Sacred in Morocco: the Fes Music Festival

  • Maureen Valentine
  • 31 May 2011

Morocco is the perfect place to consider when planning a travel itinerary around a musical event like no other. Every year, the World Sacred Music Festival in Fes promises a diverse range of musical acts and fills the famous Fes medina (aka Fes el-Bali) in a celebration of cultural exchange and rhythms that spans all nationalities and beliefs.

Gotipua dancers of Raghurajpur Heritage Village at the 2010 World Sacred Music Festival in Fes, Morocco

The young Gotipua dancers of Raghurajpur Heritage Village showed off their impressive acrobatic moves at the 2010 World Sacred Music Festival in Fes, Morocco. These dances date back to the 16th century and are dedicated to Lord Krishna. Photo courtesy of Frederic Poletti

It’s a unique gathering of the international music community. Musicians from all corners of the planet converge upon the spiritual city of Fes (in 2011, from June 3rd through June 11th) for tantalising feasts of music, culture and, of course, mouthwatering Moroccan food.

A Celebration of Human Spirit

The Fes Music Festival began in 1994 to commemorate the anniversary of the birth of Jallaludin Rumi, a 13th-century poet, sage and spiritual guide who taught of universal love and community.

The original aim of the festival was to highlight the musical talent of the Arab world, which had previously been underrepresented in the international music scene. Initially therefore open to the traditions only of the three main monotheistic religions, this world music happening today welcomes all religions and creeds. The Dalai Lama even opened the festival in 1999, testament to the celebration of human spirit that guides it.

Fes Encounters

From its modest grassroots and volunteer origins, this event of musical understanding has grown into a much higher and more dynamic level of community cooperation, so much so that in 2000, the event organisers looked beyond music. In roundtable debates known as the ‘Fes Encounters’, they assembled intellectuals, philosophers, economists, social activists and religious leaders to discuss world issues.

The Royal Cambodian Ballet at the 2010 World Sacred Music Festival in Fes, Morocco

At the 2010 World Sacred Music Festival in Fes, Morocco, the Royal Cambodian Ballet entranced viewers with the melodic movements of Khmer classical dance that usually acts out traditional Cambodian stories or epic poems. Photo courtesy of Frederic Poletti

The discussions from past years have revolved around topics such as ‘Our heritage cities: reflections of an ancient world or an imaginative resource for the future?’ and ‘How can culture and spirituality become levers that change our attitude towards the environment?’. The focus of the 2011 gatherings will be ‘Wisdoms of the world’ under the banner of ‘One Soul for Globalisation’.

New in 2011

The 2011 festivities will once again push new boundaries and bring together an eclectic mix of surprises for both newcomers and regular festival attendees.

For concerts, there will be two main stages between which revellers can flow during the 10-day event: the intimate setting of the Batha Museum and the larger arena of the Bab Makina palace courtyard. In addition, the Dar Tazi palace will host the famous Sufi nights, and the Bab Boujloud, with its famous 11th-century tiled gate, will be the site of many free concerts. There will also be loads of educational activities, exhibitions, cultural performances and workshops.

Sufi Rhythms

The pride of this particular music festival is how the traditional Sufi rhythms of Morocco have developed a platform for more modern groups to showcase their musical interpretations, and all in the setting of the spiritual city of Fes.

Tanzanians at the the African Spirit night of the 2010 World Sacred Music Festival in Fes, Morocco

During the African Spirit night of the 2010 World Sacred Music Festival in Fes, Morocco, Tanzanian rhythms took stage at the Bab Al Makina. Photo courtesy of Frederic Poletti

Little can compare to listening to an artist such as Ben Harper or the Syubbanul Akhyar Esemble from Indonesia right next to the ever-bustling Fes marketplace, where camel-selling and rug-haggling have been carried on for centuries.


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Maureen Valentine

Maureen Valentine graduated from North Carolina State University in 2007 with a major in Animal Science and has since been travelling and living in various locales around the world. She is currently based out of Hanoi, Vietnam and has been working with the WHL Group for more than a year.
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Africa, architecture & landmarks, cities, festivals & events, fine arts, holy sites, local knowledge, Morocco, music, Northern Africa,

2 Responses to “Sacred in Morocco: the Fes Music Festival”

  1. Wow…….. this is a great article and great event. I hope you can join us. Even if it is the last minute, we will be more than happy to accommodate your wishes.

  2. Ben P Jones says:

    It will be great to go with our Fes and Meknes partners to this event. We should be there for the opening together!

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