Friday 25 July 2008

Essaouira 2008 - Interim report

So, its now about a month since we arrived in Essaouira. That long, slow drive down the sea front. Cecking it at the hotel and seeing old friends again. Our first nous-nous and caffee cassee Chez Ben Mustafa, God rest his soul. The excitement and anticipation is tangible. Looking back, was it all worth it? Yes, for sure. I don't think it was a great festival but it was a very good one. Great moments spring to mind: Omar Hayat with his flag holders and the great wailing woman, Hamid El Kasri, Ky-Mani Marler, Samulnori Molgae and their great drummers, but no Band of Gnawa, no Ray Lema, no Mehr Ali and Sher Ali, no Youssou N'Dour. Well, you can't have everything, and it was pretty good.

I took about 20 hours of video and quite a bit of audio and II captured all and have processed some of it and posted it to Youtube. It's given me the chance to listen again to all of the msuic, some of it many times as I get it ready for posting. I worked out that I probably listen to a given piece 8 or 10 times before it gets onto my channel.

My wife Maggie has written a great description of the festival, and much more, over on her blog, so why not take a look?

Sunday 20 July 2008

Group Bana de Marrakech at Essaouira 2008

I know little about Group Bana de Marrakech other than what I've read in the Essaouira festival guide which says (as translated by Google Translate):

The Group Bana is a native of Marrakech and plays in the style of "taktaka" Marrakesh, which is part of authentic arts of the city ochre as the "Dakka Marrakchiya." The group Bana has participated in several regional and national events and poetry evenings.

I saw them play on the Friday afternoon in the little Place Al Khayma and recorded all that I saw and heard. Theirs' is a completely different style to gnaoua - very interactive, both between each other and with the audience, who they carry along - singing and dancing - with long, complicated songs with rhythms that change all the time and which seem to tell well-known stories that everyone knows the words to - except me, of course. Anyway, as a musical and visual experience, it was stunning.

The stage at Al Khayma is only feet away from the audience which really helps the interactivity between the group and the crowd, and there was quite a crowd, filling the square pretty much, as you can see on my videos. I've seen a vidao of them playing at the new stage at Bab Doukkala, and they looked more formal, and more distant, there. I think maybe their taktaka works better in a smaller, more intimate venue.

Anyway, enough talk, here's some music. It links to my Group Bana de Marrakech playlist on YoutTube.

Saturday 19 July 2008

Van churns out another one!

KISS, or Keep It Simple, Stupid, is long-standing tenet in the IT business that I've been involved in for the past 40 years or so. As the title of Van the Man's latest album implies, I'm not sure who's the stupid one - us - for buying it, or him. He says that he's returning to his roots though to me it sounds like he's saving himself the bother of working for a living and is just repeating what he's done before. That said, on stage last year, his performance was great.

I wondered what was going on earlier this year when he and/or his record company pulled all of his classic videos from YouTube. Now I understand. He didn't want us to remember how great he was.

Sorry Van. You need to go back to the drawing board, and reinvent yourself. This just dosn't cut the mustard.

Sunday 13 July 2008

Music in Essaouira

If you think that the only music in Essaouira is at the festival, you would be very wrong. As you walk along its streets, you'll find yourself moving between islands of music: shops and stalls selling CDs - mainly gnaoua, but also sub-Saharan music from Mali and Senegal, shops selling souvenirs who play music to attract customers, and of course the cafes at Place Moulay Hassan, where sometimes the music is so loud that you can't hear the live music being played on the stage just around the corner!

Then, of course, there are the shops selling instruments: some more workshop that shop, where a lone craftsman makes instruments of wood and leather using hand-tools and skills that must have been passed down over the centuries.

Essaid Rhatrhat is one such who not only makes guimbris and djembes, but also plays them and sings as well, as you can see in this 10 minute clip that I recorded in June. I'd spotted his shop on the Derb Ibn Toumert, a little street that links the top end Place Moulay Hassan leading to Place Al Khaima. Younger musicians gather at his shop, to talk and get advice, a new string, or to try out a djembe. They address Essaid as 'maalem' (master), though he's wouldn't call himself that. Still its a term of respect that I think is well deserved.

Just a few minute's walk away, where Derb Yousef Ben Tachfine joins the Mellah Qdim (aka Avenue Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah), you'll find Bob Music, a veritable treasure chest of musical instruments, old and new, from Morocco, other parts of Africa, and from Europe and the Americas. The shop is run by Abderrahim and his assistant Hamid, who you can see in this clip, playing an impromptu set on djembes.

Regular visitors to DaftNotStupid may recognise the music playing on Abderrahim's complex set of interconnected CD players and amplifiers at the beginning of the clip. A free CD to the first person to identify the number (add comment here please, but send you name and address by email to

Getting back to the theme of this meme (I know, I usually call them posts, but I liked the rhyme), you need to ask yourself the question "Why is there so much music in Essaouira?" Is it because of the festival, or is the festival here because of the music? I think the latter. Essaouira is one of the homes of Gnaoua music - it's in the soul and the blood of its inhabitants. If the festival stopped, the music wouldn't. People like Essaid would continue to ply their craft, making their own instruments and playing them for their own satisfaction and that of their friends and families.

While I'm on this subject,I've just counted up the gnaoua groups who played at the festival this year. Of the 28 maalems listed in the program, 13 come from Essaouira, 6 from Marrakech, and the remainder from the other gnaoua centres - Rabat (4), Casablanca (2), Meknes (1), Tangier (1), and Safi (1). While this certainly is partly due to local availability and a desire on the part of the organizers to promote native Souiri talent, it's probably also largely due to the fact that so many of the the Essaouira gnaouis are so darned good. Well, that my opinion. It just helps to show that music runs in the blood down there.

Sunday 6 July 2008

Essaouira 2008 الصويرة playlist

This is a playlist of the music that I recorded at the Essaouira 2008 Gnaoua and World Music Festival which I've posted on YouTube. Enjoy.

Click the little rectangular icon at the bottom, or move your mouse over the bottom of the fram, to see the clip titles.

Wednesday 2 July 2008

Essaouira 2008 Gnaoua and World Music Festival - First Impressions

Maalem Omar Hyatt

I've just come back from another great Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival and will be writing a lot about it and posting some pretty good audio, and new this year - video, of all of the sessions that I saw and heard. Hightlights for me were Maalem Omar Hyatt, Groupe Bassekou Kouyaté, Orchestre National de Barbes, the heavyweight drummers form Korea - Samulnori Molgae, Ky-Mani Marley and Maâlem Hamid El Kasri.

I recorded over twenty (20) hours of video and another 10 hours or so of audio. It's taken me three or four hours to create a 7 minute video clip that I am currently uploading to YouTube, so you can see that I've got my work cut out for the coming months.

Here's the start of a long number that I need to break to pieces because it's so long. It features Maalem Omar Hayat with Franck Vaillant (Drums), Jon Balcke Norway (Piano / keyboards), Mohamed Derouich (Guitar) France / Morocco, Ibrahim Maalouf (Trumpet / Lebanon).

This clip shows the great drummers from Samulnori Molgae:

After the Hamid El Kasri set, Maggie said that Ky-Mani Marley would have to be pretty good to beat it. Well, here's the evidence. Ky-Mani comes out fighting - and folks, there's more to come. Here's his opening number:

The closing set of the festival was back to Sunday, once again, after last year when it closed on Saturday. There were a couple of changes though: the two sets started a little later and were held at Moulay Hassan, not Bab Marrakech. Here's a couple of numbers by Orchestre National de Barbes who finished it all off very nicely, thank you!

Franck Vailant playing with Omar Hayat