The little known annual music festival of Fes in Morocco is a gem, not only because it is still relatively unknown (therefore retains its authenticity) but also because of the fantastically high standard of musicianship. In a sea of world music festivals to choose from, this one really stands out and I was lucky enough to travel to Fes in May this year to experience it over a long weekend. The festival actually last for 8-9 days but the beauty is that you can dip in and out of it - with a day pass, event pass or a whole festival pass should you choose to do so ( I'm definitely going for the latter next year).
Music events are dotted throughout the city of Fes - in the medina, Bab Mekina (the splendid open air parade ground in front of the Royal Palace) as well as the beautiful Royal Palace gardens. Concerts typically take place throughout the day and night and you can pick and choose at your will - although highlights were the wonderful opening ceremony in the Bab Mekina giving a flavour of what the rest of the week would bring: Senegalese drummers, singers from Mali, Sufis from Turkey, musical ensembles from Iraq and dancing troupes from South Africa.
It was an extraordinary combination of old and new drawing on the spirit of the likes of Oum Khalthom and the rich heritage of the desert blues. It perfectly encapsulated the theme of the festival - that of Leo Africanus the wandering Berber who traced the geography of North Africa as outlined in his book Description of Africa...Although for a better flavour of the man and his adventures read the brilliant novel Leo Africanus by Amin Maalouf.
Highlights for me were bagpipes and drums outside the medina, a Celtic band in the rain under a huge baobab tree, and the sultry Sufi nights in palm filled garden long into the night. Fes makes a wonderful base to dip in and out of the festival with good restaurants, charming riads, the labyrinthine medina, endless cafes and bars for people watching, heavenly shopping and good day trip opportunities just outside the city such as to the Roman city of Volubilis. So do go...Before the secret is really out and watch this space as a tour is being planned for 2016.