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Music festival brings world faiths together

By Seema Mathur for CNN
  • The festival has music from a variety of faiths including Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim
  • The annual festival began 16 years ago in the aftermath of the first Gulf War
  • Among this year's performers are husband-and-wife duo Amadou & Mariam from Mali, who are both blind

Fez, Morocco -- Five times a day, from the tops of mosques across the ancient city of Fez, Morocco, the soothing voices of muezzins calls Muslims to prayer.

But each summer during the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music those sacred chants in the majority Muslim country mingle with the sounds of music from a variety of other faiths and cultures including Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and Christian.

The annual Fes Festival began 16 years ago in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. Organizers say the hope was that musical harmony would drown out the noise of political differences.

"When you see these people, you have a profound feeling that comes to you because you see that humanity is the same," said festival president Mohamed Kabbaj.

His point resonates with Afro-pop group Amadou & Mariam from Mali, who performed at this year's festival in early June. The blind husband-and-wife duo both lost their vision from illnesses at young ages.

But what they gained, they say, is an honest way of seeing others. "As we say when we are blind: we see best with the heart," said Amadou Bagayoko.

Video: The Fez festival

"The only difference we hear are male or female voices. What we hear is that we are all human. That's the most important thing," he continued.

The people who came to see the band perform felt that connection too. Karim Remji, a fan from Tanzania, said of Amadou & Mariam's music, which the duo sings in French: "I couldn't really understand, but I could feel the connection. They are singing the songs in a different language you couldn't understand, but we were all together dancing and enjoying."

Nila Chambers, from Australia, agreed. "I think that's the beauty of music," she said. "It transcends the mind, it transcends language -- you know, you tune in in the heart and in the spirit and you can be sitting in a room with people from all over the world in different traditions and you become one," she continued.

We support unity. This is how we want the world to be.
--Amadou Bagayoko, Singer
  • Morocco
  • Music
  • World Music

Kabbaj said Fez is the perfect stage for the world-music festival: "The founder of this city, Moulay Idriss, was a man of peace, and he prayed to make this city a city of peace and city of God."

Fez is also famous for the 9th century university Al- Karaouine, where Muslim and Jewish scholars would share thoughts.

"This is what we love because we support peace," said Amadou. While his wife Mariam completes his sentence saying, "We support unity. This is how we want the world to be."

When asked if he thinks it's naive for a week-long music festival to make a difference Kabbaj replied, "We never thought that we will change the situation of the world. But it's not a reason to stop all actions and be in despair and to say, 'we can't do anything.'"

He continued: "I think if everybody does something people could change their minds about many many things."

And for the duration of the Fes Festival of World Sacred music, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist musicians showed the world a universal chord we can all be in tune with.