As has been widely reported, the Mawazine festival in Rabat, the Moroccan capital, ended with a tragedy after the concert of Abdelaziz Stati at a football stadium. Eleven people died in a stampede when a metal fence collapsed. It’s a terrible tragedy for those who lost their lives and their families. The fact that the casualties included five women, four men and two children show that whole Moroccan families – and groups of young women and groups of men – love to go to these events and socialise.
Sadly, the tragedy casts a dark shadow over an event where thousands upon thousands of Moroccans – and visitors from overseas – had a fantastic time. I was at Mawazine when the accident occurred, but was unaware of it as I was just leaving the Stevie Wonder concert that had been happening simultaneously at another location.
By getting there early, we got a fantastic position in the centre just a few metres away from the front of the stage. There I enjoyed the full glory of hearing 70,000 Moroccans singing ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’ and waving their arms from side to side. It felt a real privilege to see Stevie so close in such a wonderful location. Surely this is the acceptable face of globalisation.
As we left the concert I was actually rather impressed by the security barriers and precautions. It took a long time to get out, but there was little pushing and no crush. And throughout the festival, the organisation was impressive. Concerts started pretty much on time, the sound and lighting was good and the range of artists extraordinary. Most of the concerts are free. I was just there for the last four days of the nine-day festival, but it has a line-up unmatched by few festivals anywhere in the world. International artists included Kylie Minogue (no thanks), Sergio Mendes, Solomon Burke, Alicia Keys and Stevie Wonder; world music artists included Fanfare Ciocarlia, Amadou & Mariam, Khaled, Eliades Ochoa, Ska Cubano, Faiz Ali Faiz, Buika, Ojos de Brujo, Alim Qasimov and more. It was predictably the Moroccan performers that attracted some of the biggest crowds – the most extraordinary I saw was female chaabi singer Daoudia who played a violin Arabic style, propped on her knee, and sang songs, with a back-line of men on frame drums, that drove her audience into a frenzy. It was these Moroccan gigs that elicited the wildest reaction in the crowds too, and on the final night, Stati’s concert was relocated from the centre of town to the Hay Nahda football stadium because of the huge crowds he was expected to draw.
Despite the shadow of the tragedy, my overwhelming memory of Mawazine is of thousands of people enjoying music of every kind. I hope the investigation into what went wrong is conclusive and doesn’t dim Mawazine’s ambition to continue producing a world-class festival of astonishing quality.
If you’re interested in Moroccan music, there’s just time to get on board our Songlines Music Travel trip to the Essaouira Gnawa & World Music Festival departing on June 25 http://www.songlines.co.uk/musictravel/tours-festivals/morocco-essaouira.php