Thursday 25 May 2017

The Essauoira Gnaoua and World Music Festival 2017 and The Band of Gnawa

The photographs below were taken by me at a number of different Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festivals to give a flavour of how the festival looks. 

The beautiful coastal city of Essaouira, Morocco, is hosting the 20th Gnaoua and World Music Festival at the end of June and the daftnotstupid team (John (husband) and I) WILL BE THERE, after a reluctant absence of five years. Whether we will get press accreditation or not remains to be seen but having those precious press badges for the last three years of attendance made an incredible difference to our reporting of the festival.

View of Moulay Hassan Square from the terrace of Bab Lachour (restaurant).

John's recording and filming of performances are amongst the best to be seen on YouTube and over one million hits can vouch for that and my more humble blog and photographs certainly get a following, so we shall fight tooth and nail to be considered for press badges. Quite simply, being right next to the stage gives a fantastic view that we can then share on the internet.

Gnaoua dancer (right).
Maalem Hamid El Kasri, who is in the 2017 line up, and Gnaoua dancers. The dancer on the left also dances and sings with other groups and in my opinion, seeing him many times, he is the best.

The line up had now been published and it's a very exciting one, including the best Gnaoua groups in the country. Sadly, no Maalem Mahmoud Guinea, probably the daddy of all the Maalems, because he passed away two years ago but both his son and brother will be performing.

              Maalem Mahmoud Guinea (2010)                                         Gnaoua dancer

                               Mahmoud's eldest son (he'll be leading his group this year)

 What I want to write about, however, is The Band of Gnawa, who are in this year's line up and who also performed at the 10th anniversary of the festival, in 2007, because their 'practice session' on the Wednesday evening of 2007, the day before the festival started, was an occasion I shall never forget. Quite simply, it was one of the best evenings of my life.

                 My favourite Gnaoua dancer - if anybody knows his name please let me know

John and I were sitting having supper on the terrace of our favourite restaurant in Essaouira, Bab Lachour, which overlooks the main venue for The Festival - Moulay Hassan - when The Band of Gnawa came on the stage to run through their set. The line up was as follows: Loy Ehrlich (one of Essaouira Artistic Directors since 2000) on bass guitar, Louis Bertignac, guitar, Jean-Philippe Rykiel, keyboard, Cyril Atef, drums, Akram Sedkaoui, singer, and Maalem Said Boulhimas with four Gnaoua musicians.

                                         Maalem Omar Hayat, who is in this year's line up

When Akram Sedkaoui was introduced in French, we thought that he was actually Bono and John mentioned this in his blog posting. Later on he was corrected by, I think Louis Bertignac, who informed us that what had been said was that Bono had praised Akram's voice. I can't remember the actual words but it was something along the lines of being silver lined.And it was true: he had a wonderful voice.

                                                             Maalem Omar Hayat

Just to set the scene, to the right of the Moulay Hassan Square, which is the main festival venue, is the Atlantic Ocean with small islands close by, and it was a beautifully warm evening and as the set progressed the sun set over the ocean until it changed from hues of pink to ink black and the square filled pretty rapidly, mainly with young men, so there was an enormous audience and a fantastic atmosphere.

The group played a fusion between Western music and Gnaoua and what a set it was! The Band played music from The Beatles to Jimi Hendrix to Led Zeppelin and each piece of music merged into  Gnaoua music and then the Gnaoua group would play for a while and then it would merge back to the Western music and so on. And I must emphasize that this was music of the highest quality.

              Gnaoua dancers (left)

We were enthralled and delighted and wonderfully entertained and what made it even more special was that the crowd watching sang along to all the Western music, totally at one with the professionals on the stage. I couldn't tell you how long it lasted but it must have been more than an hour.

                        Gnaoua dancers (right)

When the festival started for real, we watched this set all over again from the terrace of Bab Lachour and it was just as good second time round.Wish we'd had press badges then and certainly wished that I had taken photographs but I only started photographing and blogging the next year. John did record the set from the terrace of Bab Lachour during their official performance and that can be accessed on his YouTube site. Just click here. Plus, there are plenty of other recordings of this set on YouTube.

John setting up his camera on our balcony facing Bab Marrakesh Square when it was used as a venue (with Gulliver Travels getting in on the act)

I am the first to admit that I'm not a photographer and I very rarely take photographs when not at the festival but something just switches on in my brain when I hear the music and all I want to do is, firstly dance, and then stand below the stage and photograph away, particularly trying to capture the movement of the dancers.

Writing this post and looking through my photographs had wetted my appetite for the festival to come.  Bring it on, is what I say. Plus, give this girl a press badge....please.

To see my festival reports click here.