It was a perfect summer evening in Marrakech as the sunset over the palm groves lit up the African sky in pinks and oranges. Inside Villa Jenna, the crowd, dressed in traditional Moroccan and in Morocco-interpreted attire, were gathering, milling about the villa surrounded by palm trees and walkways, art installations, and Berber tents.
But they were all there to soak up the ambiance at the first edition of the Atlas Electronic festival where Maalem Guinea and his Gnaoua band headlined alongside James Holden. Taking to the stage for a Gnaoua show, Maalem Guinea provided a taste of the local music scene alongside his four-member band. And true to Gnaoua traditions, the colorful gandouras and cowry shell-decorated caps completed the look.
When British electronic musician James Holden joined them onstage for a subtle fusion, the crowd hit the dance floor, grooving to the international sounds while sipping local brews.
Opening for the unique duo were JUGURTHA, who took the stage alongside BeatuniQue, a freestyle percussionist and hang player, mixing various instruments including the darbouka, as the international crowd danced among hip locals in the amphitheatre set in the middle of the Palmeraie, the palm grove area just outside Marrakech.
Before it all kicked off, local storyteller Mehdi el Ghaly recounted how Jemaa el Fna in Marrakech has been and continues to be the place where travellers congregate to see performers, artists, musicians and to share talent, to exchange, and to learn about other cultures and to understand their culture. It then only seemed fitting that the weekend festival includes local storytelling, food stalls from local hip restaurants, and artists painting live. Throughout it all, lounge spaces set up featuring cushions, throws, and low tables throughout added to the chill-out vibe in true Moroccan style.