Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Hamdulillah: Fes Festival of World Sacred Music, Volume II

The 2015 edition of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music in Fes, Morocco is going on right now, having started last Friday the 22nd and ending this Saturday the 30th.  Established in 1994 by Association Fes Saiss, which is concerned with "artistic preservation, international cooperation, and other humanitarian causes," the festival presents a wide array of music from around the world.  This year's lineup, for example, includes musicians from sub-Saharan Africa, Scotland, Iraq, Portugal, India, China, Azerbaijan, Spain and even the current lineup of The Temptations!

This recording consists of two discs sampling some of the amazing music from the 1997 and 1998 Fes festivals.  Musics included in the set provide a fascinating array of performers.    On disc one, featured performers include The Ahmed Piro Ensemble, representing Arab-Andalusian (medieval Arab Spanish origins) music, was joined by the impressive Amina Alaoui on vocals.  The ensemble Taqtouqa Al Jabaliyya performs Taqtouga music from the Rif Mountains region of Morocco.  Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar brings classical Indian vocals from the Hindustani region.  The remarkable Children of Abraham is a consortium of choirs featuring Christian, Jewish and Muslim youth.  The great Alim Oassimov, from Azerbaijan, demonstrated his remarkable vocalizations from Sufi-inspired chants.  The gorgeous voice of Francoise Atlan, of France, emphasizes Jewish Sephardic song traditions.  Albert Bouhadanna is joined by the Arab-Andalusian Orchestra of Mohammed Briouel for a performancebased on the piyyout, a Jewish music from Morocco.

The second disc includes Central Asian sufi music as performed by Monajat Yulcheva of Uzbekistan; the Iraqi maqam tradition of mystical texts and poetry performed by Hussayn Al Azami and the Al Kindi Ensemble.  The breathtaking sound of Javanese gamelan is represented by the Wacana Budaya Gamelan group.  The amazing vocalist Sharam Nazeri of Iranian Kurdistan (a people who have been much oppressed in Iran, Iraq and Turkey) is backed by the excellent Dastan Ensemble.  Finally, there is the monumental 39-minute rendering of the phenomenon of The Whirling Dervishes of Konya representing the fantastic traditions of the Sufi mystic and poet, Jallaluddin Rumi--a stunning end to a fantastic sampling of music from the two festivals.

The Sounds True label, much like the Ellipsis Arts label, has released a great deal of spiritual material of all kinds, much of which has New Age connotations.  Whatever one makes of some of this, there are some excellent recordings of spiritual musics from around the world released by the label, including a fine album by the late, great Sudanese oud master  Hamza el-Din, as well as some excellent compilations, including this one.

The quality of sound from these live productions is very good and is clear and crisp.  Notably, the hauntingly beautiful Children of Abraham performance was engineered by Steve Van Zandt, presumably the guitarist best known for his work with Bruce Springsteen, while the rest was done by another engineer.  A handsomely-produced booklet details each track with photos and information on the performers.

There is a companion volume, the first, called Bismillah: Highlights from the Fes Festival, sampling from earlier editions of the festival. Hopefully, a copy can be located and highlighted here sometime.  Meantime, anyone interested in music from the Middle East, northern Africa and central Asia would benefit greatly from picking up a copy of this stunning album.

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