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    Mawazine music festival, Rabat, May 16th-24th, 2008


    March 31, 2008 -- For eight days this spring, the Moroccan capital of Rabat will host the seventh annual Mawazine World Rhythms festival, organised by the Maroc-Cultures Association (AMC).

    This year's festival, to be held from May 16th-24th, is characterised by renewal, both in its programming and its sponsoring organisation. Mohammed Mounir Majidi, special advisor to King Mohammed VI, has taken over responsibilities as head of the festival, replacing outgoing director and AMC founding President Abdeljalil Hjomri.

    The event's organisers have made certain changes to promote and develop the festival, which ushers the administrative capital out of its normal work-dominated atmosphere for a few days of culture and tourism.

    Aziz Daki, Mawazine 2008 art director, said this year's event "will buzz to the rhythm of development and more openness towards others. An international symposium will be held in tandem with the festival, focusing on 'Music of the World and Cultural Diversity'."

    The organisers explained that the Mawazine Festival has, over the years, placed emphasis on diversity and plurality in response to all tastes and views. The event promotes the values of unity, tolerance, love, security and peace, through the presence of artists from different countries, ages and languages.

    The current edition will welcome artists from forty countries in more than 100 musical performances. Jazz music, and the music of "les tsiganes" (gypsies) will be featured prominently in order to encourage other musical genres classified as music of minorities or ethnic music, with special respect to African and South American rhythms.

    Renowned American singer Whitney Houston is expected to sing at the closing ceremony of this year's festival. The opening ceremony of the event will feature performances from U.S. guitarist and jazz singer George Benson.

    In addition, there will be dozens of performances by musicians from Europe, Latin America, the Maghreb and the Middle East. Some of the artists include US jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater; Ziggy Marley, son of Bob Marley from Jamaica; Cheb Bilal from Algeria; Amr Diab; Nancy Ajram; Asala Nasry; Saber al-Rubai; Diana Haddad; Fadl Shaker; and Natacha Atlas from the Middle East, as well as famous Moroccan singers such as Hayat Al Idrissi, Saeeda Fekri, Fatima Tihihite, Latifa Raafat, Nass El Ghiwane; Jil Jilala and Lemchaheb; and hip hop groups such as Darga, Fnaire, H-Kayne and Hoba Hoba Spirit, as well as a number of artists from Latin America.

    In order to connect young musicians with veteran performers, the festival has held the "Mawazine Generation" contest since 2006. The contest gives the stage to aspiring musicians aged 15-30 to perform before a large audience and a professional jury. The winner earns the opportunity to produce an album and video courtesy of the National Radio and Television Company. The song and the album will be later distributed to national TV channels, and this year's winner will participate in the 2009 Mawazine Festival.

    Ahmed Aydoune, chairman of the jury, said three awards will be dedicated to the arts of rap, hip-hop and rock, as well as new popular music.

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    May 26, 2008 -- For nine days in Rabat, the seventh annual Mawazine Festival drew a sizeable crowd from all over Morocco who came to see high-calibre concerts given by internationally renowned performers.

    Whitney Houston wowed the audience on May 24th with an open-air concert to close out the festival, giving an excited crowd the opportunity to discover and admire the singer’s husky, sensual voice. Her young fans held up banners saying "We love you, Whitney".

    This final concert of the festival, given by American superstar of the 1980s and 90s will go down in Rabat history, which had never before played host to such a major star.

    The organisers of the festival believe that the seventh Mawazine was a resounding success. Aziz Daki, the technical director, said the five concert venues sold out completely on three of the nine days of the festival.

    The Moroccan public came out in force and appreciated the calibre of the artists, who lit up Rabat for the whole of the nine days.

    30-year-old Yassine attended the May 17th concert by Ziggy Marley, eldest son of reggae legend Bob Marley. "I'll never forget Ziggy’s concert," he told Magharebia, still delighted at having been to a concert devoted entirely to reggae.

    Merouane from Casablanca went to a show by legendary US blues and jazz guitarist George Benson. "For me that was the highlight of the festival, and it was a great surprise for the Moroccan public to see an artist as famous as George Benson.”

    His friend, Houcine, said it was a long time since the Moroccan arts scene had seen artists of Benson’s calibre: "He’s an artist I really like, especially for the magical way he plays the guitar."

    For nine days Rabat was serenaded by leading Moroccan and international artists, who gave about 100 concerts.

    During press conferences, many of the stars expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to perform in Morocco.

    "I love Morocco and the Moroccan people, and it’s a real pleasure for me to bring my music even closer to them," George Benson commented.

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    May 29, 2008 -- Magharebia spoke with Moroccan singer Saida Fekri about what she calls a singer's duty to be an "ambassador for peace". The singer, now living in the US, recently performed at the Mawazine festival in Rabat.

    Magharebia: How did it feel to embrace your Moroccan fans after years of absence?

    Saida Fekri: I sincerely longed for my home fans who were my sole consolation while away. The Mawazine Festival broke the artistic siege I was locked inside, by inviting me to give a concert together with world artists. This is a tribute I take pride in. I met fans who were hungry for my tunes, and who knew all my old songs by heart, which soothed my pains.

    Magharebia: Do you mean pains of homesickness or pains of the siege?

