On three balmy nights in the African plains, just outside the city walls of the ancient city of Marrakech, Morocco, American and Moroccan musicians shared center stage in a festival to celebrate friendship and peace between the two cultures. Dubbed “Friendship Fest 2005”, this first-ever gathering drew an estimated 85,000 people over the three nights of the event, concluding on Sunday night May 8.
Spawned by an invitation by Marrakech Regional President Abdelali Doumou, and with the full support of Wali (Governor) Mohamed Hassad, to bring a festival of music to his region, American music promoter Harry Thomas (co-founder of Creation Festivals, Inc.) put together a lineup of seven contemporary Christian music artists including: Jeremy Camp, Newsboys, Delirious, Phil Keaggy, Rock and Roll Worship Circus, Out of Eden and Joy Williams. 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.
Regional President Doumou hailed the festival, believed to be the first of its kind 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 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 the universal language of music unite our people and cultures in a way that was both gratifying and encouraging for future cultural and economic exchanges.”
Thomas 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 blessed us with their heartfelt encouragement and enthusiastic support.”
Set on a sandy field last used to celebrate the marriage of Moroccan King Mohammed VI’s daughter, 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 gathered in front of the stage to see American artists perform alongside some of their favorite Moroccan musicians. 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.”
Going into the event, the stated purpose of Friendship Fest according to festival organizers was to “use the universal language of music to bridge cultures and make friends – to show that people of different cultures and faith traditions can be friends and live in harmony with one another.” When asked for his view regarding whether or not these goals were achieved, Regional President Doumou responded: “The goals of Friendship Fest were most definitely achieved. We strengthened our relations with our American brothers and sisters and set the stage for ongoing discussions and future cultural exchanges between our countries. We truly believe that this event represented an historic opportunity for Americans and Moroccans to celebrate together, through music, in friendship and peace. We sincerely hope that this will be an annual event.”
At the conclusion of the event, Regional President Doumou extended an official invitation to Harry Thomas and the American Friendship Fest committee to return to Marrakech in the spring of 2006.
About Friendship Fest 2005
In early 2004, Harry Thomas (co-founder of American music’s Creation Festivals), was invited to Morocco to meet with top Moroccan government and religious leaders including Prime Minister Driss Jettou. During the visit, Thomas developed a friendship with Marrakech Regional President Abdelali Doumou and Marrakech Wali (Governor) Mohamed Hassad, who asked Thomas to present a Human Rights award at a major event to celebrate the achievements of women. The ceremony, called Khmissa 2004, took place as part of a program that was televised throughout Morocco, to much of the Arab world and also to France. At the ceremony, Thomas presented the award to Assia El Qouadie, a woman who worked with prison reform. During the presentation, Thomas referred to Scripture, stating that those who work with the poor touch the face of God. His remarks were warmly received by the audience.
Shortly after Thomas returned to the United States, he received a letter from Moroccan Ambassador Aziz Mekouar confirming an invitation he had received verbally from Regional President Doumou to bring American music to Morocco to promote friendship between the people of the United States and Morocco.
Questions and Answers
Why was Friendship Fest held?
The American music community responded to the warm invitation of Marrakech to come together to celebrate our friendship through the universal language of music.
Whose idea was it?
The idea was first conceived by Marrakech Regional President Abdelali Doumou, and with the full support of Wali (Governor) Mohamed Hassad, who invited Harry Thomas, co-founder of America’s Creation Festivals, Inc., to bring American music to Marrakech as part of a celebration of friendship in the midst of diversity in cultures and faith traditions.
Who paid for it?
Friendship Fest was presented free of charge for all attendees. The expenses of the event were paid by a cooperative effort between the l’Association du Festival de l’Amitie committee in Morocco and the American Committee for Friendship Fest. All artists and producers donated their time and labor, and the production and travel expenses were covered by a combination of private donations and sponsorship considerations.
Did the American Christians have an agenda to come to Morocco to convert Muslims to Christianity?
That was not the purpose of Friendship Fest. Friendship Fest was a music festival and a celebration of friendship and peace. The purpose of the event was to show that people of different faith traditions and cultural backgrounds can be friends and live together in harmony.
Was any Christian literature distributed to Friendship Fest attendees?
No Christian literature was handed out by Friendship Fest. Festival organizers asked those attending the event to refrain from handing out materials or trying to preach. Friendship Fest was simply a music festival to establish and build relationships, celebrate friendship and promote peace.
What is the story behind the song: “Peace With God.”
Gabe McReynolds, an American living in Morocco, penned the words to the song “Peace With God” and the music was written by Phil Keaggy especially for Friendship Fest. Phil is one of the American artists who performed at the event. The lyrics reflect the event organizers’ hope that the event will be pleasing to God and foster peace with both our fellow man, and with God Himself.
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