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Live Reviews

Timitar Festival
July 4, 2007

By Josh Baron


With nearly 40 artists and tens of thousands in nightly attendance over four days, Timitar Festival in Agadir, Morocco, has established itself as one the premiere African music festivals in just four years.

What defined Timitar from other “world” music festivals this year was its regional focus on traditional Moroccan music—specifically that of the Amazigh culture to which a majority of the acts were tied. Part of the larger Berber culture, Amazigh is a heritage that often went unrecognized in North Africa until something of a cultural renaissance began in the mid-‘90s. And true to its tagline—“signs and cultures”—the festival’s two stages became signposts that reflected the Amazigh culture’s different paths as it tries to balance the traditional and the modern.

The main stage offered more traditional music from such famed native singers as Rays Ahmed Bizmaouen, Houssine Amarrakchi, Saïda Charaf and Fatima Tabaamrant. What was perhaps most striking was the universality of the crowd’s response of these artists; from young boys to grandmothers, people sang, shouted and clapped along proudly to the more formal forms music.

Of particular note was Hassane Idbassaïd, who still seemed the playful youngster even at 40 as he closed the first evening’s main stage. He often started with a simple banjo (yes banjo) figure before his band wrapped around him with electric guitar, keys, saxophone and a tenacious rhythm section, propelling the songs into precise and demonstrative fusions of rock, Western folk sounds and jazz – it was a sound akin to The Flecktones. The exhausted crowd nonetheless came to its feet several times for his engaging passes at traditional songs (these artists don’t write their own lyrics, preferring to re-contextualize existing songs and texts).

On the second day, Ivory Coast’s Tiken Jah Fakoly delivered a fierce set of politically-charged roots reggae that sounded more authentic than most efforts coming out of Jamaica. Living in exile in Mali, Jah Fakoly stormed about the stage, recalling the visceral performances of Peter Tosh as his sharp French lyrics cut like a razor.

Also inspiring was Afel Bocoum, a prodigy of Ali Farka Touré who also played in the master’s band for 30 years. Bocoum carried on the tradition of his mentor, thumping out the stark and winding desert blues that Touré pioneered. Intricately weaving and locking with another guitar and percussion, he coaxed out spacious arrangements that ebbed and flowed in intensity.

Having once been a television journalist in Spain, native Saïda Charaf positively beamed in front of an ensemble that included a five-piece string section, three percussionists and seven other musicians. With a voice as clear and dense as crystal, Charaf’s set trafficked in a modern classicism that also saw her singing in several languages and proved a highlight of the third day’s all-women main stage showcase.

The second stage, just down the road, had a palpably different vibe—rawer, freer and unequivocally younger. One of the defining moments came during a set by Casablanca’s Hoba Hoba Spirit: the quintet transposed punk rock’s politically and socially-charged lyrics and chunky riffing onto a Moroccan template (the rabid crowd eventually crashed the VIP gates that had been placed in front of the stage).

Further reflecting a cultural rift were two hip-hop acts, Style Souss and Bigg. The former consisted of five MCs styling in the vein of De La Soul while the latter was one MC and a DJ. Style Souss kept their lyrics pertinent but clean; Bigg, aping the other classic American style, was all about bragging, boasting and swearing—uncharted and volatile subject matter for Moroccan music. Needless to say, the youth ate him up with thunderous cheers.

Locals Amarg Fusion wrapped up the second stage, cross-pollinating traditional instrumentation like the guttural ribab with dance-laden reggae rhythms for an entirely<