Against the illuminated arch and within the forbidding stone walls, the frantic qawwali rhythms of Farid Ayyaz & Party bring Bab al Makina to life. The straight-backed party clothed in sleek black salwars are headed by Farid Ayyaz with a side singer flanking him.

The harmoniums lay the chorus as the tabla and percussion build up the tempo paving the way for the powerful voices of the qawwal. A flood of energy expounded despite their crossed legged stance, Farid enacts a wave of spirited hand gestures directed at his side singer as well as his audience.

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The rich ornamentation of the qawwali singers is soon met in spectacular spirit by the voices of Moroccan samaa from the sufi brotherhoods of Fez. The audience are hypnotised by the repetition of the songs, the sufi whirling and the monumental surroundings. Farid Ayyaz & Party and the Arabo-Andalous Orchestra of Fez are only one highlight of the long lineup for this year’s Fes Festival of World Sacred Music.

Founded in 1994 in the wake of the First Gulf War, as a government sponsored event to highlight the positive face of Islam, the festival is now in its 17th year. Drawing established and emerging musicians from East and West to the historic city of Fez el-Bali (one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites), the festival positions the city as a site for inspiration and a meeting point for artists.

Scattered within grand museums, former palaces and squares within the medieval city’s walls are a series of visual art exhibitions, roundtable discussions and spectacular music concerts that span over ten days.
The theme of this year’s festival is loosely described as ‘wisdoms of the world’, a message at the heart of the opening concert on the Arabic myth, Leyla and the Majnun. This ‘search for wisdom’ runs through the festival programme.

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