Carthage festival consecrates Tunisia’s love affair with jazz

For the first time since the festival was founded in 2005 the event included concerts in the northern suburbs of Tunis, particularly La Marsa and Gammarth.
Sunday 21/04/2019
A touch of magic. Belgian band Hooverphonic performs during the 14th Jazz a Carthage Festival in Tunis.	   (Jazz a Carthage)
A touch of magic. Belgian band Hooverphonic performs during the 14th Jazz a Carthage Festival in Tunis. (Jazz a Carthage)

TUNIS - The 14th Jazz a Carthage Festival spread its performances outside Tunis to take the music to a wider audience.

For the first time since the festival was founded in 2005 the event included concerts in the northern suburbs of Tunis, particularly La Marsa and Gammarth, to move the innovative musical form closer to its many Tunisian fans.

Tunisia has a long-standing relationship with jazz. The first jazz festival in Tunisia took place as early as 1970 in the north-western Tunisian city of Tabarka. The festival became an annual summer offering and the small, charming coastal city of Tabarka became a mecca for jazz aficionados and musicians. Perhaps the most famous performers at the Tabarka Jazz Festival were the late Miriam Makeba and Ray Charles.

At the turn of the millennium, however, Tabarka’s festival faded due to organisational and logistical factors. The city’s open-air Sea Theatre, designed to hold 6,000 spectators, was deemed unsafe. However, once Jazz a Carthage was established, that event became a quick success.

“I thank Allah for the grace of Jazz a Carthage, which had filled the void left by the Jazz Festival in Tabarka,” said jazz fan Riadh Khemisi. “I grew up fond of the atmosphere of the Tabarka festival.

“I am obsessed with jazz and I must have my dose of jazz and blues every year even if I have to travel abroad once a year to satisfy my passion.”

Mourad Mathari, founder of the Jazz a Carthage Festival, said: “The 14th edition of the festival offered a rich and varied programme, which has made public turnout to be unusually high this year. This growing fondness of Tunisian spectators for this special musical genre places the bar quite high for the coming edition.”

The festival included performances by artists from Tunisia, Algeria, France, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Cuba, Ghana, Turkey, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Haiti. The performances took place in venues — Alhambra Cinema in La Marsa, the Carthage Acropolium, Ennejma Ezzahra at Sidi Bou Said, the French Lycee in Tunis and Versailles Hall in Gammarth — in addition to street performances in La Marsa.

“This year’s session marked the beginning of a permanent partnership between the festival and the European Union as part of the ‘Tunisia Meets Europe’ programme,” said Mathari.

“At this session also, Tunisian jazz fans were introduced to the British group Kokoroko and Afrobeat and soul music with jazz overtones, the Austrian duo Fuss and Leichtfried, the icon of Swiss modern jazz the Marc Perrenoud Trio, Algerian Kheireddine M’Kachiche and his jazz with Andalusian tones, French artist Bumcello, Algerian-French Djam and Italian Mario Biondi.”

There was also significant participation by Tunisian jazz artists. The Omar El Ouaer sextet presented its show “Amber,” during which it performed old Tunisian songs with jazz notes. The group was accompanied by violinist Yasmine Azaiez.

The festival’s opening performance was by Myryam Toukabri, who gave a recital titled “From Tunisia to Havana,” in which she mixed Tunisian and Cuban music and sang in Arabic and Spanish.

In addition to being more open on the street and thus closer to the general public, this year’s Jazz a Carthage showcased two artists per performance and included other music genres akin to jazz. These innovations seemed to please audiences and all performances were sold out. Tunisia’s love affair with jazz continues.

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