Closing of the Festival Gnaoua 2019
Between musical communication and bold discussions, this essential festival won the day, demonstrating its commitment to the common cause of equality
Essaouira, 24 June 2019 - Essaouira has welcomed the 22nd edition of the Gnaoua and World Music Festival under the very best auspices. On the programme were thrilling concerts, harmonious fusions, warm and joyful exchanges, bold and rewarding discussions, from the 20th to the 23rd of June in the city of trade winds.
Hundreds of thousands of music enthusiasts brought joy, good spirits and a love of music as they flocked to Essaouira to celebrate the 22nd edition of the Gnaoua and World Music Festival. An edition that lived up to all promises made: from inspiring concerts to inspired fusions by way of discussion and exchange sessions offered by the Forum of Human Rights in the morning, and Arbre à Palabres (The Speaking Tree) in the afternoon.
Opening… on African roots !
After the now-traditional opening parade that swept through the city of trade winds, audiences made their way to Moulay Hassan mainstage, where the festivities kicked off with the fruit of a fine residence between Maâlem Hassan Boussou and Cuban group Osain Del Monte. A mixed-concert that paid tribute to the African roots that shone through clear as day. Yoruba and Gnaoua, once considered to be subordinate forms of music, came together beautifully, creating harmony for the pleasure of all present and carrying the audience away on its lively rhythms. Then followed a keen fusion between the most pop rock of maâlems, Omar Hayat (brilliant protégé of the late Mahmoud Guinéa and the “griot” of afro pop, Moh! Kouyaté. The meeting of guitar and guembri, a bridge built between Mandingo sources and contemporary inspirations sought from blues, jazz, and pop. Another sacred union at the end of the evening came from a father and son duo, Maâlems Abdelkebir and Hicham Merchane, who offered up to the Moulay Hassan stage audience an incredibly rare concert that was a masterful demonstration of the next generation, and the beautiful future that lies ahead for the Tagnaouite.
A Celebration of Music
With a loyal audience and young people that came from far and wide – some from hundreds of kilometres – the celebration of music was at fever pitch during the Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival. Over the course of three days, the most maâlem of festivals offered timeless moments of great beauty. 32 maâlems gathered from across Morocco - and even Brooklyn in the case of Hassan Hakmoun - to transport audiences with the best of authentic fusion in the Gnaoua tradition. Tuareg blues group Tinariwen performed one of the most beautiful concerts in the history of the Festival. An enchanting moment shared, in the words of the Abdallah Ag Alhousseini, guitarist of Tinariwen, who confided that it was one of the most memorable concerts of his musical career. He shared his thoughts in the context of the Festival’s Human Rights Forum: “I’ve never seen such a beautiful audience, from all the African continent, it’s the first time I’ve felt this, the Essaouira audience is incredible”, after a nearly-minimalist concert full of grace and humility, followed by a fusion with Maâlem Mustapha Bakbou that manifested a rare magic. Hamid El Kasri offered one of the Festival’s highlights with a riveting performance echoed by festivalgoers, transforming the main square into a massive choir. The maâlem then shared the stage with two female artists that are true stars of the World scene. First, the transcultural Indian artist Susheela Raman, whose lovely tandem with Hamid El Kasri made time stand still, then the surprise appearance by Hindi Zahra, who delivered a trance brimming with grace to the Souri public, accompanied by master percussionists Karim Ziad and Rhani Krija. As for the last concert, the Moulay Hassan stage will long vibrate with its memory. An incredibly generous show by Third World, the group that came to Essaouira to celebrate 45 years of its musical career. The ambassadors of reggae offered up a perfectly prepared concert, including nods to Bob Marley and even Andréa Boccelli, with a remake of “Con te partiro” that resounded throughout the city.
