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MUSIC FEST BRINGING JEWS AND MUSLIM TOGETHER

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A music festival in Morocco bringing Jews and Muslims together in this windy walled fishing port, long a crossroads of civilisation, is a step in breaking down political divides, says festival founder Andre Azoulay.
  • Azoulay, a high profile businessman and advisor to Morocco's King Mohammed VI, who is a player in the Middle East peace process, is the driving force behind the Andalousies Atlantiques festival of Judeo-Arab music, whose sixth edition ended this weekend.
  • "Essaouira throughout its entire history and its entire way of living was a synthesis between Muslims and Jews," Azoulay said. "It was not something artificially constructed, it was natural."
  • "And this festival is a reconstruction of that reality as it was historically, It is not cosmetic, it is real."
  • The opening concert at the three-day fest improbably featured an 80-year-old singer-rabbi, Haim Louk, backed by a Moroccan band who drew thunderous applause from the audience -- people of all ages and social class, women wearing headscarves and others in western gear, tourists, foreigners, Jews and Arabs.
  • Azoulay grew up in the town, which then had a big Jewish community, and returned after a successful banking and communications career in France with the idea of reviving the local economy.
  • An obvious path was to turn the crossroads town into a cultural hub to reflect its past, and a number of festivals including the world's leading festival of pulsating Gnaoua (or Gnawa) music now take place in the town.
  • "The changes in the town have been tremendous," Azoulay said. "Twenty years ago there was no airport, the hotels here now employ hundreds of people."
  • Azoulay grew up in a building in the kasbah where one floor was a Jewish family and the next floor was a Muslim.
  • "It was so normal that it was banal.When you see a concert such as Haim Louk, it is very moving," he said. "It is a reflection of what was and what is today in Morocco, and it is a step in the right direction in terms of our values.
  • "I would challenge anyone to take that social and cultural cohesiveness away from us, because of a political situation in which people are at odds with each other," he added.
  • Describing himself as spiritually Jewish but also a Berber strongly influenced by Arab-Islamic history and culture, Azoulay said this meant he could enjoy Mahler, Um Kalthoum and Andalusian music.
  • "When people can sing and play together on stage in Hebrew and in Arabic, it is beyond symbolic, it is real. It is about reconciliation," he said.
  • "And when you see the standing ovation that a Moroccan Muslim public gave a Moroccan Jewish artist, you see maybe they could pay attention elsewhere."
Source: MEO
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