Friday, June 8, 2007

From Pakistan to Chefchaouen: Festival Days Four and Five

Tuesday night, I returned to Bab Makina to catch Akhtar Sharif Husain, Qawwal Arûp Vâle. A qawwal is a chant-singer or cantor, while Arûp is a town somewhere in Penjab, Pakistan. Akhtar Sharif Husain and his group belong to the sufi Chishti order and are the official qawwals for the temple of Data Ganj Bakhsh (patron saint of Lahore) and the only performers allowed in its sanctuary.

All this attempt at explaining their apparent fame aside, their chant was an incredible performance and very different from the sufi brotherhoods I'd been hearing in Morocco. It was more melodic, and with three harmony singers, had far greater musical range than the local style (which is reminiscint of gregorian chant in its slow-changing melody lines). The tabla player put on an incredible show, with an encore solo that enticed the entire audience to clap along.

Yesterday, my classmates Amina, Amanda and Sarah decided to see the arab-andalusian singers and I convinced Maryam and Fatima Zahra to join us as well. Running late, we three slipped in to join the others but were stopped by ushers who forced us into the back section marked as the B seats. While I'd bought B tickets every night, the three previous concerts had been left open (the venue is huge and never more than half-full). This night was not any busier, but when we went around to try one more entrance, the same thing we sat at the back and grumbled.

We could still hear well, and the three North African women performing were lovely even as specks on the stage. Behidja Rahal from Algeria sang the only songs with a notably Spanish influence, strumming a flamenco-style guitar as accompaniment. Fadwa Malki of Morocco received the loudest applause, naturally, and offered more upbeat material, while Sonia Mbarak from Tunisia was left to perform for a rapidly-depleting audience as everyone started creeping out after 10. Their loss, because her final number used the entire accompaniment orchestra and spread an infectious jazz beat through the remaining crowd.

Amanda and Amina met back up with us after the show to go hear sufis at Dar Tazi once again. A brotherhood from Chefchaouen entered the stage, and I recognized a funny little old man in thick glasses. When Pam and I made our day trip, he had been sitting idly in the main square and made friendly chitchat for some minutes before welcoming us to town. Now, he was in a cream-colored jellabah and turban in the center of the group. I smiled and settled in to listen as they began a call-and-response.

After nearly an hour, the little man in glasses stood up and began to wave his arms. One by one, the others joined him as he began to jump up and down. The chant grew breathless, taking on an insistent tone far more energetic than any of the previous groups. An older European woman in the audience began to jump-march along, smiling broadly and oblivious to the Moroccans' amusement at her awkward participation.

Finally at one, I decided that sleep and homework trumped seeing the performance end and slipped out quietly, not knowing how it would resolve but choosing instead to be a good student for once. Tonight I'm taking an evening to catch up on my coursework - Angélique Kidjo from Benin will just have to sing without me, and tomorrow I will return to see "Sacred and Profane Love" performed by Lebanese and Syrian singers. The only real question is whether I should or shouldn't cut class that afternoon to catch Vasumathi Badrinathan performing Indian carnatic chant. Votes?


QSS said...

Vasumathi's voice has serious depth, to be sure, but I say it's only a class-be-damned must-see if her bharat natyam is in the programme.

Anonymous said...

For the three North African women performance, please note that sonia m'barek'passage on stage was the second, not as mentinned on the programm.
The audience began to leave in the third part of the performance so when the morroccan lady came on stage

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