Wednesday 26 July 2017


Just occasionally, The Festival throws up a performance that you were totally not expecting - totally, different, totally unique and totally wonderful. I'm thinking, in particular of The Korean Drummers  (Samulnori Molgae) and The Ali Brothers - Mehr and Sher (from Pakistan) from way back when Bab Marrakesh was used as a venue. (In my opinion, this was the best venue of The Festival and it was such a pity when they stopped using it. I noted this year that it's been dug up - no doubt for shops or housing - and the place looks all wrong, bringing the new part of Essaouira far too close to the old part. Since writing this, I have discovered that in fact this square is being made into mainly gardens, which I'm very pleased about.)

I was reminded of both performances when listening to the set I'm about to describe: The Korean Drummers because they displayed an amazing sound and energy just using drums that quite took your breath away; and The Ali Brothers who were so spiritual that it made the hair on your back stand on end.

The Titi Robin et al set had both these elements and more because it also included a remarkable Gnaoua Group, led by Mehdi Nassouli who brought Gnaoua element into the mix, plus four remarkable musicians: Titi Robin, Shuheb Hasan, Murad Ali Khan and Ze Luis Nascimento.

Here's a little taster which, by some miracle, I managed to record on my little Lumix camera:

So, to start at the beginning, this was the first set on The Saturday night, the first of July, at Moulay Hassan Square and I really wasn't expecting to hear such Divine music which just got better and better as the set progressed until I really didn't want it to stop and still can't get out of my mind even several weeks later.

What follows are brief descriptions plus some okay-ish photos of the performers (going to get a better camera for the next Festival):

Medhi Nassouli and Titi Robin


Titi Robin from France is a composer and improviser, and plays the guitar, buzuq, mandelin and oud. He has been influenced by a whole range of music - Mediterranean, Gypsy, Oriental, European and Arab - plus poetry and paintings, and he's also written the film score for a number of films, as well as recording a number of albums. So, quite a talented musician to say the least.

Even more so since I have just discovered that Titi composed most of the music for the set, chose the musicians personally to perform the piece, weaving in some of the traditional Gnaoua music and allowing individual improvisations and directed it all whilst playing the guitar or a mandolin (with holes in!) That explains why it was such an exceptional, haunting set and now I know it's unique, which pleases me no end.

Medhi Nassouli is one of the most talented musicians I have ever seen or listened to and having watched numerous videos of him on You Tube in order to research this post I am actually in awe. He is far more than a Gnaoua 'Maalem' and that is no disrespect to Gnaoua 'Maalem's. Officially I couldn't find anywhere in my research that labelled him a Maalem but he certainly acted like one in this set, directing his four dancers with a small nod of the head or a smile.

I've found descriptions of Medhi as being an artist musician, a singer, a bassist and a frame drummer. But the truth is that his talent can't be fitted neatly into one label. In the many videos I've watched of him, he is often the star of the performance and he's worked with many, many other musicians. I suspect, though, that his collaboration with Titi is the most intense.

His main instrument as far as I can see is the guembri. For such a seemingly basic instrument it can make an incredibly vibrant, distinctive sound and Medhi appears to adapt it to the genre of music he's playing. I particularly liked the jazz videos and I'm wondering just how far Medhi can go in revolutionising the use of the guembri. Am I being fanciful in thinking that Medhi can do to the guembri what Jimi Hendrix did to the guitar?

So, Medhi travels the world playing with different musicians and playing different types of music but at The festival he led his Gnaoua group and played the guembri and a frame drum. I've never seen him perform before because we missed the last four Festivals but I hope to do so many times in the future because he has such a tender, expressive voice which glides effortlessly through the air, and a beautiful smile, which could melt a thousand hearts. And sometimes his face is so expressive, it was as if he was telling us a story that he cared passionately about.

One thing I haven't mentioned before are the wonderful Gnaoua costumes. I'd love to have a look at some close up to see just how they are decorated and I must admit I was green with envy seeing all the outfits that Medhi has. He has an eye for design and style as well as an ear for music.

