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Spirit of Fes lights up Cambridge

Sanders Theater, Cambridge, Mass., March 22, 2004

By Jeffrey B. Remz

CAMBRIDGE, MA - Jew, Christian and Muslim. Israeli, Palestinian, Moroccans and Americans. All joined forces for a most unusual evening of Middle Eastern and American music billed as the Spirit of Fes.

This marked the first tour of the annual event, the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music, which started in Fes, Morocco following the first Gulf War in 1991 as a means of bringing people together through music, art and spirituality.

The evening before a fairly full crowd started with Palestinian Yacoub Hussein and Israeli (by way of Argentina) Gabriel Meyer exchanging chants and prayers with Meyer singing the prayer "Ayn Kaloheynu," typically sung at the end of sabbath morning services. As the segment continued, the two sang their respective prayers at the same time, making for an interesting contrast.

This was a preview of the colorfulness of the evening with Hussein decked out in a white outfit and hat and Meyer dancing and flailing his arms about at times.

The highlight of the evening quickly followed in the form of Algerian Jewish singer Francoise Atlan, who has a superb voice. Bedecked in a long, dark robe, she was joined by Farid El Foulahi of Morocco on the oud, a Middle Eastern instrument that looks like a big mandolin, and Jamey Haddad, an American percussionist.

Atlan sang with much grace and beauty during her segment.

The Women's Hadra Ensemble of Taroudant explored Islamic vocal traditions with call and response singing led by two or three of the seven women. Wearing similar blue and white outfits, the women were a bit on the laid back side save for occasional exuberant dancing by one of them to much applause.

Leaving the Middle East behind were the Anointed Jackson Sisters, seven sisters from North Carolina who sang gospel. As seemingly with most gospel outfits, they did not lack for energy or spirit. After all, that's what the subject mater is all about.

And they are very good at what they do.

However, the Jacksons were victim of a questionable sound system because it was awfully hard to hear what they were signing, which unfortunately detracted from their performance.

While the Jacksons sang in English making their songs obviously easier to understand, the others did not.

And therein lay another problem with the evening. While a playbill was handed out explaining the various groups, it would have been nice to have had an emcee giving a bit more background and understanding of the different musical groups as the evening wore on.

While disparate in its elements at times, the evening came together with all participants joining forces on stage at the end. Once again, Meyer was the most exuberant, dancing about as a whirling dervish and getting into the spirit of the moment with Hussein not far behind along with all the other performers pitching in.

The idea behind the Spirit of Fes remained true - if only the world's problems could be solved musically.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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