Review: Mawazine Festival

Visit Rabat in May, and you’ll find gig posters everywhere. The whole city erupts in pure excitement for its annual 9-day Mawazine Festival. Featuring a lineup of international stars and acclaimed world music artists, the 12th edition of the Mawazine Festival delivered in every way it could. Divided over six stages across Morocco’s capital city, this eclectic and diverse event showcases a true variety of musical offerings.

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Drawing a record-breaking audience of 150,000, Barbados-born American singer Rihanna opened the first night of the festival at main stage OLM-Soussi. Her performance was one of Mawazine’s strongest, encapsulating a mixed crowd of old and young, conservative and hip, dedicated fans and potential fans alike.

Jessie J and Mika delivered lively sets over the nights that followed, complete with inventive dance moves, odd-but-stylish clothes and robust lighting. While Mika was the perfect gentleman in both fashion choices and demeanour, Jessie J raised a few eyebrows with her tiny hot pants, but won onlookers over easily with her charm and wit.

The Jacksons showed Rabat that they still have the groove in a funky headline set, with heart-warming film footage honouring fallen brother Michael scattered throughout the routine. David Guetta’s Mawazine appearance saw the OLM-Soussi stage’s boundaries challenged as an enormous crowd partied hard with him until the wee hours – picture an open-air nightclub and a couple of hundred thousand people with relentless energy.

Enrique Iglesias’s Friday-night concert covered all the ground necessary with a diverse selection of tracks from throughout the years. A saucy little dance act alongside backing singer Laura Jane had listeners roaring their support during ‘Takin’ Back My Love’. The winning moment, however, was when Enrique took to the middle of the audience, plucked a little girl from the crowd and offered up a tear-jerking rendition of ‘Hero’.

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Aynur (Credit: Sife El Amine)

The mighty George Benson, accompanied by the Moroccan Royal Symphony Orchestra, packed out the National Theatre Mohammed V. Their performance was awarded with a standing ovation and a general reception fit for a king. The theatre also played host to one of the festival’s most intriguing groups: El Gusto, an orchestral band made up of both Jews and Muslims from across the North African region. Their sumptuous sounds were infused with a variety of traditions and influences, forming a distinctive and quite otherworldly show.

World music from a handful of Asian, Middle Eastern and European countries thrived at Chellah, a beautiful stage erected within the ruins of a Roman necropolis – a notable a tourist attraction in itself. Particular highlights included Homayoun Shajarian and his band, hailing from Iran, and the beautiful Aynur Dogan from Turkey. With early evening shows, the sun-drenched stage was the perfect place to begin a night of music.

African music reigned at the Bouregreg stage with stellar presentations from Algeria, Mali, Ghana, Nigeria and the Congo, as well as Morocco of course. Osibisa, Africa United and Tinariwen combined charm, skill and an honouring of tradition to give especially breathtaking performances.

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Throughout Mawazine’s nine days, street parades and impromptu shows take place on sidewalks all over Rabat. One of this year’s most impressive was a West African drumming group, headed up by modern master of Senegal’s traditional sabar drum Doudou N’Diaye Rose. The group were followed down a closed-off main road by an excited gathering of people, making for one of the most atmospheric offerings of the whole festival.

On the theatrical side, local Moroccan group Théâtre Nomade garnered huge attention for their visually stunning storytelling act which included welcome public participation throughout. Their oversized carnivalesque costumes and musical theatre sparked the curiosity of children and parents alike in an Agdal high street.

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At what other festival can you be in the middle of a street parade in the afternoon, and then watch an international superstar play to an almost 200,000-strong audience that same evening? Mawazine offers something very special indeed.

For more information about the next Mawazine Festival click here, and for help planning your trip to Rabat have a look at the Visit Morocco website.

Jay Leighton’s Album Launch

Last week the lovely Jay Leighton paid us a visit in Norwich to launch his new album ‘Hours’. The first single from the album is called ‘Wish I Was Springsteen’ and you can hear it below.

We started off the day by heading to BBC Norfolk for a live radio session with the legendary Stephen Bumfrey. Ushered into the studio alongside an artist, it’s always a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

After drinks and dinner, it was time for the launch party! The Bicycle Shop is one of Norwich’s finest spots for food, drink, music and more. On the bill supporting Jay were the wonderful Jess Morgan and Georgios Hadji.

Excellent music was followed by a White Russian or two, a tradition whenever Jay and I get together! Jess and Georgios got involved too…

I’m already looking forward to next time. Order a copy of Jay’s new record here.

Printmaking with Jess Morgan

Jess Morgan

To celebrate the beginning of March (with perhaps even some warmer weather on the horizon…), rising folk star Jess Morgan shares with us some tips for easy DIY printmaking. So hit play on the Soundcloud player below to have a listen to Jess’s music as she teaches you a seriously nifty new craft skill. Over to you, Jess…

If you’re not already in the habit of allowing yourself a bit of a foodie splurge now and again, then please forgive me for this. You don’t have to be a serious artist to give this a go, in fact, the great thing about print-making is that you can produce great looking images with really only a few marks and a few simple techniques. So here’s one more reason to let the ditch the diet for just one night, load up on grease and carbs folks because after all… calories don’t count if you’re being creative!

First things first – you’ll need to get hold of a sheet of foam to be your first tile. This can be any size. You could cut out the middle of a foam picnic plate, the top and bottom squares of a take-away burger box or as I did, use the foam disk that comes underneath a frozen pizza. You will need to eat the pizza first of course.