Medhi and Titi have played together before a number of times and there seems to be a really good understanding between them, sometimes sparring against each other with their instruments. There are some delightful videos on You Tube of the two playing together and they have released a CD called Taziri (which I have ordered from Amazon) which also features Ze Luis Nascimento, who also played in the set.

Mehdi's Gnaoua Dancers (plus singers plus krakeb players)



Shuheb Hasan and Murad Ali Khan


Shuhab Hasan is a vocalist from a distinguished musical family in India, also with an incredible voice and lovely smile. Whenever he opened his mouth something beautiful came out. His hands were most expressive and he also appeared to be telling a story. And at times he sang a repeat so quickly and for so long I had no idea how he was able to breathe. Although I'm no expert, I'm pretty sure that this was Sufi singing, which is most spiritual.

Standing serenely, in his pink tunic and black trousers and his hair ruffled by the wind, waiting to sing, he looked for all the world like a Bollywood Film Star. And, I have to admit that I was intrigued by what appeared to be connected buttons down part of his tunic made of what looked like diamonds. But whatever they're made of they looked very classy.

Murad Ali Khan is also from a distinguished musical family in India. In fact, he is a sixth generation sarangi and sitar player, with an impressive CV including playing the sarangi in many major music festivals around the world as well as in India, and has won many awards. He's also played with Lady Gaga and Yoko Ono and for Bollywood and Hollywood films. He enjoys playing both classical music and rock and fusion music.

The sarangi is an incredible instrument. I'd never heard it before but I am truely hooked. Apparently, it's popularity was declining in India and Pakistan until Murad brought it to audiences around the world, raising its profile, which was Murad's intention. His passion no less. It's wonderfully melodic (with up to fifty strings) and at times sounds like a human voice. It complemented the voices of Medhi and Shubeb and one flowed into another into another effortlessly.

Unfortunately, I have no full photos of Murad because he was sitting down and because I was in the VIP area not the press pit, I couldn't move around to take good photos of either him or Ze Luis Nascimento, both of whom were mainly masked by photographers.

Just to let you know that both Murad and Shuheb play in an Indian fusion rock band called Soul Savaad with records available and Murad also has records also available.

 And finally:-

Ze Luis Nascimento - the Brazilian drummer and percussionist whose face expressed sheer joy and whose energy and skill was exciting to watch and to listen to. Ze Luis trained initially as a dancer with Bahian Folk Ballet before becoming a musician, which doesn't surprise me because he seemed to let the music invade his body through the drums, which he played with just his hands.

Ze Luis has developed his own unique style of playing and is in great demand as both a solo artist as well as working with many other musicians. He has an impressive list of CDs and albums, participating in the recording of over a hundred international albums. So, we were very lucky to see him perform in Essaouira. An absolute delight, in fact.

The world-renowned Persian percussionist Habib Mefta was due to play with Titi Robin et al but unfortunately had another engagement and couldn't make it. Perhaps next year they can all play again at The Festival, including Habib. Now that would be something. Come on Festival organisers, an early request.

But back to the set on the Saturday. What I was really impressed with, as well, was that each musician communicated with each mainly just using eye contact and their smiles showed just how much they were enjoying the fabulous music they were making.

Here are some more photos:-




Can't tell you how thrilled I was to find another short video on my camera so here it it is:-

And to view the whole set, courtesy of daftnotstupid click here and .....enjoy.

But a final plea.I have spent hours watching videos on You Tube in order to write this post and have been highly entertained. We all do it, those of us who love music. But we don't pay a penny for it and the musicians don't get paid every time we watch them on You Tube. So, my plea is this: if have enjoyed a musician's music and he or she has a CD out - BUY A COPY. I have also ordered a copy of Murad Ali Khan's sarangi playing from Amazon and will explore how to find CDs recorded by Soul Samvaad, currently not available on Amazon.

NEXT POST - coming soon - Ray Lema and Maleem Abdeslam Alikane

1 comment:

Lou said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. What the photos have done is catch a sense of the atmosphere there. The two mini videos were a bonus!