The Contemporary Pulse of Morocco’s Music Arrives to New York City in 2011

Mustapha Bakbou
Five concerts in New York City will reveal how Arabic, sub-Saharan African, Berber, and European musics meet and recombine anew in Morocco. Part of the French Institute Alliance Française’s World Nomads Morocco Festival, these concerts celebrate Morocco’s heritage-keepers and arts innovators, and explore cultural transits and dialogues across disciplines and borders.

Held at several venues around Manhattan, these performances give striking insight into the past and present trajectories of Moroccan and Morocco-inspired artists’ border-hopping expression.

Opening the festival will be an evening of Judeo-Arab Andalusian music performed by the Orchestra of Fes with Françoise Atlan (April 30; FIAF, Florence Gould Hall). Under the direction of conductor Mohamed Briouel and featuring star Sephardic Jewish vocalist Françoise Atlan, this rich musical tradition dates back to Medieval Spain and is loved by Muslims and Jews alike.

Brahim Fribgane, a multi-instrumentalist steeped in Amazigh/Berber tradition, and French-Lebanese pioneer on the quarter-tone trumpet Ibrahim Maalouf (May 5; David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center) team up to explore the free-ranging intersection of jazz, their shared trans-Mediterranean roots, and Arabic sounds.

Brahim Fribgane - Photo by Noureddine El Warari
Fribgane, a composer and artful oud player and percussionist, has no qualms about collaborating across genres and boundaries (he’s played with everyone from Medeski Martin & Wood to Harry Belafonte). Maalouf is similarly open-minded: After learning the quarter-tone trumpet from his father, a horn designed to navigate the complexities of Arabic modes, he has carved a genre-bending career, working with musicians as varied as Marcel Khalife, Amadou & Miriam, and Elvis Costello.

Soultana (May 6; Joe’s Pub) discovered rap at age 14 but got serious as an MC as a young woman, when she couldn’t keep quiet about the frustrations of unemployment, poverty, and discrimination. With two other female friends, she formed Tigresse Flow, a group that swept several major Moroccan festivals, shocked conservative society, and won over thousands of young female fans. In her solo work, Soultana’s taught flow and pared-down but solid beats form the perfect backdrop for unabashed, critical lyrics.

Soundwalk: The Passenger (May 9; FIAF, Florence Gould Hall) translates urban life into aural maps, creating layers of narration, atmospheric sound, and mysterious noises to conjure a location and hint at its history and character. For this commissioned work, the international sound-gathering collective will weave the noises and voices of Fes, Marrakech, and Tangiers into an evocative sense of place live on twelve turntables, and accompanied by striking visuals captured on film.

Master Gnawa Musicians (May 21; FIAF, Florence Gould Hall) will give Americans a rare opportunity to hear several revered Gnawa healers and performers. These musical elders can turn deceptively simple instruments and songs into a trance-inducing, polyrhythmic revelation, drawing on their sub-Saharan roots and profound spiritual commitment. The concert, curated by cross-genre Gnawa-American innovator Hassan Hakmoun, will show how edgy and fresh long-held tradition can sound.

World Nomads Morocco is presented by the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) under the high patronage of His Majesty King Mohammed VI and with the generous support of many sponsors and partners. (Full list here)

Orchestra of Fes with Françoise Atlan
Saturday, April 30 at 8:30 pm

Presented in partnership with Festival des Andalousies Atlantiques (Essaouira) and the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music
Venue: FIAF Florence Gould Hall, 55 East 59th St. (between Park and Madison Avenues), New York, NY
Admission: FIAF Members $20; Non-Members $25

Brahim Fribgane & Ibrahim Maalouf
Thursday, May 5 at 8:30pm

Presented in association with Target Free Thursdays at the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center
Venue: David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center, Broadway between 62nd and 63rd Streets, New York, NY, Part of Target Free Thursdays
Admission: Free

Friday, May 6 at 9:30pm

Presented in partnership with Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater and the U.S. Embassy to the Kingdom of Morocco. Artist residency in partnership with IMAN (Inner City Muslim Action Network)
Venue: Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St. (between Astor Place and East 4th Street), New York, NY
Admission: $12 for FIAF Members (use code JPTIXB3); $15 for Non-Members;; 212.967.7555

The Passenger
Monday, May 9 at 8:30pm

Presented in collaboration with L’appartement 22
Venue: FIAF Florence Gould Hall, 55 East 59th St. (between Park and Madison Avenues), New York, NY
Admission: Free by reservation; email worldnomads22[at]

Master Gnawa Musicians in Concert
Saturday, May 21, at 8pm

Presented in Partnership with Gnaoua and World Music Festival (Essaouira)

Venue: FIAF Florence Gould Hall, 55 East 59th St. (between Park and Madison Avenues), New York, NY
Admission: $20 for FIAF Members; $25 for Non-Members

Related Event: Saturday, May 21 at 7 pm, Neila Tazi, the Director and Producer of Essaouira’s Gnaoua and World Music Festival, in conversation with Professor Deborah Kapchan, NYU Performance Studies, will offer a behind-the-scenes look at the Festival and its development, while sharing stories about the Gnawa artists and their rich cultural tradition.

Venue: FIAF – Tinker Auditorium, 55 East 59th St. (between Park and Madison Avenues), New York, NY
Admission: Free; No RSVP Required

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites and Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.


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