On Friday afternoon, I arrived at Hit Radio and then was taken to the Villa des Arts to pick up my press pass for the Mawazine Festival. (Oddly enough, on the badge, my name is listed as “Jesse Mahamlan” – not exactly sure as to why). I cannot express how grateful I am that Younes at Hit Radio was able to arrange this for me.
Founded in 2001, the “Mawazine Festival: Rhythms of the World” is held in Rabat during the third week of May. The festival is nine days long across nine different venues. There are over one hundred concerts with artists from forty different countries. The festival lineup is very eclectic: everything from the Moroccan Royal Symphony to the Colombian pop sensation Juanes to jazz legend Al Di Meola to the world-famous Whitney Houston. Needless to say, there is a wonderful mix of Moroccan and international acts.
Thanks to my press pass, I was able to attend the opening ceremony for the festival – it was a “by invitation only” event. Held at the Villa des Arts, an incredible outdoor complex filled with fountains, statues and gardens in central Rabat, the inaugural event was laden with pomp and delicious pastries. The Mariachis Real de Oro, a ten-piece mariachi band from Mexico, played a short set as the invitees arrived to the venue.
After the president of the festival delivered the opening words (in Arabic and French), the Seventh Edition of the Mawazine Festival: Rhythms of the World officially began. The Luisito Quintero Percussion Madness Experience, a group from Venezuela, played the gala.
The band is composed of Luisto, who plays the drum kit and timbales, a bassist, a guitarist, a keyboardist, a synthesizer player and a hand percussionist (who plays five big conga drums). This may come as little surprise but I absolutely love it when the drummer leads the band. After the first few numbers, it was clear that the music was entirely composed around the drumming. Seldom a drummer is the musical director of a group; so, when the drummer is the principal musician, it is a very special experience.
Luisito also provided the vocals for the group; although, most of the songs were purely instrumentals. A left-handed drummer, Luisito plays a five-piece, silver-wrapped Pearl drum kit, with a (very small) 18” bass drum. He also plays the timbales like the late legend Mr. Tito Puente – in fact, they have shared the stage together.
The LQPME mixes rhythms from Venezuela, Brazil, the Caribbean and Cameroon – before each song, the band would state where the beat originates from, so it really great to have those clarifications. Fortunately for me, the band interacted with the audience in English. I always enjoy when there is a lot of dialogue between the artist and the audience. I must admit that it was difficult to listen such rhythmic music and not be able to dance!
After eating dinner near Place Ibn Yassine (and by “dinner” I mean pizza), I headed over to the Bouregreg, an outdoor venue sandwiched in between the water and the Oudayas (the old part of the city). The Bouregreg is the largest stage of the Mawazine Festival. The layout of the venue is very clever: in the front, closest to the stage there is the press and VIP section, then a mid-level pay section, and then the back area is all free. It is a really good system as it is unrealistic to expect all seats to be free. The combination of the breeze from the bay and the backdrop of the Oudayas makes it for a very special setting, indeed.
Friday’s performance featured ten-time Grammy winner George Benson. It was an enjoyable concert, especially the instrumental numbers; yet, if you are familiar with Mr. Benson’s catalogue, you will recognize that the plethora of love ballads makes the concert-going experience not exactly ideal for a single man!
Regardless, I had a nice time, and thanks to my press pass, had a great view of the stage. Thanks again Younes and everyone at Hit Radio!
Here are some pictures and videos from the performances. Enjoy!
The opening words