Written by littlerunner on 21 Nov, 2008
Where can you find third century BC ruins, innovative jazz and traditional African Gnaoua music fused together under star lit skies and swaying palm trees? With the 13th edition of the Jazz au Chellah Festival, Rabat once again has distinguished itself as a city…Read More
Where can you find third century BC ruins, innovative jazz and traditional African Gnaoua music fused together under star lit skies and swaying palm trees? With the 13th edition of the Jazz au Chellah Festival, Rabat once again has distinguished itself as a city open to new jazz forms, innovative ensembles and cultural mixes that transcend country and culture. The five day festival lights up the oldest historical site in Morocco’s capital city. Known simply as the Chellah, the settlement along the banks for the Bou Regreg River became a Roman outpost, was then abandoned to Berber rulers who used the fortress to launch attacks on Spain and eventually acquired the title Ribatu l-Faht, meaning "stronghold of victory," from which Rabat derives its current name. It is inside these thick rampart walls, amidst the whispering palm trees that the sounds of European jazz and traditional Moroccan music meld together and enchant the eager crowd. First started in 1996, the cultural music festival is organized by the Delegation of the European Commission in Morocco, the Moroccan Ministry of Culture, and cooperation between EU embassies and cultural centers. Created as a space for cultural and musical exchange, European musicians from over 14 different countries added their innovative jazz this year to the sounds of well known local Moroccan musicians. Thursday night, June 12th, opened the festival, first with Philip Catherine, the lyrical guitar virtuoso from Belgium. The second act brought together the lute player-singer Dhader Youssef and the Wolfgang Muthspiel Trio from Autria. To this mélange, Said Nouiar joined in with his flute, masterfully showing off his Andalusian and Berber influences; his clear notes floating above and around the Asian influenced percussion sounds, spiritual singing, and guitar cords. The second evening started off with a rock-jazz-folk explosion from Pink Freud, a young group hailing from Poland. Loud and full of improvisation, the trio opened the night with a "trace-jazz-dance" energy, according to one audience member. Up next, the Dutch State of Mind continued the innovation, known for their new movement in Holland called "nu-jazz." Complete with a "MacBook musician" mixing electro beats behind the cacophony of sax, trumpet, clarinet, bass and drums, this group was joined by prize-winning violinist Ahmed Cherkani and Moroccan percussionist Abdellah El Alaoui. Romania and Sweden kicked off Saturday night’s performance, with Florin Nicolescu on violin and Andreas Oberg on guitar, bringing the music of their countries together and mixing sound and culture seamlessly. The second half of the evening pulled from a myriad of influences, such as Lansine Kouyate playing string instruments and the sounds of composer-percussionist David Neerman. Joined by Hassan Boussou and his Gnaoua troupe, the mix of new-age jazz, African tradition and Moroccan music was effortless. Sunday’s first group made the audience swoon with the energetic and forceful melodies, catchy hooks, soulful moments and thrilling climaxes of the Neil Cowley Trio. Cowley’s amusing manner of chatting with the audience and hilarious song titles only added to the London charm they brought to the Chellah. Following this lively trio, the Italian trumpet soloist Flavio Boltro and his quartet mixed things up with flashy piano, piercingly high solos and rich harmonious improvisation. To this group, the father of afro-moroccan-jazz Jauk El Maleh joined with his guitar and Youssek Oulmadani added his energetic and fast-paced percussion rhythms. Finally, to finish this year’s jazz fusion festival, Monday night began with Greek pianist Giorgos Kontrafouris and the Maniel Dunkel Quartet from Finland, full of serenading saxophone and soaring piano. The night ended with world renowned Joachim Kuhn from Germany, Ramon Lopez from Spain and Majod Bekkas from Morocco, performing with traditional Gnaoua dancers and their large iron castanets. The crowd was on their feet dancing, clapping and cheering as the concert came to an close. With the dancing finally dying down, the energized crowd dispersing and the lights dimming on the stage, the audience was already talking about next year’s festival and what countries would be present to fuse their sounds with the traditions of Morocco and the into the history of Rabat’s beautiful Chellah. Close
Written by Stircrazy on 25 Aug, 2000
(from Lonely Planet)
Unlike other North African nations, Morocco has been largely occupied by the one people for as long as recorded history can recall. The Berbers, or Imazighen (men of the land), settled in the area thousands of years ago and at one time they…Read More
(from Lonely Planet)
Unlike other North African nations, Morocco has been largely occupied by the one people for as long as recorded history can recall. The Berbers, or Imazighen (men of the land), settled in the area thousands of years ago and at one time they controlled all of the land between Morocco and Egypt. Divided into clans and tribes, they have always jealously guarded their independence. It's this fierce independence that has helped preserve one of Africa's most fascinating cultures.
