Israeli orchestra plays to warm applause in Morocco

The Israeli Andalusian Orchestra played to a full house and warm applause in Morocco at one of the country’s most prestigious music festivals.

By Mara Vigevani/TPS

On December 12, in front of a full house in Casablanca, Morocco,  the Israeli Andalusian Orchestra played together with Moroccan musicians at the opening evening of the Andalussyat Festival, one of the most important Andalusian music festivals in Morocco.

The event, which took place at the Megarama, the most important hall in Casablanca, was broadcast live and extensively covered by local media.

The orchestra, which kept its arrival in Morocco a secret until the last minute, played a repertoire of Andalusian, Algerian and Egyptian music together with a choir of Moroccan singers. The musicians received a roaring round of applause.

“We were 90 people on the stage, Muslims, Jews, and Christian all together dressed in the traditional white gown,” Yoram Azulay, the orchestra’s musical consultant who plays the Tar, a long-necked guitar, told TPS. “There were at least 1,200 people in the hall. When we started to play I felt a very powerful feeling.”

For years the orchestra, its musicians and in particular its CEO, Yakov Ben Simon, built up relations with Moroccan musicians, artists and producers in secret due to the lack of diplomatic relations between the countries.

Some Moroccan musicians even performed in Israel under conditions of anonymity.

“The trip was the culmination of a long process of dialogue over the years with Moroccan musicians and producers,” Ben Simon told TPS. “For years, many artists from Morocco came to Israel to perform anonymously. We kept relations with all of them. I strongly believe in culture as a bridge between people. Every artist who has been here became a peace ambassador between the nations.”

According to Ben Simon, “Music creates a  cultural dialogue between people even where Israel has no relations at all. I always prefer that the orchestra performs in places that have a special cultural meaning. For example, we played in the castle of the Spanish  king because of the Spanish origins of the Andalusian music.”

While this was the first time that the orchestra had been invited by the Moroccan government to perform, it was their second trip to the country.

Last year Ben Simon decided to organize a touri to Morocco for all his musicians, although he also scheduled some informal performances.

“We played in the courtyard of the synagogue in Marrakesh and in a restaurant owned by a Jewish man in Casablanca,” Azoulay, said. “Many Muslims came to see our performance, and a few months later we got the invitation.”

A ‘very emotional’ experience

For Azoulay, performing at the Festival was an emotional experience that closes his personal life circle.

I am the seventh generation of a family of musicians. I was born in Israel, but my father was a musician in Morocco, and in 1956 he arrived in Israel,” he said. “Playing the biggest hall in Casablanca, dressed with our traditional clothes, was very emotional for me.”

During their six-day stay, the Andalusian orchestra had the opportunity to meet musicians from Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and other Arab countries.

“All the participants in the Festival stayed at the same hotel,” Azoulay says. “During the evenings we played together, sometimes even in our pyjamas, until the late hours of the night.

Before leaving Morocco, the musicians decided to keep in touch through a WhatsApp group.

“We chat every day, “says Azoulay. “We speak about everything except politics.”