Monday, October 16, 2017

Fez Festival of Sufi Culture - Day Three Review

Click on images to enlarge

The third day of the Sufi Festival started with a wet weather alert. According to some forecasters there is a chance of evening rain on Monday and possibly showers through until Wednesday - no rain appeared, but it was a day with a big surprise

The Round Tables

The round table discussions continued to draw large audiences with well chosen topics and interesting guests.

The first forum discussed the place of Sufism in contemporary Arab culture. An audience member remarked to The View From Fez, that "contemporary Islamic culture" would have been an even broader discussion. But perhaps too wide for a single forum session.

Yet, this was a fascinating discussion, ranging as it did, over contemporary literature, fiction, poetry, song and even contemporary calligraphy.

The audience was thoroughly engaged and gave the speakers warm applause and at times, vocal encouragement!
The audience were animated!
The morning forum

The afternoon forum centred on the interpretation of the Qu'ran from a spiritual perspective. Again, it was a high-powered panel of academics.

The afternoon forum panel

The evening concert

The big surprise of the day was the changing of the venue for the evening concerts. When we approached Festival Director, Faouzi Skali, and suggested that the sight-lines for the concert stage were such that very few people could see anything, he agreed to think about it. Think he did, and he is to be congratulated for rapidly coming up with an elegant solution.

Faouzi Skali acted decisively to change the venue

He moved the venue further down the Jnan Sbil Gardens to a beautiful forested area where all patrons were on the same level and could watch the concerts in comfort.  He also turned it into "theatre in the round" with seats on all sides. Our thanks go to Faouzi for acting so decisively.

The concert was in two parts. The first featured Farida Parveen, the Bangladeshi folk singer who specialises in the songs of Lalon Shah.

Farida Parveen was in fine form and more relaxed than she had been on the opening night where she shared the stage with the samaa singers.  Although seated down on the ground, she filled the stage with her energy and the beauty of her songs.

Her fellow musicians also rose to the occasion, particularly the flautist, who played at times with profound delicacy and at others, like an excited bird on steroids!  The audience loved it.

The second part of the evening brought the first of the Sufi Brotherhoods to the stage -  the Tariqa Qadiriyya Boutchichiyya.

The striking thing about the tariqa that presented tonight was the age of the twelve musicians. They were all young men, and more than that, young men with talent.

The changed venue also provided better sound and the limited and judicious use of echo on the vocals added another dimension to the performance.

For the local people in the audience, this was a familiar and spiritually uplifting treat. For first time visitors it was a revelation that peace and harmony spring from the Sufi sphere.

The Boutchichiyya, - a Sufi tradition in safe younger hands

A little background...
The word tariqa in the name of a group, such as Tariqa Boutchichiyya, literally means ‘the way’. In this context it means the Sufi way, literally a path, a road, which, when applied to Sufism will relate to a specific order, but they think of it as the way to God. A lot of Sufis will say "there are many paths, and this is our path."

Much of what is performed is known as samaà - a form of Sufi music, and the literal translation from Arabic is "audition", or "to listen or to hear", but with spiritual connotations. It also refers to a ritual that takes place in a zawiya, Arabic for the corner of a Sufi house or meeting place, often attached to a Mosque, and which would suggest that the original samaâ used to meet in a corner.

The Brotherhood are a purely vocal group and the Boutichichiyya are blessed with some extraordinary voices. Among the various munshid (soloists) in the group, there were a number of superb singers.

The music differs from most Moroccan forms in that there are interesting hints of the eastern-Arabic macam modal system. At different times different munshid would take solo parts, called mawwal, a form of improvised singing where they use poetry and improvise melodic passages using words that they have written in front of them. All the singers had a great command of the macam and mawwal.

Sufism is very focussed on the prophet Mohammed. Muslims are also, but Sufism tends to prophet centred.

A lot of the poetry in samaâ is about the prophet, for example, al-Burda – the name means 'poem of the mantle' or 'of the cloak'.

The poem was written in the 11th century by Imam al-Busiri and forms part of a vast body of literature in praise of the Prophet that emerged from an Islamic culture where seeking knowledge of him was encouraged.

In writing al-Burda, or Qasida Burda, Imam Al-Busiri acknowledges the shortcomings of describing the Prophet in the poem itself.