The Festival will remember the Borj Bab Marrakech concerts looking out over the Essaouira sunsets. The nightingale of modern Andalusian music, Nabyla Maan seduced the audience with an Andalusian expression of deep humanity, in a duo with the maestra of Flamenca dance, Maria Del Mar Moreno. The concerts on the beach stage brought beautiful sounds and energy. Between the next generation guard and young maâlems, or colourful performers like Baloji and Imdiazen, who paid tribute to the diversity of Moroccan and African musical roots. And, finally, the original and effervescent group Betweenatna spread euphoric energy through the crowd of enthusiastic young people, then accepted the Festival organisers’ invitation to perform a second concert for the prison inmates of Essaouira.
Last but not least, intimate concerts played out in the charming settings of Essaouira’s most beautiful riads, delighting audiences eager to let themselves go to the rhythms of Gnaoua, Issaoua, and Hmadcha troupes, as well as feverous fusions such as the lilas at Dar Souiri, musical encounters at Dar Loubane, or bewitching evening concerts at the Zaouia Issaoua.
Culture at the heart of discussion at the Human Rights Forum
“The power of culture to fight the culture of violence” was the theme of discussions held at the 8th edition of the Festival’s Essaouira Forum of Human Rights. For two days, intellectuals, artists, and human rights advocates took part in these exchanges. The Forum’s audience were invited to listen to and interact with personalities such as Laure Adler, Edwy Plenel, Gilles Marceron, Abdelkader Azrii, Abdelkrim Jouaiti, Mohamed Rafiki, Mouna N’Diaye, Abdellah Alhoussayni, Soumaya Hanifa, Seif Kousmate and Mahi Binebine, under the moderation of journalist Abdellah Tourabi, in discussion around the role of cultural actors and how culture can act as a bulwark against various forms of violence.
The Forum opened with the words of Neïla Tazi, producer of the Festival, who reminded us “that culture is not a slogan, it is a call to citizen mobilisation. It is a call to increase awareness to stay on course for a human civilisation of progress and justice”. Evoking Hannah Arendt, who affirmed that it is in the absence of thought that evil takes root, Neïla Tazi continued by explaining that for the 22 years of the Festival’s history, “the pursuit of excellence in culture is the heart of our approach; but not one that is exclusive, that isolates or follows a process of social intimidation by denying the right to those who would consider their own culture to be legitimate and worthy of recognition”.
For Amina Bouayach, president of the National Human Rights Council (CNDH), the protection of human rights is “always a work in progress, everywhere in the world, as there is still an enormous amount of work to be accomplished every day”. Laure Adler, the French journalist and writer, cites the politics of Donald Trump and points to slogans used for electoral campaigns such as “zero tolerance”, considering these words “do nothing but spread hate and amplify all kinds of violence”. As for culture in the face of religious extremism, Abdelouhab Rafiqi (AKA Abu Hafs) shared his own experience as a former Salafist. “It is thanks to culture that I was able to rediscover the joy of living that was taken from me at a young age. If my father made every effort for me to become a «cheikh», it was my mother, who worked for Royal Air Maroc and was against all forms of religious radicalisation, who encouraged me to read cultural and fashion magazines”. Visual artist and novelist Mahi Binebine spoke of his own experience with the Étoiles de Sidi Moumen centres, which strive to save young people - from shantytowns and underprivileged areas – from the influence of fundamentalists by introducing them to culture. Actress Mouna N’Daye and photographer Seif Kousmate explained how they succeed in transmitting their art to give voice to minority populations, notably immigrants and ethnic groups. Writer and journalist Edwy Plenel offered the public a high-level intervention, reminding all that culture is not sufficient to avoid barbaric acts when this culture “is born of humiliation and the idea that people might own culture by dominating others”. He qualified the Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival and its Forum as a “remarkable meeting place, where many unprecedented things are spoken aloud, things that are provocative in the best sense of the word. Moving forward in the understanding that no identity is superior to another, no culture superior to another, knowing that we are free and equal in our rights”.
Three days of celebration, dialogue, and communion were offered up, once again, at this 22nd edition of the Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival
until the 23rd EDITION 25 – 28 JUNE 2020. SEE YOU NEXT YEAR !