Songs of knowledge: the World Festival of Sacred Music in Fes.

Author:Osborne, Christine
Position:Mosaic - Morocco

When storks are nesting in the old medina and trees in the Nouvelle Ville are ablaze with jacaranda, Fes - the ancient spiritual and cultural heart of Morocco - plays gentle host to The World Festival of Sacred Music.

The festival was conceived by Faouzi Skali, a native Fassi and Sufi disciple, a graduate in anthropology from the Sorbonne and author of books and treatises on Sufi vision and philosophy, including his acclaimed La Voie Sufi.

Seeking a path to peace in the aftermath of the Gulf War, Dr Skali seized upon the idea of rapprochment via a spiritual and cultural platform where sacred music could open souls from every side of the divide.

Fes, capital of the celebrated Idrissid dynasty of eighth century Morocco, a place of pilgrimage for writers, artists and savants from all over the ancient East, was the natural choice for such a rendezvous.

Now in its sixth year, The World Festival of Sacred Music attracts an average of 3,000 visitors to concerts in the tranquil Andalusian-style gardens of the Dar Batha Museum and at Bab Makina, near the royal palace of the late King Hassan.

The festival has proved so popular it has become a fixture on the calendar of colourful galas and moussems in Morocco, but as a nonprofit-making venture it depends on sponsorship from, among others, Royal Air Maroc and the French hotel group ACCOR.

Dialogue, as well as music and exhibitions by painters and calligraphers with a central spiritual thread, forms the fabric of the festival; internationally acclaimed performers, as well as lesser known but no less greatly loved artists, make the annual pilgrimage to Fes.

The 1999 inaugural concert featured Monserrat Caballe who appeared with the celebrated Moroccan chanteur Abdelhadi Belkhayat.

Especially memorable was the marriage of classic Western music - provided by the Orchestra of Cannes, accompanying the Spanish diva - and the traditional oriental music backing Monsieur Belkhayat. This fusion underlined the spiritual and symbolic essences of East-West relationships. In the words of Goethe, quoted by Dr Skali:

"Whoever knows himself and knows others Will equally know how to recognise this: That the East and the West Are indissolubly linked together."

The South African singer and civil rights activist Miriam Makeeba was another big star at this year's festival, as was Sabah Fakhri, a household name throughout the Middle East.

The festival's biggest audience - estimated at 5,000 - listened to the Aleppo-born...

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