The Mawazine Festival in the Moroccan capital of Rabat is one of those rather unbelievable events. Throw 2.62 million million Moroccans and far fewer tourists across seven venues in the centre of a North African metropolis, and the atmosphere is greater than just about any other music festival in the world.
The opening night gathers 100,00 people at the OLM Souissi to scream and holler for superstar Justin Timberlake. It’s a special event in Rabat’s calendar, and the audience is young and hip to match the celebrity on display. Timberlake puts on a hip-grinding blockbuster of a show complete with sweet moves, lighting that makes you feel like you’re on LSD and a short foray into guitar playing. He’s on top form, and even so far from home, there are a lot of girls visibly swooning in the audience.
Robert Plant (pictured, above), accompanied by his musical outfit The Sensational Space Shifters, shows at 65 that age doesn’t matter at all with a growling rock ’n’ roll performance that pays no attention to the literally tens of thousands of Led Zeppelin t-shirts in the audience. The set presents a genuinely tantalising mix of musical influences from east and west, making use of traditional and exotic instruments in equal measure.
Ricky Martin goes down a storm, his newly announced homosexuality not doing much to disgruntle a seriously overexcited Muslim audience. Between the saucy dancing, the subpar vocals and talented backing band, it’s easy to imagine you’re back in the nineties watching the classic music videos on MTV. I speak to a girl on Instagram who’s undertaking an eight-hour round-trip to come to the show and be back for work in time the next morning. Livin' la Vida Loca, indeed.
Ne-Yo (pictured, above) brings all the sexy to the stage, and the audience goes absolutely mental for the whole of his 90 minutes. Dressed for part of his set in a spiffy white suit jacket and a black hat that covers way more of his face than it should, his energetic act is pretty much flawless. ‘Play Hard’ is the winning crowd pleaser of course, so much so that even the dads who’ve clearly been dragged out to supervise their 14-year-old daughters at one of them there rock concerts look reasonably into the groove.
The glitzy Alicia Keys (pictured, main) is a real highlight of the nine-day music extravaganza. With rapturously positive mini-speeches between songs, genuinely impressive vocal abilities and that R&B cool that she’s made a 13-year career out of, she ticks all the boxes that need ticking at a pop concert. By the time her closing tune, ‘Empire State Of Mind’, comes around, a good measure of the audience is nearing tears. And understandably so, as another edition of this remarkable festival draws to a close.
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Watch videos of these performances and others on the official Mawazine YouTube channel. Mawazine 2015 will take place in Rabat from Saturday 30th May to Sunday 7th June.