Friday 2 July 2010

Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival 2010 - Report, Videos, Photographs

I've just come back from the Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival 2010 where Maggie and I had a really great time, listened to lots of good music and made lots of new friends.This year, we were given press accreditation, with what I came to realise were precious Camera badges, that allowed us privileged access right in front of the stages. I shot loads of what I hope will turn out to be great video, though your opinion on that is more important than mine. I lost control of the sound quality some of the time, in the heat of getting better pictures, but I think I've found a way around that, if we get to go again and get the badges again. But enough of that.

The festival opened as usual with a parade of Gnaoui, but this year that was supplemented by a number of troops of Fantasia riders on horseback, led by their Masters, all carrying ancient-looking rifles. 75 horsemen in a circle, hoeses all calm and controlled but frisky with it. Troops approach one another and pull back. The lead Master starts to speak - addressing all of the troops. Then Bang! All 75 rifles fire at one. Wow - took me by surprise.

First up in Place Moulay Hassan after the open speeches were the two Maalem brothers Kouyou - Mohamed and Said, joined after a few gnaoua numbers by the Sukishvili Georgian National Ballet, who were not at all what I had expected. My only past experince of Georgian National Ballet had been tall and statuesqe women in long white gowns who appeared to float across the stage. Take a look at the video when I post it and you'll see how wrong I was.

Here's a YouTube playlist that I'm starting to build. There'll be more music appearing in the coming days, weeks, and (knowing me) months:

This post is work in progress - be sure to check back soon for some new material.

I've managed to crack the problem of posting videos on YouTube in HD this year. I'm using the same camera as before (Panasonic GS400) which records in pretty good quality though not native HD. The secret appears to be to render the clips with a large frame size (1440x1080) and using an AVCHD codec, though this does generate very large files, about 1.0 GB for a 10 minute clip. The resulting quality on YouTube is however really good, and I might re-render and re-post some of my previous years' movies if I ever get the time.

Interview with Hassan Boussou

This year, I was given the opportunity to request interviews with some of the performers. I asked to speak with Maalem Hassan Boussou, since I really love his music, and was lucky to be able to talk with him for 10 minutes or so at the Sofitel Hotel one afternoon. To be honest, at first I found the experience a little overwhelming, but once we got started, it seemd to work quite well. I recorded the interview, which I've added to my YouTube playlist, but I've also included it separately below.

I asked about the importance of fusion to his music and learned that what is most important is the traditional Gnaoua, but that he has mainly started to play fusion since he started living in France where he meets and works with a wider variety of musicians. He would like to see Gnaoua become more recognised internationally and considers it part of his responsibility to help to achieve that. When he plays, he considers the audience to be very important, "a plant must have water if it is to grow" was how he explained that to me. I asked a rather complicated question about the frequent and complex time changes and what I called the 'musical punctuation' that seems to divide up some of his longer pieces, and he explained that such changes of tempo were key to the Boussou school of Gnaoua, developed by his late father, the great Maalem H'mida Boussou. The interview video runs to a little over 10 minutes, and if you speak French you'll get a lot more out of it than if you just speak English. Many thanks to Ibtissam Alaoui, from the festival press office, for translating my questions and Hassan's replies from and to English.


Here's a slideshow of some of the photographs that I took that I have loaded up to Flickr. I took these with my camcorder, which lets me take still photos while I'm recording a video.

Vince Millett

Vince Millet added a comment with links to some great photographs that he took. Just follow the links to these six Flikr slides-shows to get a great sense of the everyday excitement of the Essaouira festival. Thanks for these, Vince.
Opening Parade:

Maâlem Mustapha Bakbou:

Dhafer Youssef:

Maâlem Saïd Ouressan:

Speed Caravan:

Around the festival:


I was able to record a couple of Audio-only sessions from our balcony at Bab Marrakech while I was over at Moulay Hassan with the video camera. Here's the first of them, featuring Maalem Aziz Bakbou with some member of the Armenian Navy Band (among others):

This isn't working, and I'm not sure why. I'll try to sort it out.

My wife Maggie has also wrtten extensively about the festival, and you can read what she says and see her own photographs on her blog here