Then you’ll need something to draw your picture and make your marks with – a biro or a sharp-ish (but not totally sharp) pencil will do. You can use printing ink or acrylic paint in just about any colour you like and you need to get hold of some sort of a roller to apply the colour – I’ve used an ink roller but have had great results in the past with a cheap and cheerful sponge roller. If all else fails a humble sponge brush will do the trick.

Use your biro or pencil (or any tools you can adapt) to press down a design onto your foam. I’ve had fun with simple abstract patterns as well as drawings of things and people.

If you manage to collect up enough foam you could also try making multiple tiles to make a panel print or a comic strip.

Now you’re ready to ink-up. Different types of foam will soak up different amounts of ink – so will need more inking than others in order to get a strong bold print. Practise with different amounts on some scrap paper.

Acrylic paint won’t give you as bold a print as printing ink (such as Speedball) but it’ll be easy to touch up in photoshop!

When the tile is covered in ink or paint simply turn it butter-side-down and press it onto your paper. Ordinary printer paper is fine but you can have even better results with very thin paper or newsprint if you can get it. Give it a good press and try not to wiggle the tile as this may skew the image. Then just peel the tile away from the paper carefully. If you do opt for thinner paper you may be best to print paper over instead of tile over paper.

I made a very simple set of 4 images – its meant to be a baby sneezing! Its not too bad for a first draft but I might need to eat another pizza and have another go before it goes on my fridge.

If you really enjoy this kind of print-making you might choose to get yourself a few tools and have a crack at a lino cut or a wood cut. This is how I’ve made all my album covers and bits of merchandise so far.

Happy printing!

Find out more about Jess Morgan on her own website here.

How to put on your own music event

A few people have been in touch recently asking if I would do a post about organising events, specifically on the music side of things, so I thought I’d share some top tips on arranging your own gig, event or launch party. This is advice aimed specifically at music promoters and musicians looking to promote their own shows.

Do something different
Anyone can hire a venue in London and put together a music event, but if you want to be put on a night that’s special and a roaring success, it helps to do something a bit different. This can be anything from selling homemade baked goods from the merch stand to getting your funny mate to compere in between the acts during the evening. The important thing is to stand out in a way that will appeal to your audience, making your show an experience rather than just another evening’s activity.

Know your audience
In order to appeal to your audience in the way I’ve described above, you’ll need to have a good idea of what makes them tick. If you’re trying to put on a night of delicate folk and acoustic music, you don’t want your branding or the songs played as people come in to appeal to metal heads or rap fans. Before you start advertising your night, think carefully about what kind of people you’re trying to attract and what they might look for. Again, you want to draw them in to enjoy the experience and hopefully come back to your next show.

Focus on quality, not numbers
There are so many promoters and bands out there on the UK scene who’ll book in three or four bands of totally different genres that have a good number of fans (or will sell tickets to their mates) to pack out the room, but there are numerous problems with this approach to putting a lineup together. Firstly, there’s no consistency between the bands or the people who are there to see them, so the audience isn’t a listening audience – they’re just there because somebody told them to be. Secondly and perhaps more importantly, some bands who have a lot of fans or friends are just plain bad. You’re much better off having fewer people and quality music that people will be talking about for ages afterwards than a full room with no atmosphere.

Build a fanbase
And that brings me onto my final point, which is that you should think in the longterm when you’re promoting shows. If your first night or two are of high quality musically but a little quiet in terms of audience, that’s OK; you should look at establishing a regular night that people can recognise and enjoy. Have faith that word will spread!

Things I Love: Songs from the Shed

A few years back, I travelled to a house in rural Somerset and met a fantastic man called Jon Earl. The musician I was with was there in the countryside of the West to visit Jon’s shed, which in the time since our journey there has become one of the most exciting underground music ‘venues’ in the whole of the UK.

Jon runs Songs from the Shed, a phenomenally simple but incredibly effective idea – to record basic acoustic sessions on a digital camera in the beautiful surround of his shed. He’s in demand for musicians visiting the West Country these days. Unsurprisingly, notable names have visited Jon’s shed, including the excellent Benjamin Francis Leftwich and notable comedian-come-musician Tim Minchin.

Aside from all his musical accomplishments, I can commend Jon for being a truly awesome guy and making a splendid cup of tea. He’s also been so supportive of some of the brilliant musicians I’ve worked with over the past few years, the latest being the amazing Hot Feet whose session you can view below.

Visit Songs from the Shed by clicking here, connect on Facebook, follow on Twitter and subscribe on YouTube for more of Jon’s wonderful sessions.

New Music #4: Night Beds and Hot Feet

NIGHT BEDS:

I wasn’t planning on a new music post today, but when Night Beds popped into my inbox this morning, I just knew I’d have to do one. The atmospheric, beautiful Nashville alt-folk of Winston Yellen is perk-up-your-ears-and-listen type stuff. There are comparisons to be made with the wonderful Bon Iver, but equally with greats of the past like Gram Parsons and Johnny Cash. This really is something very special. Debut single ‘Even If  We Try’ was released on September 18th through Dead Ocean Records. You can watch/listen below.

HOT FEET:

Hailing from Stroud, Hot Feet are an exceptionally vibrant and earthy force, and I’ve been listening to their forthcoming EP release ‘Wood House’ all week long. The EP, produced by the lovely Pete Roe, is everything at once; the band offer gorgeous visual tales of countryside living with enough hoedown to have a whole room of their feet in no time at all. The songs go from being quiet acoustic ditties into full blown folk rock chanties in the blink of an eye. It’s great stuff. ‘Wood House’ is released independently on November 14th. You can listen to ‘Under October’, taken from the release, below.