A Place of Pilgrimage for Musicians and Music Lovers

The 14th Fes Festival of World Sacred Music takes place this year from 6 to 14 June in the ancient city of Fes (Fez), Morocco. This year celebrating the 1,200th anniversary of its founding, Fes has become a global music destination since the start of the festival following the first Gulf War. The Fes Festival lures both musicians seeking fresh ideas and renewed inspiration as well as international music lovers, many of whom return year after year. VIP guests last year included members of the Irish supergroup U2, composer Osvaldo Golijov, and Queen Rania of Jordan.

Visitors can expect a magical experience, because 2008 looks set to be outstanding – with a spectacular international line-up devised by Artistic Director Gerard Kurdjian. It reflects diverse forms of musical creativity – from grass roots folk music to popular entertainment to the formal European classical traditions. The theme of this year’s festival is Paths to Creation.

The star of the opening night concert in the magnificent setting of the Bab Makina palace courtyard, is the American diva Jessye Norman, who will sing with the Avignon Lyric Orchestra conducted by Rachael Worby. Jessye Norman is one of the undisputed greats of the operatic world. She has sung all the major soprano roles and is especially acclaimed for her performances of Verdi’s Aida.

There will be two dazzling dance performances at the Bab Makina later in the week – flamenco from Spain’s Belen Maya and traditional sacred dances from Indonesia featuring The Panti Pusaka Budaya Ensemble.

2008 also sees the return to the Fes Festival of the Sufi master musician Julian Weiss with the Al-Kindi Ensemble featuring guest a vocalist Sheikh Hamza Shakour from Damascus. In collaboration with The Byzantine Tropos Choir from Athens, they will premiere a Christian and Muslim homage to the Virgin Mary in the form of a Stabat Mater Dolorosa.

More intimate afternoon concerts take place beneath a giant Barbary oak in the Andalusian gardens of the Batha Museum. This year’s program includes Mari Boine from Norway performing Sami sacred songs from the Scandinavian far north and Thanh Huong singing Vietnamese traditional sacred songs. /more2

European classical sacred music comes from Cantus Coln from Germany and Madhup Mughal from India offers a programme of devotional songs from the sub continent.

Late night excitement is generated in the medina’s Dar Tazi gardens where Moroccan Sufi brotherhoods entrance audiences with ecstatic music into the wee small hours. And in the Place Boujloud the people of Fes gather at dusk for the Festival in the City series of free concerts.

This year the Fes Rencontre forum brings academics, philosophers, politicians and priests together to examine the role of the sacred in modern life. Mohammed Sarwar, the UK’s first Muslim MP, will be among the speakers.

Last year U2 spent time in Fes during the festival, writing and rehearsing their new album, set to be released this October. They have since spoken passionately about the transformational experience they discovered at the festival. “Fes is a holy place for musicians “says Bono, humanitarian activist and singer with the group, “we came to pay tribute and to learn. We are on a pilgrimage”.

Bono’s perspective is shared by Sir Nicholas Pearson, Chairman of The Temenos Academy: “Fes and its sacred music festival has a unique opportunity to become the place where Islam meets the West in open and fair-minded dialogue,” he says. “It is for this reason I believe Fes should become a place of pilgrimage for people of goodwill from all religions. We should come to Fes to resolve our differences and celebrate our common humanity. “