Wednesday, 19 July 2017

The Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival 2017 - PART TWO - BAND OF GNAWA

The last time I saw Band of Gnawa perform at The Festival was in 2007 from the balcony of Bab Lachour Restaurant overlooking Moulay Hassan Square with its spectacular view of The Atlantic Ocean close by and its small islands dotted tantalising close to the land. Firstly, when they practised the whole set on the evening before The Festival whilst we were having supper and then when they played for real during The Festival.

I had never experienced music like that before: musicans moving from one genre of music to a totally different genre so effortlessly. I wrote about this and also included some photos from previous Festivals in a recent blog, which you can see by clicking here.

Their two performances counted, for me, among the best that The Festival has had to offer and there have been many outstanding sets, I can assure you.

So, when I saw that Band of Gnawa were playing again this year I was delighted. They were to play in Moulay Hassan Square at 23.30 on the first day of The Festival, Thursday 29th July. Really wasn't sure whether I would make it because I'm still recovering from major heart surgery but I needn't have worried: I coped with staying up very late, enjoying the music and doing a fair bit of dancing. It's amazing what a person can do if they're having fun.

No press passes, of course, but armed with those wonderful VIP badges that Loy Ehrlich of Band of Gnawa gave us - thank you again Loy - John and I were able to get close enough to the stage to do our recordings.

So, how did their performance pan out? It was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. The Band had the audience in the palm of their hands. We were dancing, singing, cheering and loving every minute and again, it was one of the best sets of The Festival.

First on the stage were Maalem Said Boulhimas with four dancers/singers and they played three numbers. I guess you could say they were acting as the warm-up band and, indeed, we were nicely warmed up thank you very much before the Western musicians joined them on stage. To see the first three songs click here.

(I do wish that Festival programmes would actually name the Gnaoua dancers because they are just as important as the rest of the musicians and without their input, the sets would be very diminished because they add a tremendous excitement and energy.

Having watched Gnaoua dancers over many years, I can safely say that they are world class dancers as good as the best. Watch their performances as they dance and sing for several hours and, from time to time, jump high into the air and wonder if you could do even a tiny part of that. Even their 'basic' dance is pretty complicated. And all this whilst whirling the toggles on their hats. You or I would be off to the chiropractor if we tried that.)

(Apologies for the quality of the photos: they were the best I could do under the circumstances but at least you can get a sense of the set and the action.)

Maalem Said Boulhimas

Maalem Said Boulhimas and his Gnaoua group

The Gnaoua group - my favourite dancer is second from the right. He worked with Ray Lema and possibly other groups too this year.

And then Band of Gnawa came onto the stage and it all changed: guitarists Loy Ehrlich and Eric Lohrer, drummer and percussionist Cyril Atef, seemingly as mad as a hatter in his green cutout fez, bright red shirt and orange and white checked trousers which I could have sworn were pyjama bottoms, Jean-Philippe Rykiel, keyboard player, Tao Ehrlich (son of Loy), drummer and percussionist, and last but not least, Akram Sedkaoui, lead singer, strutting around the stage in tight black leather trousers and a nifty little jacket for all the world as if he owned that stage and with a beautifully haunting voice once praised by Bono of U2.

From left to right - two Gnaoua dancers, Tao Ehrlich, Maalem Said Boulhimas, Cyril Atef, Akram Sedkaoui, Loy Ehrlich and Jean-Philippe Rykiel


And then they started playing the Beatles song - Get Back and we, the audience, were all singing away because we know the words and we're bopping along until, seamlessly, it all changed into a Gnaoua song and the Gnaoua musicians came to the fore. Now, I have no idea what any of the Gnaoua songs are about because I don't speak or understand Arabic but it doesn't stop me from loving the sound, the emotion, the energy and it being so very different to Western music.

Every so often, the Dancers strutted their stuff and the audience were whooping and cheering at every jump and twirl and glide across the stage (reminiscent of The Georgan State Dancers). These Gnaoua Dancers can adapt their dance to every musical genre, even including hip-hop, and what's even better is that they look as if they're having an absolute ball.

Then the music morphed into another Beatles number  - Come Together and the Western musicians took centre stage.


And so it continued as we were led through Immigrant Song (Led Zeppelin), Who Knows (Hendrix), Power of Love (Led Zeppelin), Four Sticks (Led Zeppelin) and Kashmir (Led Zeppelin), all the time interspersing with Gnaoua songs. As the set progressed, the Gnaoua musicians and the Western musicians joined in whilst the other group took centre stage and so there became a total fusion of music. Quite wonderful.

From left to right - Jean-Phille Rykiel, Loy Ehrlich and Eric Lohrer

From left to right - Akram Sedkaoui, Jean-Philippe Rykiel, Loy Ehrlich and Eric Lohrer

Photos and words can give a sense of a performance and reaction but you really need to hear the music and to see and hear the daftnotstupid recordings click on the video playlist below....and enjoy.

PART ONE - published last week - covering the press pass debacle and the horse Fantasia is available here.
PART THREE - coming next - will be my report on Titi Robin, Medhi Nassouli, Shuheb Hasan, Murad Ali Khan, Ze Luis Nascimento and Habib Meftah

1 comment:

Lou said...

Having watched the videos myself, I can attest to the energy they bring.

A fluid account, Maggie, that elegantly captures the joy you experienced.