The fractiousness warfare and ever-intensifying political rhetoric of our era often makes it seem as if there are unbridgeable chasms between cultures that no amount of effort or good intention can surmount. However, the extraordinary Spirit Of Fes tour, which brings together celebrated artists from Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Hindu backgrounds to perform together in a spirit of mutual respect and collaboration, offers a glimmer of hope during a dark time.
The Spirit of Fes tour, which is being organized by the U.S.-based non-profit The Spirit of Fes with leading firm Columbia Artists Management, Inc. (CAMI), has its roots in Morocco's world-acclaimed annual Fs Festival of World Sacred Music and its companion event, the Fes Forum. Held each summer in Morocco's former imperial city of Fes (previously spelled as "Fez" in English), these twin events bring together artists, audiences, intellectuals, political figures, social activists, and spiritual leaders from across the globe. Founded twelve years ago in the wake of the first Gulf War (another time of great international tension), the Fes Festival's mission is to create a venue for dynamic and respectful intercultural and inter-religious dialogue between the world's diverse cultures.
Over the years, this singular event has attracted some of the world's most celebrated performers and cultural ambassadors, including Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar, Senegalese vocalist Youssou N'Dour, Brazilian singer and guitarist (and Brazil's current Minister of Culture) Gilberto Gil, and South African vocalist Miriam Makeba, among many others, as well as a host of soloists and ensembles from Fes itself and from around Morocco.
The festival and forum have earned praise from organizations and individuals across the globe. In 2001, the United Nations honored the Fs Festival as one of just seven "Unsung Heroes of Dialogue," citing the festival as reaching "across the divide to the Other." In 2006, the Geneva-based Ousseimi Foundation awarded the festival the Ousseimi Prize For Tolerance (the 2005 winner was Nelson Mandela). The unique and ancient environment of Fes lends itself perfectly to the festival's goals; it is a city which for centuries has been one of the great centers of spiritual, political and intellectual life within the Muslim world, and which has been home to generations of Islamic, Jewish, and Christian communities living side by side. This setting makes a perfect home for new cross-cultural encounters which honor and bridge our common humanity.
The idea behind the Spirit of Fes tour is to bring the Fes Festival's character and ethos to new audiences across the US. Quite appropriately given current events, the tour begins its humane counterpoint of intercultural and multi-faith dialogue on Oct. 7 in Washington DC, the nation's political heart, at the Smithsonian Institution. The free concert on the Freer Sackler Gallery's steps to the Mall will reach a large cross-section of the community. The Spirit of Fes also stops at New York's Carnegie Hall and UCLA's Royce Hall, as well as at world-class concert halls across the Northeast, the Midwest, and California.
The lineup of master musicians participating in the Spirit of Fs represents some of the world's most sophisticated artistic traditions. Vocalist Susan Hellauer, a New York native, is one of the founding members of the extraordinarily popular early music ensemble Anonymous 4, whose recordings have sold well over than one million copies worldwide and whom Billboard Magazine recently praised, saying: "For sheer radiance...no else comes close." The group's newest recording, Gloryland (Harmonia Mundi), a critically lauded album of American traditional music, was just released. Hellauer also teaches at Queens Coll