Updated: Dec 18, 2019
BY ERIC PETZOLDT
In late October, I visited Agadir to attend the city’s 3rd annual international jazz festival, Anmoggar N Jazz. Held under the auspices of the Municipality of Agadir, the region Souss-Massa, the French and Spanish Consulates in Agadir and the Regional Tourism Council, this year’s edition aimed at ‘promoting jazz in all its diversity’, ‘setting up a springboard for young jazz talents’ and ‘anchoring the festival as a cultural and tourist offer in the city of Agadir’. Through the supply of free events such as evening concerts, master classes, workshop-lectures, after-hours jam sessions, a showcase of musical instruments and performances in the festival village, the organisers intended to open up spaces for ‘sharing, tolerance, intercultural dialogue and creativity’. By taking its name from the Tashelhit language, literally meaning ‘jazz festival’, Anmoggar N Jazz draws on the cultural identity and heritage of Morocco’s native population, the Amazigh. This represents a specificity, which not only sets the festival apart from the other already established ones in the country, but ultimately leads to the question: What is so Amazigh about this jazz festival?
The festival is the brainchild of Franck Patillot, the former director of the French Institute of Agadir. It was originally announced as an autumn jazz festival promoting French jazz to the Agadir public and started out with a three day-long set of events attracting 900 visitors in 2017. For its second edition in 2018, the Spanish Consulate joined making it an even bigger festival, in the course of which 3200 people attended eleven concerts over four days. The same year marked the end of Patillot’s tenure as acting director of the French Institute, so in order to keep the festival running on an annual basis, he and his team decided to initiate the foundation of the Association Anmoggar N Jazz. This initiative aims not only to involve the local population more in the festival’s proceedings, but also to push forward Patillot’s idea of combining jazz performances by international groups with strengthening Agadir’s tourism industry, music education sector and sense of community.
This year’s festival centred around Agadir’s town hall, which housed the main venue for the evening concerts, la Salle Brahim Radi. In between the post-Corbusian brutalist building and the nearby Wall of Commemoration – both which were built in the aftermath of the city’s destruction through the severe earthquake of February 29, 1960 – a series of white tents made up the festival village. There, you could find a stage for afternoon performances by local rock, pop and fusion bands next to a collection of musical instruments by the Association Agadir Gnawa des Arts Populaires et du Théatre, better known by the name of its concert venue/cultural centre Jazzawiya. Before, in between and after the evening concerts a group of the association’s musicians engaged in collective outdoor performances.
Just a few metres away and in opposite to a gallery tent selling artwork and jazz portraits by Fadila Elgourra and Charifa Erraoui, a visual arts workshop featured speed painting artist Youness Bensiamar, who finished one large jazz inspired painting on each of the five festival days. Information booths by the French Institute and the Association Anmoggar N Jazz, an outdoor LED screen used for the live broadcast of the evening concerts inside the building and various food vendors animated the festival village from the afternoon until midnight.
While the main attention of the festival was focused on the evening concerts – ranging from the quartet of Guadeloupean drummer Arnaud Dolmen, the group of flamenco jazz flautist/saxophonist Jorge Pardo and the quintet of Tunisian pianist Wajdi Riahi to the Cuban ensemble of the cousins Orlando ‘Maraca’ Valle and Ramon Valle – Anmoggar N Jazz provided several open spaces to discuss, learn about and listen to jazz: Master classes by members of the performing groups such as trombonist Robinson Khoury, guitarist Pierre Durand, drummer Arnaud Dolmen, and pianist Enzo Carniel, who are all living in France, were held on four of the five festival days at the French Institute of Agadir and the Conservatory for Music in Agadir. Meetings with individual artists took place in a dedicated festival village tent, where there was also a two-day workshop on listening to jazz music led by Patillot. Street concerts by the Only New Jazz Band, a French ensemble, performed a mixture of New Orleans jazz, Dixieland, swing, French chansons and film music at the beach, the marina and the souk. After their tours through the city, they usually gathered in the festival village, where they engaged in impromptu jam sessions and debates. Daily, visitors could attend the sound checks at the Salle Brahim Radi. There, you could watch a dozen technicians receiving theoretical and practical training from the festival’s stage managers and sound engineers Pierre Bianchi and Patrick Marguerie. With the implementation of this training programme, the organisers intend to invest into the labour force of the Souss-Massa, thus establishing a pool of professional technicians for the management of cultural events in the region.
The idea of cultural and economic sustainability has also informed the instalment of the festival’s competition for artistic development, Amsli Amaynou. Literally meaning ‘new wind’ or ‘new breath’, Amsli Amaynou is a springboard specifically designed for the advancement of young talents of Moroccan jazz. Partnering with the Fresh Sound programme of the Jazz à l’Étage festival in Rennes, Amsli Amaynou promises not only to enable the winner to open Anmoggar N Jazz, but also a ticket abroad. This year’s winner, the Larache-born and El Jadida grown-up guitarist Aymane Kochaina, started the festival with renditions of Dizzy Gillespie’s ‘A Night in Tunisia’ and Bobby Hebb’s ‘Sunny’, which he juxtaposed with his original compositions. In an interview with Kochaina, the 24-year old marketing student bound to play in Rennes next spring, explained to me his view on jazz in Morocco:
"It’s like if you go to Ethiopia and talk to them about Japan. Two separate worlds. Not a lot of people listen to jazz, because if you want to listen to jazz, you have to search for it. Jazz will never find you. You got to find jazz, especially in Morocco. Because if you open the radio, if you open the TV, if you open the trending things on YouTube, you will never find jazz. You will only find commercial music and traditional music."
After his own personal encounter with jazz through listening to Django Reinhardt’s ‘Minor Swing’ through an online playlist, he tried to emulate the voice and phrasing of Reinhardt, one of the most celebrated European musicians in jazz history. Since then, he tries to transcribe ‘licks’ from original recordings that he finds on Spotify or YouTube and incorporates them into his own way of playing. Eager to perform in France, although sceptical about expectations potentially raised abroad, he recounted:
"I tell you the thing I hear the most. It tries to get me down, but I try to push it as much as I can. When I talk to someone and tell them the fact that I love jazz and that I would love to leave the country and study jazz and become a jazz musician, the first thing they give back to me is, I should keep an identity. You see, I am a Moroccan and I am obliged to give the others things they do not hear where they live. If I go to the US and play jazz for a jazz musician, I got to be the best possible to make an impact and make a difference. But when I go and play gnawa, it is going to be an easy path, you see?"
After having left Agadir, Kochaina’s words still resonate. What does it mean to be a jazz musician in Morocco today? And how can Moroccans draw from their own set of diverse cultural identities and make them a tool for their own creativity and career in an increasingly transnational world of jazz? Anmoggar N Jazz offers a rare opportunity for young Moroccan musicians and international visitors to engage in a mutual exchange on what jazz is all about in the present-day. It will be interesting to see how Anmoggar N Jazz will develop. To what extent will it emancipate itself from its ‘French foundations’ and in what ways will the Association Anmoggar N Jazz indeed hand over the festival to the people of Agadir, of which the majority belongs to the Amazigh? What will evolve from this focus? A proactive reflection on Amazigh identity within the national and international discourse? An exploitative tourism of ‘authentic’ Amazigh culture? Or a heightened sense and, at times improvised and contradictory, practice of intercultural dialogue not only repositioning Amazigh cultural identity within a framework of international jazz musicians, but also within Morocco’s Arab population?
The live streamed concerts of this year’s edition are still available to watch on the festival’s Facebook page and might, at least for the moment, provide documentation of this exciting period in both Moroccan jazz production and its festivalisation.