The early Berbers were unmoved by the colonising Phoenicians, and even the Romans did little to upset the Berber way of life after the sack of Carthage in 146 BC. All the same, the Romans ushered in a long period of peace during which many cities were founded, and the Berbers of the coastal plains became city dwellers. Christianity turned up in the 3rd century AD, and again the Berbers asserted their traditional dislike of centralised authority by following Donatus (a Christian sect leader who claimed that the Donatists alone constituted the true church).
Islam burst onto the world stage in the 7th century when the Arab armies swept out of Arabia. Quickly conquering Egypt, the Arabs controlled all of North Africa by the start of the 8th century. By the next century much of North Africa had fragmented, with the move towards a united Morocco steadily growing. A fundamentalist Berber movement emerged from the chaos caused by the Arab invasion, overrunning Morocco and Muslim Andalusia (in Spain). The Almoravids founded Marrakesh as their capital, but they were soon replaced by the Almohads.
Under these new rulers, a professional civil service was set up and the cities of Fès, Marrakesh, Tlemcen and Rabat reached the peak of their cultural development. But eventually weakened by Christian defeats in Spain, and paying the price for heavily taxing tribes, the Muslim (or Moorish) rule began to wane. In their place came the Merenids, from the Moroccan hinterland, and the area again blossomed - until the fall of Spain to the Christians in 1492 unleashed a revolt that dissolved the new dynasty within 100 years.
After a number of short-lived dynasties rose and fell, the Alawite family secured a stranglehold in the 1630s that remains firm to this day. Although it was rarely a smooth ride, this pragmatic dynasty managed to keep Morocco independent for more than three centuries.
Enter the European traders in the late 19th century, and a long era of colonial renovations. Suddenly France, Spain and Germany were all keen on hijacking the country for its strategic position and rich trade resources. France won out and occupied virtually the entire country by 1912. Spain clung to a small coastal protectorate and Tangier was declared an international zone.
Relatively speaking, the first French resident-general, Marshal Lyautey, respected the Arab culture. He generously resisted the urge to destroy the existing Moroccan towns and instead built French villes nouvelles (new towns) alongside them. He made Rabat on the Atlantic coast the new capital and developed the port of Casablanca. The sultan remained, but as little more than a figurehead. Lyautey's successors were not so sensitive. Their efforts to speed French settlement prompted the people of the Rif Mountains, led by the Berber scholar Abd el-Krim, to rise up against both colonial forces. It was only through the combined efforts of 25,000 Spanish-French troops that Abd el-Krim was eventually forced to surrender in 1926. By the 1930s, more than 200,000 French had made Morocco home. WWII saw Allied forces use Morocco as a base from which to drive the Germans out of North Africa.
With the war over, Sultan Mohammed V inspired an independence party which finally secured Moroccan freedom in 1956. Tangier was reclaimed in the process, but Spain refused to hand over the northern towns of Ceuta and Melilla (to this day they remain Spain's last tenuous claim on Africa).
Mohammed V promoted himself to king in 1957 and was succeeded four years later by his son, Hassan II. This popular leader cemented his place in Moroccan hearts and minds by staging the Green March into the Western Sahara, an area formerly held by Spain. With a force of 350,000 volunteers, Hassan's followers overcame the indigenous Sahrawis to claim the mineral-rich region as their own. But by the 1960s it had become clear that the 100,000 or so inhabitants of the `territory' wanted independence. Western Sahara's Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia al-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario) didn't take kindly to the invasion and embarked on a long and gruesome war of independence against Morocco. In 1991, the United Nations brokered a ceasefire and more recently decided to `remain seized of the matter'. In other words, Western Sahara's official status remains in question thanks to Morocco's continued muscle flexing.
While the Moroccan masses applauded the southern invasion, it left nearby Algeria about as happy as the Western Saharans themselves. Hassan's relations with this particular war-torn neighbour have been poor ever since. Today, despite recent changes to the constitution, Hassan remains as an absolute, and somewhat antique, autocrat.
Since my visit in March of 1999, King Hassan II has died. His death on July 23, 1999, came after 38 years on the throne, and leaves as his successor his son, Crown Prince Sidi Mohammed.