To be blunt, Casablanca has always been far more famous for the old film than new music. But The Boulevard festival has changed that, elevating the musical status of the city in the eyes and ears of both the national population and international visitors alike. A decade ago, The Boulevard was a competitive, springboard event for local musicians, the winner being pledged professional support by organizers L’EAC. It was a modest event in a venue not much larger, nor more elaborate, than a community hall.
Not anymore. Nine years on and The Boulevard, or Boulevart, as it’s affectionately referred to by locals, has transformed into a grand festival attracting crowds of 160,000. A surge of international headliners were among the fifty national and international groups, that performed over four days, complimented by a series of music-centered documentaries, workshops, projections, exhibitions, and debates.
The festival devotes a day to a specific genre, loosely christened Fusion, Hip-hop, Rock, Electrioc. This year’s edition attested the Moroccan esteem for fusion (contrary to the belief that metal is de rigueur). The public was insanely enthused by Macaco, based in Spain but with a line-up representing Colombia, Brazil and Argentina. The resultant sound infuses flamenco, Latin, rumba, reggae and rap seamlessly, yet effusively. Headliner Dub Incorporation enjoyed a similarly vociferous reception. A reggae-rap-ragga base showcased the strikingly opposed timbres of lead vocalists Bouchkour and Komlan, who created continuous multilingual communication across on stage.
Also showcased were the stirring results of a three-week residency between 12 Arab and British musicians. The haunting yet placid vocals of Lebanese singer Asma, the exhilarating sound of rising UK jazz pianist Andrew McCormack, the divergent style of Morocco’s rap leading light, Bigg, and multi-talented vocalist and Hajouj player Hicham Bajjou, are but a few of the multi-disciplinary and original lineup.
Coldcut did as only they know how – sniffing out local music penchants and groups, from rap to rock, and mixing them with ease and humor into the breakbeat. The theme from the film Casablanca was not ignored in the mix, which also incorporated tracks from the Moroccan rap stars H-Kayne and rock success Hoba Hoba Spirit.
Another absorbing combination emerged through the unique collaboration between Naab (France) and Morocco’s own DJ Zayane Freeman. The show was the result of a six-day residency summit, much of which was held in a deserted beach site. The result: a multifarious show of electronica, video and graphics. Naab’s North African pulse, punctuated by Magrebian sounds ranging from souk to percussion, meandered amidst funky bass lines. His rousing MC, knotted neatly with Zayane Freeman’s moodier, avant-garde emanations. The two artists had never worked together before “but we shared similar musical motivations, and I was especially interested in the cinematic narrative within Naab’s work. But ultimately, it was sound, symbols and images that facilitated communication more than speech,” explained DJ Zayane Freeman. “There was no boss, no chief, only affinity and autonomy.” The residency continued over the weekend in France at Dijon’s Tribu Festival, marking another important step in cross-continental musical partnership and development for Morocco.