Mawazine festival, Various venues, Rabat, Morocco

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The Independent Culture

As exquisite combinations of music and settings go, Savina Yannatou in the Chellah of Rabat take some beating. A low stage is lit by the setting sun in the gardens of the ruined tomb complex of the Merenid Sultans. Behind it, storks nest on the minarets, and a tangle of wild nasturtium and fig over-runs the brickwork by the pool of the sacred black eels.

As exquisite combinations of music and settings go, Savina Yannatou in the Chellah of Rabat take some beating. A low stage is lit by the setting sun in the gardens of the ruined tomb complex of the Merenid Sultans. Behind it, storks nest on the minarets, and a tangle of wild nasturtium and fig over-runs the brickwork by the pool of the sacred black eels.

Yannatou sings in Greek, ancient Sephardic and then Arabic, and the smart, middle-aged Moroccan audience - more Covent Garden than Womad - applauds warmly. Then we all troop off to the great Mohammed V Theatre to see the flamenco troupe of Tito Losada: girl dancers in waistcoats and trousers, and a violinist. More massive applause.

This is the third edition of Mawazine: Rhythms of the World, and, contrary to appearances, it's not a tourist product, but a sort of gift from the great and good of the capital to its inhabitants. Mawazine's high patron is King Mohammed VI, and the Royal imprimatur is more than a formality. Three princesses turn up to the glittering opening gala.

The sole Moroccan act at the festival, the specially reassembled Megris, Morocco's Beatles, play twice. With their guitars and European melodies, the Megris would not be an obvious choice for the festival, but the crowd remembers the Megris' great 1970s pan-Arab hits, notably "Lili Touil" ("My Night is Long"), allegedly purloined by Boney M, and can't get enough.

Same reaction for the only other Arab act, soon to be heading for Europe. Hanine is a glamorous Lebanese songstress who interprets the Latinesque 1940s and 1950s repertoire of stars such as Asmahan with an eight-piece Cuban band. Currently wowing the Middle Eastern smart set, Hanine's band evokes nostalgia for the heyday of King Farouk's Marbella, but manages simultaneously to inspire the Rabat audience to sing along with the old Che Guevara paean "Hasta Siempre Comandante".

Mawazine is programmed by the Paris-based Maison des Cultures du Monde. The 20-strong roster includes the Cambodian Royal Ballet, Vietnamese Water Puppets and the electric dance band of the Malian kora virtuoso Toumani Diabate. Then there are more Latin thrills. The veteran New York jazz salsero Eddie Palmieri contributes a sizzling set, equalled only by another act soon to ignite Europe. Rumba Palenquera play champeta, the African-Colombian sound-system hybrid, one of the most irresistible dance propellants on the planet.

In front of the open-air stage, young Moroccans clap, pogo and holler with delight at the bravura dancing of the singer Justo Valdes and the wild skirl of the accordion. The day after Mawazine ends, Casablanca announces a similar festival for next year. World music is taking over the world.

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