Saturday, April 19, 2014

Mohamed Briouel and Friends Close the Sufi Festival in Style


The final night of the 2014 Fes Festival of Sufi Culture gathered together some fine musicians for an evening of Andalusian music. However, when audience members turned up at the advertised venue, at the Zalagh Park Hotel, they were directed to a dark and empty fifth floor. One "official" claimed it had been moved to the Jnan Palace, while another suggested that it had moved back to the Batha Museum

Arriving at the Batha Museum at 8 PM, an hour before the concert began, it was still possible to get a seat, but as the concert started there was still a crush of around 150 to 200 people backed up to the entrance and a great number of people standing inside, blocking aisles.

Part of a large crowd at the Batha Museum - blocking all exits

When Faouzi Skali began his introductory speech a chant of protest erupted about the lack of seating. It was clear that the number of tickets sold greatly exceeded the capacity of the venue. Skali apologised, saying the concert couldn't be held at the usual venue of the Jnan Palace, as this was being renovated. As on the night before, with the lack of public safety because of the crush, questions are being asked about why more tickets are sold than are seats available and why public safety is not put before profits. It was not a good note on which to end the festival.


With a circle of Sufis seated at the front, and the orchestra onstage behind them, the performance went some way towards saving the evening. The music of Mohamed Briouel's Andalusian Orchestra was greeted with the enthusiasm for this star of the Fez music scene that it deserved.

On this occasion Briouel was joined by some big names such as Mohamed Bajeddoub, Said Chraibi and Mohmed and Abdelfatah Bennis as well as the up and coming star, Marouane Hajji.

Mohamed Briouel at the Fes Sacred Music Festival 

Mohamed Briouel, known as Sheik Mohamed, was born in the city of Fez, in 1954. From 1963, Mohamed Briouel studied music alongside Haj Abdelkrim Rais, one of the masters of the Arab-Andalusian Music in Maghreb. He was the first Moroccan to receive the first prize of music theory and the prize of honor in Arab-Andalusian music. Mohamed Briouel is the director of the Conservatory of Music in Fez, where he also teaches music theory.

In 1986, he won the Prix du Morocco for the publication of his study, Moroccan Andalusian music: Nouba Gharibat Al Husayn, in which are transcribed into Western notation for the first time, eleven Andalusian scores.


In recent years he has directed his own orchestra, the Andalusian Orchestra of Fez, and travel widely both in Morocco and abroad, in the dual context of the Arab-Muslim music and also Sephardic music in the company of Albert Emile Zrihan, and  Françoise Atlan.

Over the last few years he has worked with young singers in Fez in a choir that has already appeared to acclaim in past editions of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music .

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Ali Keeler & Al Firdaus and Tariqa Wazzaniyya at Sufi Festival



Ali Keeler

Friday night at the Fes Festival of Sufi Culture drew the largest crowd of the festival so far. The double-bill opened with Ali Keeler and the Al Firdaus Ensemble with Keeler featuring on vocals and violin. The music varied from Andalusian to a delightful surprise - a Celtic tune that started much like a slow Irish air before picking up the tempo and developing into a reel - albeit with unmistakably Islamic vocals.


Keeler was ably supported by his group who included some fine voices and wonderful bass cello. However it was his choice of material that won over the crowd with their simple but deeply religious message. The audience needed little prompting to join in the singing.

Al Firdaus - moving the audience


The Tariqa Wazzaniyya

The youngest Sufi

The Al Firdaus Ensemble was followed by the popular Wazzaniyya Tariqa. They entered in single file behind a beating drum and immediately had the audience on their feet. They were in fine voice and clearly had many devotees amongst the audience.


The Wazzaniyya, like the Charqawiyya, are an offshoot of the Jazuliyya-Shadhiliyya. They were founded by Moulay (saint) ‘Abd Allah al-Sharif (d.1678), who had been a member of the Jazuliyya order, and unlike the others take their name not from their master or founder, but from the town in which they are based: Wazzan, located in the south-west of Morocco and founded by al-Sharif in the first half of the 17th Century, and which, according to Halima Baali-Cherif, “is considered sacred to this day”. It is known by many Moroccans as “Dar Dmana” (The Abode of Protection).