He is like the sun,
small to the eye when seen from afar,

But when glimpsed close up.
It dazzles and overwhelms - 

Tomorow's programme

Tuesday October 17
10h-12h: Round table: "Sufism, art and poetry" - Medersa Bounaniya

16h-18h: Round table: "Sufism and inter-religious dialogue" - Medersa Bounaniya

8 pm: Tariqa Rissouniya - from the Zaouia Rissouniya in Tetouan- Jnan Sbil Park

Text and photographs: Sandy McCutcheon. Additional notes: Philip Murphy Jr and Fitzroy Morrissey

The View From Fez is an official Media Partner of the Fez Festival of Sufi Culture


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Fez Festival of Sufi Culture - Day Two Review

The weather was once again perfect for the second day of the 10th edition of the Fez Festival of Sufi Culture which got off to a good start with a large audience for the round table programme and ended with an even bigger one for the evening concert
A large audience for a splendid concert

The morning's round table discussion on the theme «Rûmi, Attar and Ibn Arabi: the spiritual roots of the civilisation of Islam» was extremely well attended. Unfortunately for the English speakers in the audience there was no translation available. The provision of a translator and headsets would have been a simple solution.

The View From Fez spoke with Festival Director Faouzi Skali about the sight-line problems experienced by many at the first concert the previous evening. While agreeing there was an issue, he said a solution would be difficult at this stage, but that he would give it some thought.

Festival Director, Faouzi Skali welcomed the large audience at the round table discussion

The afternoon discussion on "Spirituality as a way of life" was similarly well attended - and blessed with a few drops of rain from a clear sky!

Forum speaker Mohamed Ghani
A Conference of the Birds? -Farid ud-Din Attar would have been impressed!
The afternoon panel offered a wide range of views

The evening concert

Ali Keeler

The Firdaus Ensemble was lead by Ali Keeler (violin and vocals). Ali Keeler is no stranger to Fez, having delighted audiences at festivals in 2014 and 2015. Tonight's performance was a medley of their most popular songs - and not just their favourites, but the audience's as well.

Once again their stand out piece was a Celtic tune that started much like a slow Irish air before picking up the tempo and developing into a reel - albeit with unmistakably Islamic vocals. The large crowd lapped it up.

Salma Vives

Along with Keeler, the group are all fine musicians and the audience responded to Yusuf Mezcildi on Qanun, Omar Bdenlaml Percussion (bendir and darbuka) and lead vocal. While Salma Vives on cello was superb in her delicacy.

Ihsan Rmiki (centre)

After an hour, the group was joined by Ihsan Rmiki who sings with great emotion, clasping her hands as if in prayer, her flawless melodical voice soaring and dipping like the birds over the Medina ramparts.

A splendid concert.

Tomorrow at the festival...


10h-12h: Round table: "The place of Sufism in contemporary Arab culture" - Medersa Bounaniya

16h-18h: Round table: "The interpretation of the Quran from a spiritual perspective" (Ishâra) -Medersa Bounaniya

20h: Tariqa Qadiriya Boutchichiya - Jnan Sbil Gardens

Qadirya Boutchichiya 

The Boutchichiyya Brotherhood are from the small town of Mardagh, near Berkane, in north-eastern Morocco and has become an important pilgrimage destination. The sheikh is Sidi Hamza el Qadiri el Boutchichi and the brotherhood is active in many countries, particularly in the UK.

The Boutchichiyya are an offshoot of the Qadiriyya tariqa, one of the oldest Sufi orders, which was brought to Morocco (initially to Fez) by the descendants of the two sons of ‘Abd al-Qadir from the 16th Century. The Boutchichiyya take their name from the 18th Century sheikh Sidi Ali al-Boutchichi, a Qadiri who was given the title “al-boutchichi” because he used to serve “cracked wheat” (bou tchich) to the poor who came to his zawiya.

The Brotherhood of the Samaa Qadirya Boutchichiya performs a sacred music, and produces a spiritual state "where celestial music becomes audible," says Moroccan musicologist Abdelfettah Benmoussa. "It combines the primordial sound and the absolute divine word. Through the practice of Samaa, it becomes possible to experience the depths of being in universal harmony".

The Tariqa Boutchichiya have been at the forefront of a genuine revival of Sufism. Sidi Hamza Qadiri Boutchich, descendant of Moulay Abdelqader Aj Jilani, is a "Living Master" of the contemporary teachings of Sufism. The Brotherhood produced this revival under the leadership of Sheikh Al Haj Al Sid 'Abbas, then his son and successor Sidi Hamza. This renewal is distinguished by its ability to adapt to the changing socio-cultural contexts of our time.

Photographs and text: Sandy McCutcheon

The View From Fez is an official Media Partner of the Fez Festival of Sufi Culture