Friday, June 18, 2010

Making Merry in Maghreb

Earlier this month the city of Fes in Morocco hosted its 16th Annual Festival of World Sacred Music. Yes, you read that correctly – World Sacred Music. I know some of you must be wondering: could a Muslim country actually allow such a thing as a sacred music festival to be held?  

Oh, yes. Not only has the city of Fes been hosting this festival for all these years, you will find a fascinating mixture and range of music genre from a variety of religious and sacred traditions performed during this festival that goes on for about a week.  

This celebration of sacred music brings together under one festive roof artists such as Parvathy Baul from India and Epi from Mongolia. Also gracing the festival was the SamulNori Hanullim Ensemble from South Korea, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia from India, American Gospel singers, Sufi singers from Morocco and North Africa, and the Baghdad-Jerusalem Ensemble, with the latter performing music of the Jewish tradition of Baghdad.

I can’t help but contrast what this festival of sacred music in Morocco represents with the religious hang-ups we find in some quarters in this country. Now you would think given how our religious Gestapo acts in this country, that it would just be anathema for Muslims to listen to, let alone collaborate in performing sacred music from other religious traditions. After all, remember the fit some of these supposedly religiously self-righteous people had about yoga?

I wonder what JAWI and the various states’ religious police would have to say about such a festival of the world’s sacred music hosted here. You don’t suppose JAWI would view favourably such a cultural event to celebrate the different sacred traditions of the world, do you?

The openness for Muslims in Morocco to be able to openly celebrate sacred music from different religious traditions sure does put into perspective the fact that we have a deep paranoia about inter-faith celebration in this country – and we could learn a whole lot about religious coexistence from the Moroccans and especially the Sufi-Muslims.

G. Krishnan