Sunday, 28 August 2011


As I wrote in a previous post, the emphasis this year was on gnaoua music. Thus it was most fitting that the Festival should close with four Maalems.

It was an emotional performance, the Maalems working well together, not trying to upstage each other. You have to remember that for Moroccans, gnaoua is their own special music of which they are very proud, and quite rightly so. And they adore their Maalems. Each Maalem has his own recognisable sound and their interpretations of the same piece of music can be very different.

I had hoped that the stage would be flooded with all their dancers because the dancers bring tremendous energy and skill and colour. Over the years, I have learnt to recognise individual dancers and to appreciate their abilities. However, each Maalem brought with him just two of his dancers and there were two extra dancers who acted as Moroccan flag bearers, although it was impossible for them not to do their own little dances, despite carrying these enormous flags.

Those of you who follow my Festival posts will know that I have a very special place in my heart for Maalem Mahmoud Guinea and since I hadn't seen his performance at the awful Scene Medital on the beach, I was pleased to be able to see him in this grand finale. Disappointed, though, that neither of his sons had been chosen to dance. But pleased to see that Hassan, whom we met a few years ago, was one of the flagbearers.

As you can imagine, this was a very popular performance. Each Maalem led a number and then, to finish off, they all played together. What was particularly exciting was that towards the end, the music was enhanced by a group of horn players. This provided a spectacularly vibrant sound and really got the audience going. So this year the festival was literally blasted to a close.

Afterwards, we managed to blag our way backstage again through the hordes of people trying, mainly unsuccessfully, to talk their way beyond the guards.

Again, we found frantic activity as well as exhausted performers. To the right, Bob Wisdom was giving an interview, and to the left, at the entrance to one of the tents, Maalem Mahmoud Guinea was also being interviewed.

But when that was finished, I was able to give Mahmoud the photograph album which we had prepared for him consisting of various photographs that we took of him and his group last year and at the special Lila we attended at his home a few Christmases ago. It was our tribute to him. He has given us so much pleasure over the years that we wanted to give something back.

So then all that was left to do was to stagger to Bab Lachour (our favourite restaurant in Essaouira) to drown our sorrows in beer and rosé wine. Another Festival over, hundreds of photographs to file, reports to write. It's tough going, but someone has to do it!

No comments: