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Morocco plays host to global sounds with Visa For Music festival

Rabat’s premier music festival and meeting, Visa For Music celebrated its 5th edition at the end of November, with smaller venues and scheduled as opposed to last year.

But as far as celebrations go, this one felt a little subdued and understated. Though that’s not to say that there weren’t any highlights or outstanding acts. What VFM lacked in quantity, it made up for in quality. So with the challenges and obstacles in their way with this year’s edition, was it a success?

The answer was a categorical and resounding yes. This year’s line-up was also more of an inclusive one in terms of nationalities and female representation from countries as far west as Canada, to as far east as South Korea.

But for an act closer to home, Daraa Tribes are a Saharan desert blues band based in the Daraa region of South Morocco, playing a day showcase at the Café Renaissance in the centre of Rabat. It’s a live session for a local radio station, so it wasn’t a full live session.

After a long wait for them to get the green light from the sound engineer, they begin performing, only playing two songs. A tad disappointing considering that they sounded great – think Tinariwen in terms of sound – as we wanted so much more from them.

All the way from Montreal came The Brooks who generated quite a buzz before their show due to their well spoken of live performances. And it’s easy to see why – they’re a soul and funk collective that hit the spot with the crowd immediately with catchy, melodic and beat driven hooks. Though they’re on for about an hour or so, people can’t get enough of them. With some songs as instrumentals and some that are sung, regardless of them being up-tempo or slow funk, they don’t a foot wrong.

Aassa, all the way from South Korea stands for Afro Asian Ssound Act. They describe themselves as combining deep roots of world music: African beats with Asian melodic structure. Singing mostly in French, it’s effervescent and bright upon listening to them listening to 80’s style synths and African percussion. They’re a grower on those listening to them, trying to place where they fit on the musical spectrum. After a while, they start winning people over slowly.

The highlight of the festival perhaps came from a performance from Gnawa group, Asma Hamzaoui and Bnat Timboktu. Although still at the tender age of 22, Asma has actually performed live for several years now, due in part to her father, Rachid Hamzaoui who is also a famed Gnawa artist. Based in Casablanca, Asma, flanked by three girls on either side of her with cymbals, were all wearing sequined black gowns, with Asma playing a bass-like instrument called Guembry.

In terms of their repertoire, the songs played were traditional Gnawa songs that are rooted in Islamic spirituality with songs about the Prophets Musa and Muhammad. In all, it went down like the sweetest of treats with the audience who sang along to every word of every song.

Sharmoofers are an Egyptian outfit that are bouncy, energetic and fun to dance to at 1am. And so do the most Moroccan crowd watching on. They’re an indie group infused with Arab beats with some reggae and electronica inspired structure. In the Arab world they’re grown a large following with some 1.4 million fans on Facebook. Despite it being late into the night, there’s no signs of people wanting to home, especially if there’s an opportunity for fun times to be had.

Despite its challenges and difficulties this year, Visa For Music has managed to prove that in Morocco at least, there is an appetite for live music, despite deep cuts into the arts in the country.

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