Friday, April 19, 2013

Rare bird - music festival with no Wagner or Britten


News comes via the Master Musicians of Jajouka diaspora that the masters are playing this weekend at the Alchemy at Zahar Festival. This new event, which takes place seven hours drive south of Marrakech in the Moroccan Sahara, replaces the Festival au D├ęsert in Mali which has been cancelled due to the state of emergency there. Alchemy at Zahar is not quite as accessible as the BBC Proms: here are the travel instructions from the festival website.
The location of the Festival is not something that you will find on a GPS or that you should ask a random person about : M’Hamid alone is a really common name – The complete name of the town is M’Hamid El Ghizlane – where the 4×4 cars will await you, to take you on sand tracks to the « Screaming Dune of Zahar » (this has been its popular name even before the idea of the festival was born). This ultimate step before arriving at the festival area is a one hour ride in the desert.
Among the other artists playing Alchemy at Zahar are Aziz Sahmaoui and the University of Gnawa who featured here a couple of years back. And instead of Barenboim conducting the Ring there is Abraxas, a 'ritualistic Jewish rock band' from Brooklyn, while, as an alternative to Marin Alsop conducting the last night, there is Ahwach N Tferkhine, a Moroccan traditional group of twelve women singers who perform with their heads veiled by a single cloth. For those whose fantasies extend beyond Doctor Who there are the Master Musicians Of Bukkake who mix "heavy-lidded distortion" with "drone-led meditational spaces", and in contrast to Britten's A Boy Was Born Sonic Youth leader Lee Ronaldo plays two sets, one with his own band and one with the Jajouka musicians. I have already cleared my diary for the 2014 Alchemy at Zahar festival.

* Unfortunate update - New music festival sounds a very flat note.


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