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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.