know how all that works out.
But for now it is a month of "On the road again, On my own again."