Carthage Music Festival keeps pace with changing art scene
Tunis - The Carthage Music Festival, an annual event that showcases Arab and African music, this year featured artists from Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and other African countries in a variety of performances across Tunisia.
The festival celebrated its fourth edition in April under the slogan “Plug in the Music.” Spectators enjoyed 12 concerts in the official competition in Tunis, as well as 16 performances in other parts of Tunisia.
The Carthage Music Festival is a reinvented version of previous musical events. It was founded in 2009, replacing the Festival of the Song, which ran from 1986-2004. The organising committee and the Culture Ministry said they felt they needed to rethink the festival to match the changing cultural scene of Tunisia and the region.
“After it was interrupted in 2010, I was asked to direct the festival. I wanted the festival to voice the idea that the musical scene has been experiencing new freedoms in light of the recent political changes,” said festival Director Hamdi Makhlouf, an acclaimed oud player, vocalist and a musicologist who works in jazz and contemporary Arabic music.
“The [Carthage Music Festival] should reflect the vitality and plurality of both national and regional scenes and not restrain itself to a traditional overview of local music,” he said. “The festival now is inclusive of all genres from traditional expressions, to reggae and electronic music.”
The new format of the festival won approval from artists and audiences and attracted younger people. In addition to musical performances, the festival addressed issues such as training music managers and manufacturing of musical instruments.
“The festival now has other sections than musical performances, including a competition for children, a fair for musical instruments and workshops to train artistic managers. The festival attracted many young artists, which rejuvenated its spirit,” Makhlouf said.
“The state of the musical scene has changed over the past years. That required a new festival and a new vision that answers to the demands and weaknesses of the sector. Having workshops to train managers of artists is a concern that is new to the Tunisian scene.”
The Carthage Music Festival encourages and promotes young musicians organising concerts. Street performances have been among the highlights of the festival. Hundreds of Tunisians followed the performances of N3rdistan from Morocco, the rap collective El Banda from Tunisia, Fayrouz Karawya from Egypt and many others.
“Festivals are a great opportunity for musicians in the Arab world to open up, expose their music to each other, profit from the diversity of soundscapes in different regions of the Arab world… I hope authorities stop putting obstacles around organising public events in the streets and closed theatres,” Karawya said.
She said the Carthage Music Festival provided an opportunity to meet a wide range of artists to go along with performances of established artists. “The presence of all these parties, in addition to cultural managers and media coverage, is where a music scene starts,” Karawya says.
Many musicians use the festival to share their experiences and skills towards building exposure for artists in the region. The festival’s concerts provided spaces for such exchanges and the fair of musical instruments created an opportunity for musicians and instrument-makers to exchange expertise.
Tunisian Minister of Culture Mohamed Zine el-Abidine expressed hopes that the festival becomes a regional forum.
“One of the most important aspects of the fair is the meeting of Tunisian, Arab and African cultural agents. If we establish an African and Maghrebian music market through these initiatives, this would allow our creators, artists and scholars to export our expertise and our musical instruments,” Zine el- Abidine said.
This latest festival scheduled a heavy metal band as its main event in a bold move that surprised many. Myrath, from Tunisia, has gained acclaim in the international metal community opening concerts for big-name groups such as Epica and Symphony X.
Makhlouf, defending the choice of Myrath, said the band’s music was inspired by Tunisian culture.
“The music of the festival ranges from Arabic music to rock and metal,” he said. “The mega concert will encourage people to watch and discover and explore other musical genres.”
Malek Bouchoucha, Myrath’s keyboard player, said the band’s music was Tunisian at heart because the lyrics were Tunisian and the music echoes traditional Tunisian music with a touch of metal. The band’s name, Myrath — Heritage — pays homage to Tunisian heritage and culture.
“The thing is, our language and heritage are rich. Our Tunisian dialect is a mixture of many languages. For many of our international fans, the Tunisian influences are intriguing and musically beautiful,” Bouchoucha said.
“We want everyone to come and see and judge for themselves. It is easy to say we are not this or that but I want them to come and enjoy our music.”
The Carthage Music Festival concluded with the Golden Tanit being presented to Moroccan band Aywa and its leader Adil Smaili. The Silver Tanit was awarded to soul singer Emma Lamadji from central Africa. The Bronze Tanit went to Tunisian pianist Wajdi Riahi for his piece “North Africa.”
“We hope that the festival becomes an international one that attracts other artists from different places. That way it will showcase Arab and African talents as well,” Makhlouf said.