By HANNAH NORMAN
RABAT, Morocco – Sitting behind the ticket booth at the French Institute, 23-year-old Ilyas Drissi holds all the power. An open metal box contains the stubs of the 900 sold tickets, the quota for Saturday night’s pre-sales of Jazz au Chellah—a five-day music festival of jazz-Moroccan fusion located in Rabat’s Chellah Ruins.
“I’m sorry, we’re all sold out,” Drissi told a French couple who approached the table. “You’ll have to buy your tickets at the door.”
Currently on its nineteenth edition, the festival has become wildly popular, so much so that tickets steadily sold out for every night. Its popularity reflects a growing local pull towards this kind of fusion, as the large majority of attendees were Moroccans, according to Drissi.
This year, the event took place from Sept. 17-21, presenting the music of 53 musicians that made up 15 different groups from Morocco and all over Europe. Jazz au Chellah is one of many Moroccan festivals that attract people from all over the globe, including Essaouira’s Gnaoua World Music Festival and the Fes Festival of Sacred World Music.
“The audience is getting more important,” noted 26-year-old Ayman Fannane, a seventh year attendee of the annual event. “My friend had to bring me a ticket, otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten in.”
Once in the amphitheater, in addition to the rows of seats, festivalgoers flanked both staircases and packed into the carpeted floor section below the stage. While watching the performance, there was little wonder why.
Friday night’s final act, a compilation of Transylvanian Jazz, a seven person ensemble led by saxophonist Nicolas Simion, coupled with a Moroccan group, Samira Kadiri Quartet, kept the audience alert into the late hours of the evening. Controlling center stage in a vibrant pink and black dress, Kadiri projected her rich, soulful voice in Moroccan Arabic, accompanied by instruments ranging from an accordion to a traditional Moroccan drum.
“Jazz lends itself to other types of music because it’s based on rhythm,” said Fannane. “Moroccan music brings the emotion.”