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 Morocco-inspired attire, were gathering, milling about the villa surrounded by palm trees and walkways, art installations and Berber tents. They were all there to soak up the ambiance at the first edition of the Atlas Electronic festival where Maalem Guinea and his Gnawa band headlined alongside James Holden. Taking to the stage for a Gnawa (Moroccan and sub-Saharan African Islamic religious songs) show, Maalem Guinea provided a taste of the local music scene alongside his four-member band. And true to Gnawa traditions, the colourful gandouras (long, light tunics) 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 (goblet drum), 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, exchange stories and learn about other cultures and understand their own culture. It only seemed fitting that the weekend festival included 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 added to the chill-out vibe in true Moroccan style.