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