220,000 Moroccans Gather in Marrakech for Music Festival

On three picture-perfect evenings in an open field just outside
the stone walls of the ancient city of Marrakech, Morocco, American and Moroccan musicians shared
center stage over the weekend in a musical event to celebrate friendship and peace between the two
cultures. Dubbed “Friendship Fest 2006”, the event was hailed as a testament to religious
tolerance and mutual respect among people of vastly different cultures. Moroccan security
officials estimated the crowds to be 220,000 over the three nights of the event.
Originally conceived in 2004 following an invitation by Marrakech Regional President Abdelali
Doumou, and with the full support of the Moroccan Wali (Governor), to bring a festival of music to
his region, American music promoters Harry Thomas and Tim Landis put together a lineup of seven
contemporary Christian music artists including: The Crabb Family, Jaci Velasquez, KJ-52, Joy
Williams, downhere, George Huff and Ashley Cleveland. Each artist donated their labor and that of
their production teams, to make the event happen. The American artists were joined onstage by a
number of contemporary and traditional Moroccan music artists during the 18 hours of the music
festival. Production costs of the event, which was free to all attendees, were offset by private
contributions in the United Stares and corporate sponsorships in Morocco.
Friendship Fest 2006 was the second such event, capitalizing on the success of the music festival
that captured the world’s attention in 2005. The first Friendship Fest, held in Marrakech in May
of last year, attracted 85,000.
Regional President Doumou hailed the festival, which is breaking new ground in the Arab world, as
a resounding success. “We were delighted and honored when my good friend Harry Thomas accepted
our invitation to come to back Marrakech to join with us in celebration of our long-standing
friendship with the people of the United States. Over the past three days, we have seen music
unite our people and cultures in a way that is both gratifying and encouraging for future cultural
and economic exchanges. From the size of the crowds, and their positive reaction, it was obvious
to me that our people were very grateful to receive this gift of beautiful music.”
Landis agreed, stating: “We were simply overwhelmed by the warmth of the reception we received
from the Moroccan people. Each of the artists performing at the event had stories of new
relationships that were developed as a result of Friendship Fest. Those in attendance truly
encouraged us with their heartfelt and enthusiastic support.”
On Saturday night at the festival, a crowd of over 100,000 heard The Crabb Family open and close
its performance with a song written especially for Friendship Fest. Sung entirely in Arabic, the
tight harmonies of “May God’s Peace Be With You” resonated throughout the crowd, and were echoed
back to the stage by the crowd. Later in the set, Adam Crabb silenced the audience with his
spellbinding, soulful rendition of “Amazing Grace” on harmonica. Following their performance,
Crabb gave his harmonica to a young Moroccan, asking only that he use it to make beautiful music.
Said Crabb, “This was one of the most incredible evenings of my life.”

Canadian rockers “downhere” appeared at the Festival on Friday and Sunday nights, performing songs
from their upcoming new album. downhere’s front man Marc Martel, a native French Canadian, spoke
to the crowd in French (one of Morocco’s two official languages) between songs. Martel commented:
“The Moroccan people seemed to have a real heart for music. Despite their lack of familiarity
with our music, they were eager to dance and sing along. It was a privilege to perform for them.
They rocked.”
Offstage, the American artists found ample time for formal and informal cultural exchanges with
the people of Morocco on a more personal level – ranging from friendships formed with merchants in
the Berber markets (resulting in invitations to share tea), to more in-depth dialogues with the
political and economic leaders of the region. These opportunities were not limited to the city of
Marrakech (population: 900,000), but extended into more remote regions, enabling the artists to
both gain a broader view of Morocco and to become known by those who could not attend the
festival. On Wednesday afternoon, three of the artists traveled to a rural village in the Atlas
mountains, where they were welcomed with Moroccan music and dance, and where the Americans
performed an impromptu concert of their music, using the few instruments they had brought with
them, and improvising with percussion instruments borrowed from the villagers. That night,
Marrakech regional president Abdelai Doumou hosted a formal dinner with Moroccan officials
welcoming the American delegation to Morocco. A similar reception was hosted by the Wali on
Sunday afternoon. On Saturday, members of the band “downhere” joined President Doumou for an
informal discussion with the mayor of Marrakech, a delegation of local businesspeople and a member
of Moroccan Parliament – a dialogue that lasted to the wee hours of Sunday morning.

American contemporary Christian artist Joy Williams was the only artist to have appeared at
Friendship Fest in both 2005 and 2006. “I was thrilled and honored to be invited back to Morocco
to perform for these hospitable and giving people”, said Williams. “It was truly a gift to be embraced again so warmly by the people of Marrakech. They have truly touched my heart in a way that I will never forget.”
Set on a sandy field in the Bab Ighli section of the city, the festival began each of the three nights at 6:00PM local time. By the time the dessert sun had begun to set an hour or so later, tens of thousands of Moroccans had jammed the venue to see American artists perform alongside some of their favorite Moroccan musicians. Thousands more viewed from a distance with the aid of two large video screens and a state-of-the-art sound system. The crowd was animated and enthusiastic, responding to invitations to dance, jump and even sing along. “The only thing that was translated were the introductions of the performers”, said Thomas. “The universal language of music translated itself.”
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