I went last year but couldn't make it this year. A friend who was lucky enough to go sent me this report, with accompanying photos:
"The last days of October and early November saw terrible weather Morocco, with various parts of the kingdom seeing heavy rains, flashfloods and mudslides. The normally windy city of Essaouira was no exception, but as the winds howled and rains poured, several hundred spectators sitting inside the massive tent set up for the Andalucias Atlanticas festival, were enraptured by some of the greatest voices in Andalusian music in Spain and the Maghreb. This year's festival payed homage to Samy El Maghribi, a pioneering figure in Moroccan music, who passed away earlier this year. The first evening of the festival (October 30) saw Abdelkarim L'Amarti, whose orchestra plays gharnati and hawzi, joined by Yolande Amzalag, the daughter of the late El Maghribi, who sang some of her father's earliest classics.
Samy El Maghribi's repertoire was vast, ranging from chaabi to melhoun and including one of Morocco's most memorable songs of independence ("Alf Hnia wa Hnia" which El Maghribi wrote in 1955 in celebration of King Mohammed V's return home after French-imposed exile.) A special tribute to El-Maghribi was also paid by Maxime Karoutchi, a rising star of the Judeo-Andalusian repertoire (see links below).
The audience was also regaled by the fiery vocals and dancing of Marina Heredia and Pasion Vega, two leading flamenco performers.
But the highlight of this festival was undoubtedly the performance by El Gusto, an ensemble of 40 musicians of Jewish and Muslim background, who sang together in the kasbah of Algiers in the 1950s and have recently been reunited by Safinez Bousbia, a young Algerian filmmaker. El Gusto - often described as the North African "Bueno Vista" - includes prominent figures of Algerian chaabi and hawzi music including oud virtuouso Rachid Berkani who performed with Farid al Atrache; mandole-player Abdelkader Chercham, who teaches chaabi repertoire at the Algiers' conservatory of music; pianist El Hadi Halo, who also happens to be the son of Mohammed Al Anka, a legend of Algerian chaabi- and three living legends of Judeo-Andalusian music: guitarist and vocalist René Perez, guitarist and vocalist Luc Cherki, and pianist Maurice Medioni [who could not make it to the festival]. In keeping with El Gusto's - and the festival's spirit of convivencia - the performance began with a blessing sung jointly by an imam and a rabbi, and then, with rain lashing outside, El Gusto played classics by North African legends like Mohammed El Anka, Dahmane El Harrach and Salim Halali. The lead vocalist Abdel Madjid Meskoud drew warm applause with his moving rendition of the late Kamel Messaoudi's classic "Noujoum el Lil."
René Perez and Luc Cherki had people on their feet when they played their signature numbers "Elle Est Parti (Mchat Aliya)" and "L'Oriental."
Luc Cherki sang a new song ("La Ville d'Essaouira") he had composed for the festival and in honor of this charming town that he first performed in 1963 (when it was still called Mogador) when he was invited by Salim Hilali. El Gusto ended their performance with a stirring rendition of "Ya Rayeh," the song first composed by Mohammed Al Anka, popularized by Dahmane el Harrach, and recently revived by French-Algerian artist Rachid Taha. The festival was an inspiring success."
Karoutchi singing Samy El Maghribi's melhoun number
Karoutchi singing Salim Hilali medley - Ya Kalbi/Raymonde Rametni
And check out this performance of El Gusto on BBC, preceded by an interview with Damon Albarn, who produced their album (which is terrific!):
I'll announce the dates and the program for next year's festival as soon as I know them.