Fez, one of Morocco’s Imperial Cities, was not on my list of favorite cities before I arrived. But after a week of concerts in some of the most gorgeous settings, mixed with visiting the country and meeting the welcoming residents, my opinion was forever changed.
I’d been wanting to go to the event for years. And when I learned that the topic for this year was Fez, An African Reflection, I instantly marked the dates in my calendar.
The 21st edition of the Fez Festival of World Sacred Music got off to a wonderful start. We observed as the ever-elegant Princess Lalla Salma came and took her place inside Bab Makina before the inaugural show began. It was called Fez: In Search of Africa, and it took us on a voyage across this diverse continent through music, drama, dance, narrative, and a sound-and-light extravaganza. To mention a few, we visited the High Atlas Mountains, the Sahara Desert, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Senegal.
The remainder of the week was just as good. Masks of the Moon performed outside of their home country of Burkina Faso for the first time, and it was a fantastic night. An open-air palace illuminated by moonlight, and a performance unlike any I’ve seen before. Dancers of all ages dressed entirely in white bodysuits went about the palace floor, shaking the shackles on their legs, replicating the Bwaba Ritual.
We saw Marassa, a beautiful combination between Afro Cuban pianist Omar Sosa and tap dancer Tamango, as well as Gustavo Ovalles on drums and voice, while sitting beneath the shade of willow trees at the Batha Museum. This journey from Cuba to Africa, complete with African masks and costumes before the sandbox shuffle, was mind-blowing.
I liked the intricate carved stucco and superb woodwork as I sat listening to the Musicians of the Nile perform Sirat al-Hilali in the centuries-old traditional palace Dar Adiyil open beneath the brilliant moonlight. I’ve been in Morocco for nearly five years, but the sung poetry filled the palace reminded me of the majesty of such places.
With the afternoon concerts beginning at 4:30 p.m., I had plenty of time during the day to explore the local countryside. A short taxi ride away was the village of Sefrou, where I met Jess Stephens and her helper Fatima from Culture Vultures for an artisanal tour of the medina.
We met carpet-makers who told us about the manufacturing process and showed us the blanket that would keep them warm throughout the colder months. Two brothers working in the foundouk were making bright belts out of ancient materials and processes, all by hand. I was tempted to buy one because they are the perfect finishing touch for an attractive kaftan. We also encountered button-makers who sell their wares from haberdasheries stacked high with different colors and styles, ready to be attached to a djellaba or kaftan.
Volubilis’ Roman remains stand proudly less than an hour from Fez and provide for a terrific morning out. Despite the fact that it was one of my first stops on the holiday that changed my life (the first time I came in Morocco), I still like roaming with a guide, admiring the centuries-old mosaics that have remained absolutely intact despite being exposed to the weather. Lunch at Moulay Idriss, either at Dar Zerhoune with a view of Volubilis in the distance or at the street-side grills in the lively city center, makes for a relaxing afternoon before returning to Fez for the day’s first entertainment.
I packed my belongings a week later, heartbroken to depart. Lunches at the Ruined Garden with other festival-goers, coffee breaks at Café Clock to discuss the bands we’d seen, and dinner at Resto 7 with visiting chefs who happened to be from Ottawa, Canada, were all done. The post-festival blues had certainly set in!