Fez, Morocco, June 2013 As part of the sacred music festival, a forum is dedicated…
I hadn’t expected to be moved by Joan Baez.
Heck, I could go hear Joan Baez in California; I don’t need to go all the way to Morocco to hear her. And the last night of the festival, too, after a week of hearing music from Pakistan, Iran, Spain, Syria, India, Morocco, Tunisia. I wanted more of this music I couldn’t reach at home in a live venue with the lights shining softly on the Moorish arches and the swifts wheeling in thousands at dusk before settling into the walls of the fortress and the storks that would come, singly, or in pairs, to sit motionless on the crenelated towers throughout the performances.
But during her entire performance I ended up standing, or poised on the metal railing to the side of the seats, alternately fascinated and weeping. She sang to this audience in Spanish, French, Arabic, and English. She spoke to them in a mixture of French and English. She presented her music from decades of civil rights marches (“my feet are tired from all the marches,” she said, and without even having to say it, implied, “and they’re not over yet.”). She was humble and straight-forward, sometimes performing utterly by herself with only her guitar, and her music filled the entire Bab Makina effortlessly, as if anyone could do that. Standing in her simple black outfit with a stunning red scarf that showed her professional performance experience – knowing how things look from a distance, what works what doesn’t work.
And I was crying because the festival was now over and how perfect an ending, this healing that she manifests. Two women in the seats beside me, traditional Muslim women in head scarves, who had nodded, somewhat baffled through much of the performance that had been so far in French and English (probably spoke only Arabic), were electrified when she called her drummer onto the stage and sang a song in Arabic. They joined the audience keeping time with their hands, and after that, every song, no matter what the language, they kept time with their hands, they sat up in their seats. Surely they had come because she is famous. She sang with Bob Dylan. She was part of the free speech movement, the anti-Vietnam war protests, the civil rights movement. That was all so long, long ago. They had come, thinking, why not see what this is all about, a celebrity.
And she won their hearts, and completely broke my reserve, my somewhat ironical expectation. Wonderful.