    Fekri: Both. Because I left my homeland on account of the siege, I suffered coldness on the artistic level. Why did a foreign country appreciate my art, while my own country was indifferent to me? That was how I felt when my first album "Sa’aluni An El-Azab" was issued in 1994. It was warmly acclaimed. The Belgian government invited me to give a concert there and I got some wide-scale media coverage. When I got back to Morocco, however, hardly anyone cared, and I was met with indifference, which, I still assert, was planned.

    Magharebia: Who exactly was being indifferent?

    Fekri: Those in charge: the television and the media in general. My songs truly voiced the agonies of society and I believe the media, too, was under siege at that time. No one could support me at the time, except the audience who would express their encouragement online.

    Magharebia: Why did you choose serious songs?

    Fekri: It was not really a choice as much as it was a feeling that grew inside of me. It was in my character and nature. I object to oppression and racism – these are the principles I grew up with. I believe the world is just full of hatred and deceit. Whoever loves life must rebel against [them] and demand a world where love and peace might prevail.

    Magharebia: Do you plan on continuing your revolt against oppression and racism?

    Fekri: Of course. Peace and love will continue to be my sole quest, especially at a time when the world is being torn apart by wars and conflicts. It is an artist's duty nowadays to be an ambassador of peace and love. This is what I aspire to through my songs. You know I released an album in the US entitled "One World". The album celebrates peace and co-existence.

    Magharebia: To whom does Saida Fekri sing?

    Fekri: I sing to all people in general and to Moroccans in particular. They are always with me. They seize every opportunity to support me. Moroccans made me so proud in my latest tour in the US. My Moroccan fans repeated my songs. Believe me, I met a little girl who knew my entire repertoire. That is such a great honour for me.

    Magharebia: Does that mean the tour was a success?

    Fekri: Undoubtedly. As proof, there was a suggestion to include some popular numbers in my soiree to lure in audiences, but the concert sponsor said he’d rather lose than foist other singing styles onto Saida Fekri’s.

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    June 3, 2008 -- After the end of this year's successful Mawazine festival in Morocco, Algerian rai singer Cheb Bilal spoke with Magharebia about his participation in the festival and the event's value in bringing artists and fans together. Cheb Bilal's concert attracted a solid turnout of young Moroccan rai fans.

    Magharebia: How would you describe your experience participating in the Mawazine festival?

    Cheb Bilal: It was truly positive, not to mention very important to me, as I got to meet my Moroccan fans. The festival also was an opportunity for Arab and foreign artists to open up to one another. Plus, it was a chance to get in touch in global cultures and arts, as embodied by leading talents such as Whitney Huston from the US, Ziggy Marley from Jamaica, Nancy Ajram from Lebanon, and Asala Nasri from Syria, as well as many other big names who took part in the event.

    Magharebia: Do you think such encounters could yield joint ventures?

    Cheb Bilal: Definitely, because the only language that prevails is that of art, away from all geographic or ethnic boundaries. That artistic pollination is indeed wonderful. I believe the Mawazine festival realises this objective, since it lures stars from various countries, all driven by the desire to get know about the art of the "other", to communicate through joint projects. I am ready to embark on any bilateral project with Moroccan artists.

    Magharebia: You believe that art is an avenue to engaging others, then?

    Cheb Bilal: Yes, artists have managed to achieve what politicians fail to do. The proof is that Mawazine united the flags of various countries, and brought together artists of various religions, for an event with the sole purpose of co-existence and relinquishing hatred and malevolence.

    Magharebia: Does Bilal sing against hatred and malevolence?

    Cheb Bilal: I sing for love and against betrayal. Most of my songs are inspired by the reality of young people and their suffering away from their homelands. I am one of them, and have been through the same thing; I migrated from Algeria to France when I was just 21.

    Magharebia: What do you think of the music of young people nowadays?

    Cheb Bilal: It expresses a certain reality and certain emotions. I believe every generation searches for its own means of expression. Young people find at present in rap, hip-hop and rai the artistic means of expressing their reality as well as their needs.

    Magharebia: Why did rai music manage to spread and become such a big hit worldwide?

    Cheb Bilal: I believe that boldness and crossing red lines are the secrets behind the success of that genre of music that made it big worldwide. Rai artists tackled topics dauntlessly in their songs as they shed light on social taboos, especially when rai started crossing Algerian borders and heading toward immigration countries in the early nineties. Rai thus became global in nature.

    Magharebia: Is there any difference between Algerian rai and Moroccan rai?

    Cheb Bilal: I do not recognize that distinction. Rai is one in terms of topics or tunes, be it Moroccan or Algerian. We all live in the same Maghreb region.

    Magharebia: It is evident that your style in singing has not changed, why is that?

    Cheb Bilal: I choose to rely on lyrics that are closer to people and on simple popular rhythm. I plan on pursuing my career in that same direction because, in plain terms, I am "son of this homeland" who will always treasure his Maghreb roots.

    Magharebia: What are your future plans?

    Cheb Bilal: I prefer not to discuss new projects until they are done. What matters is that I am constantly keen on remaining true to my style of singing and up to the expectations of my audiences, especially young people who find themselves in my music, just as I find myself in their problems, which constitute a realistic material for my output.

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