Hosted every year in the lavish courtyard of the El Badi Palace in the Marrakech Medina is the ‘National Festival of Popular Art’s’ (Festival National des Arts Populaires) in the centre of Marrakech. Being only a five minute walk from the Riad I stayed in, I went down to the festival last night to discover more.
Before the festival has begun I walk through alcoves of the El Badi Palace with the guardian of my riad who has agreed to accompany me. A red Moroccan carpet guides our way through the 400 year old building and the festival planners have rigged up projectors so that the walls of the ancient palace are bathed in a golden glow.
As we take our seats I learn that over 300 Berber storytellers, dancers, acrobats and singers from all four corners of Morocco have descended on Marrakech for this five day long spectacle.
As each group takes to the stage the guardian tells me that ‘each troupe tells a different tale’ which range from love and loss to nature and sustenance.
Indeed as Berber musicians from the Dadès valley fill the spotlight I learn that their song is about a husband and wife who are both beekeepers. As the song evolves into dance and grows in intensity I discover that the meaning behind the act is to convey the importance of unity within nature. Both man and wife rely on the bees, who in turn rely on the flowers and thus the cycle of nature continues.
Part of what makes National Festival of Popular Art’s such a special experience is that it is difficult even for the Marrakshi locals to understand the true meaning behind the acts. As
21 different dialects of the Berber tongue fill the air, much of the nights proceedings are shrouded in mystery.
For only 100 Dirhams ( 7.70£) this is a once in a lifetime performance that you simply cannot afford to miss during your stay in Marrakech. In only a few hours I was left speechless by a performance that was fully charged with the essence of Morocco and as the festival is nearing it’s 50th year Anniversary there is no question as to whether I will be coming back for it!