World Picks: Festival Arabesques in Montpellier

4 September, 2023

Arabesques Festival 18th Edition: Montpellier Encounters the cultures of the Maghreb and the Mediterranean

September 5 to 17

Gnawa, Stambouli, Chaabi… sound familiar? Whether you’re a fan or curious about world music, you’ll find something to take your mind off things at the Arabesques festival, with a program rich in the diversity of music from the Arab world and North Africa, along with original Amazigh culture. As Montpellier’s mayor Michaël Delafosse enthused, the festival will be “very beautiful and with many wonders to see.”

The festival begins on the 5th of September at the Montpellier National Opera Orchestra with a concert by Moroccan artist Nabyla Maân accompanied by the Arab-Andalusian Orchestra of Fez.

Each year, the festival brings together nearly 200,000 people and represents a unique opportunity to discover through music, theatre, storytelling, screenings, dance, calligraphy, a culture combining traditional artistic heritage and contemporary creation. Over the years, Arabesques has established itself as one of the most important festivals in Europe dedicated to the arts and cultures of the Arab world, known to encourage the visibility of Arab artists and promote intercultural dialogue.

Throngs of culture lovers attend the FestivalArabesques outdoors under the pine trees at the Domaine d’O (Luc Jennepin).

Under the pine trees at the Domaine d’O, close your eyes and let yourself be carried away by musical culture from around the Mediterranean.

A hotbed of artists from the Arab world will be on hand to make this a fortnight to remember (Uni’Sons, the organizers, have been producing this exemplary gathering for 18 years now). Major names have performed here, from Souad Massi and Anouar Brahem to Dhafer Youssef and Hindi Zahra.

Arabesques is a festival that invites world music stars, but also provides an opportunity to discover emerging artists such as Bedouin Burger, Oum, Aïta mon Amour, Friggya…

Ready to travel for two weeks of festivities, encounters and, of course, concerts?

Asmaa Hamzaoui performing with Bnat Timbouktou (photo Chris Saunders).

In the spotlight this year is Essaouira, the emblematic Gnawa town in Morocco, on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, where the wind makes itself heard. Gnawa musicians will be there to make us dance, and who knows, if we’re lucky, enter a trance. There will also be strolls through the streets of the town.

A veritable cocktail of styles: classical, jazz, rock and, of course, electronic music fused with traditional and even mystical music. Discover the new scene of emerging artists (or not) who merge genres with two not-to-be-missed evenings at the Halle Tropisme.

Our special picks:

The Rust duo from Lebanon.
Algerian desert rocker Hasna el Becharia for an all-female folk rock & Gnawa evening.
But also round tables with Mayssa’s Caravan and film screenings at the Diagonal with the Cinemed team.

Discover the complete program here:

Arabesques is a delectable festival in Occitania that will take us far and wide; it all begins on September 5.

Sarah Naili

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