Tuesday 1 August 2017

The Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival 2017 - PART FOUR - RAY LEMA and MAALEM ABDESLAM ALIKANE (with special thanks to Mohamed Ali El Barnoussi)

To start at the end, we, the audience, would not let Maalem Abdeslam Alikane and his eight dancers off the stage. He would finish a number and take a final bow and then we'd plead for another song and so he'd very kindly oblige and then, when that song had finished and he took a final bow, we'd plead for just one more song.....and so on until, was it two in the morning or later?...probably later...and Abdeslam looked in no hurry to vacate that stage. It was a truly great way to finish The Festival.

So, back to the beginning. In 2007 John saw Ray Lema (piano/keyboard player from Congo) and Maalem Abdeslam Alikane play the last set at Moulay Haasan Square whilst I was watching Asian Dub Foundation with a Gnaoua group (can't remember the name) from the comfort of our hotel room balcony overlooking Bab Marakech Square. When John returned, I said: "You missed a fabulous set," and he said: "So did you."

And then he played what he had recorded and it was pretty darn good and is one of our favourite pieces of music to listen to, particularly on holiday.

Now we jump to 2017 and we've arrived early in Eassouira days before The Festival and John blags his way into the Residence where Ray Lema is practising with, yes, Maalem Abdeslam Alikane, in readiness for their set on the Saturday night. And during a break, John chats with Ray Lema about that memorable 2007 set and told him that he had recorded it and actually had a copy in the hotel room. Would Ray Lema like a copy? (John had brought loads of different recordings to give away to anyone who loves the music.) Of course, Ray Lema would like a copy and so John goes and fetches it and takes it  back to the Residence and gives it to Ray Lema's agent.

So, the next day, I tag along with John to go listen to them practising again. Ray Lema's agent doesn't want John to film the practise but I sneak these two not brilliant photos. But the important thing is that they sound really good and once they've played a section, they go over it again and again to perfect it, which is most impressive. Had I had my wits about me, I would have asked the names of Ray Lema's drummer, guitarist and saxaphonist but I didn't so I can't tell you. (I was rusty about the whole Festival thing because we hadn't been for four years. I managed to get myself into top gear just as The Festival was finishing but I'll certainly hit the ground running next year... with a better camera!)

Ray Lema, Maalem Abdeslam Alikane and Ray Lema's guitarist

Ray Lema's drummer and saxaphonist

Now we jump to Saturday 1st July and 'Scene De La Plage' - the venue right next to the beach - and Ray Lema and Maalem Abdeslam Alikane were due to play the very last set, starting at midnight. Thankfully, the weather was quite mild compared with the evening before when it had been so cold and windy we couldn't face walking along the promenade to get to this venue, missing some acts we really would have liked to have seen.

The last set of The Festival is always a poignant affair because it heralds the end of The Festival and I really felt I hadn't heard enough music; partly because The Festival was only three days this year and not the usual four; and also because there's no such thing as 'catching a quick supper in a restaurant between sets.' What I really wanted was more Gnaoua Music and, thankfully, that's what I got.

Anyway, the VIP area was not so crowded at the beach venue compared with Moulay Hassan, which was pretty hectic, and I managed to wriggle my way almost to the front. The only thing between me and the barrier were two young Moroccan men. So, I asked if I could stand in front of them to take my photographs and they very kindly agreed.

Whilst we were waiting for the set to start I got into conversation with one of these charming men and he told me his name was Mohamed Ali El Barnoussi and that he was a great Roger Federer fan - even had a photo of him on his phone. I'm a great Wimbledon fan so we could have chatted for ages, plus we were both fans of the music, but then the set started and we focused on having a great time. So, thank you Mohamed Ali for allowing me to stand in front of you - it was very much appreciated. (We're now Facebook friends and hope to see you at the Festival next year, Mohamed Ali.)

With two lovely young men behind me, I also had a small child on either side of me who were fascinated by it all and a very pretty young Moroccan woman, totally dressed in white with a white headscarf, who almost knocked me off my feet because when the music started she began to dance in almost wild abandonment, so clearly enjoying herself. So, the only thing to do was to dance myself, obviously being careful not to knock either or both child over. Pretty crazy, is how I'd describe it and lots and lots of fun.

What Ray Lema brought to the set was his own Afro-jazz fusion with his guitarist, drummer and saxophonist so in a way it was a double fusion and the moving in and out of Gnaoua and jazz and then both together made for an exciting sound, as you can listen to later on. My only critisism is that Ray Lema's group were very much in the background and I would have liked to hear a few solo pieces from them. However, it was still a most enjoyable set.

Some okayish  photos but I hope they capture the essence of the set





Curtain call, or so we all thought


But after Ray Lema and his team left the stage, Abdeslam and his dancers remained and that's when we had a real Gnaoua fest. So, it was best of both worlds: we had fusion and Gnaoua. And those dancers should receive medals because they had to keep dancing and dancing and dancing. It was fabulous.

To see the DaftNotStupid videos of this set click below:

THE FESTIVAL HAS ENDED - LONG LIVE THE FESTIVAL !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


1 comment:

Lou said...

I think this is your best post yet :) The photos do catch the movement and facial expressions well enough to give a sense of the performance. I like the personal experience narrative.