If you've ever had trouble finding your way around Glastonbury, then you should try the Festival of World Sacred Music in Fes, the ancient capital of Morocco.
The city's old medina, where many of the Festival's smaller stages are situated, is the largest car-free urban area on earth. It's a medieval dreamscape of secretive alleyways, mysterious doors and shops no bigger than your broom cupboard, where Coca-Cola is delivered on horseback and getting lost is both inevitable and delightful.
The Festival celebrated its 16th birthday this year and so is the grand old man of the increasingly prolific Moroccan festival scene. It was founded on a premise dear to many north African and southern European philosophers and intellectuals; that music, culture and learning can reunite ancient faiths and religions, especially Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The choice of groups from countries as diverse as Cambodia, Syria, Afghanistan, Egypt, Tanzania, India and USA is governed by this central vision of peace and tolerance.
The dream is as desirable, as the tension around the Ibn Danan Synagogue in the mellah, the old Jewish quarter, was palpable on Monday night, two days into the Festival. Police and soldiers stood at every turn on the way to the square outside the synagogue where Gülay Hacer Toruk and her ensemble were entertaining a mixed crowd of festival-goers and excited local kids. Toruk is a young singer from Turkey, with a beautiful if austere voice, and the music of her ensemble floated tentatively through the dilapidated old neighbourhood, the clarinet weeping tears in the warm night air.
I struck up the hill to Dar Tazi, another exquisite palace, where nightly performances by different Sufi brotherhoods were open to all.
Despised by the austere Wahabi pole of Islam that holds sway in the Middle East, the Sufi sects of Morocco are the backbone of the country's spiritual, musical and community life. The raucous sing-along performances at Dar Tazi were the highlight of the festival. The music of the Mtendeni Maulid Sufi ensemble from Zanzibar was a glorious gumbo of raw African and refined Islamic sounds. Their formation dancing, with two rows of fez-sporting men, was the most bizarre and beautiful evocation of the sea by a group of human bodies I've ever seen.Reuse content