A note on public safety:

Several members of the audience commented to The View from Fez that they felt insecure because of the size of the crowd. While the Batha Museum is a fine venue, this evening it was unfortunately packed beyond its capacity. The overcrowding and the placing of last minute "reserved seats" in front of audience members who had come early to get a good vantage point, caused entire sections to reposition their seats. This resulted in the complete blocking of aisle and exits. Fortunately there was no incident that required their use, but it was a situation that was far beyond normal health and safety practices. Ticket sales are important, but so is the safety of the public.

Tomorrow: A great evening of Samaa at the Hotel Zalagh Parc Palace. Please note the event is sceduled to start at 8.30 pm


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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Turkish Whirling Dervishes ~ Tariqa Khalwatiyya at Fez Sufi Festival


The Tariqa Khalwatiyya
Allah, Allah, Allah
Allah ya Mawlana
Allah, Allah, Allah
Bifadlika Kuli

The Tariqa Khalwatiyya is an Islamic Sufi brotherhood that, along with the Naqshbandi, Qadiri and Shadhili orders,is among the most famous Sufi orders. The order takes its name from the Arabic word khalwa, meaning “method of withdrawal or isolation from the world for mystical purposes". The Khalwati order is known for its strict ritual training of its dervishes and its emphasis on individualism.

The Khalwatiyya are based in Turkey. However, though Moroccan, and more generally North African, Sufism is characterised by the devolution of multiple brotherhoods over time from a small group of orders who brought Sufism to North Africa, principally the Qadiriyya, the Shadhiliyya and the Khalwatiyya themselves, there exist a great number of similar annexes in Turkey, including orders descended from all three of those just mentioned. Rather than shedding light on some fundamental historical difference between Moroccan and Turkish Sufism, therefore, the “originality” of the Khalwatiyya, in contrast to their Moroccan counterparts, appears largely coincidental. Their origin will be seen to have played a part in the uniqueness of their rituals in comparison to the other brotherhoods.


Having said all this, it should be reiterated that the Khalwatiyya have a very strong presence in North Africa, principally through the Tijaniyya annex, which is the largest tariqa in West Africa and whose founder, Ahmed al-Tijani (d.1815), lived and was buried in Fez. Indeed it was al-Tijani who was responsible for propagating the Khalwatiyya order, which he had encountered in Cairo on his way to Mecca to perform the Hajj, in the Maghreb.


In a further example of the inter-connectedness of the brotherhoods’ histories, Tijani had also been an initiate of the Wazzaniyya and the Qadiriyya. This reflects the widespread diffusion of the oldest Sufi orders throughout the lands of Islam, and demonstrates how no order should be considered indigenously “Moroccan”, their origins stretching back to the medieval Middle-East and Central Asia. Similarly, whilst we may talk of the “Turkish Khalwatiyya”, the fact is that they originated in Tabriz, in what is present-day Iran, their master the Persian speaking ‘Umar al-Khalwati (d.1398).

Sheik Fatih Nurallah

The Concert

The Tariqa gave Fez a night of dhikr wa Samāa, or prayer and contemplation, and much more besides.

The evening began with the brotherhood chanting in a semi-circle, and progressed to one of the most spectacular and beautiful of Sufi practices - the whirling dervishes. To watch them is to have a sense of suspension, as though they are almost levitating.


The Tariqa re-grouped and began their deep, drum-like chant, over-toned by a singer on stage. Then they rose and moved into a tight circle, rotating as the chanting intensified. They opened out, and three dancers ran into the centre, leaping, turning and tossing their hair in a wild and joyous display.


The circle formed again, and more acolytes came to join, as the audience rose to add their voices to the experience.

As a finale, individual roses were thrown into the audience; a fitting token for a moving and exciting event.

Festival Director Faouzi Skali embraces Sheik Fatih Nurallah

Coming Up


Tariqa Wazzaniyya

Friday at 9pm at the Batha Museum: Ali Keeler and the Al Firdaus Ensemble followed by samaa with the Tariqa Wazzaniyya - Harraqiyya

Words and photos: Suzanna Clarke. Additional material: Fitzroy Morrissey

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