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May 21, 2009

Divine Music from Fez to Fort Greene

by John Oseid

Buckle up, I'm about to zip a season's worth of world-class performances past you all happening within a span of three weeks.

The most spine-tingling week of music I ever heard was seven years ago, when I wandered through the steep, twisty medina in Fez, Morocco, going from one late-night recital to another. Sufi chanting here, drumming and horn blowing there. The Fès Festival of World Sacred Music has grown immensely since I was there: This year the headliners include Lebanese oud master Marcel Khalife; one of my favorite young artists, the Paris-based Algerian singer/guitarist Souad Massi; and Celtic singer Loreena McKennitt. How I'd love to return May 29-June 6 for the show's fifteenth edition.

If Fez is too far for you, you'll find veterans of the festival at New York City's kindred series Muslim Voices, which runs from June 5 to June 14. Many events--performances, films and discussions--will be held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in Fort Greene and Manhattan's Asia Society. Some things to look out for: 

* Senegalese powerhouse Youssou N'Dour will launch the series on June 5 with his band the Super Étoile. I've been getting acquainted with Amir El Saffar, an Iraqi-American composer who will open for Youssou. His band's MySpace page features several beautiful works in the traditional musical style called maqam.

* The 2004 documentary I Bring What I Love will screen at BAM on June 6. Filmed during Youssou's world tour for the Egypt album, his tribute to Sufism, I Bring What I Love recounts the accusations of blasphemy back in Senegal over the continent's biggest pop star singing spiritual music. (The collective glory of a Grammy award smoothed all that over quickly.)

* On June 6, the Aissawa Ensemble will bring its trance music direct from Fez, while on June 11, the Persian classical singer Parissa will sing to the poems of the great Rumi.

* A souk will be set up in the BAM neighborhood the weekend of June 6, with 150 crafts and food stands.

More music:
* U2 found inspiration for their new album No Line on the Horizon at the 2007 Fez festival. They recorded the anthemic "Magnificent" in a riad.
* I once used Loreena McKennit as a clue in the Where Are You? contest.
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world.

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