Review: 'Sound of the Soul' celebrates humanity 

How about some Islamic songs about love and friendship — would that come in handy just now? Against the sensational headlines and unceasing barrage of associating terrorists with millions of innocent people, a stunning, wonderful surprise awaited me in Morocco.

It was 2003, a few months after the beginning of the war in Iraq, and yet at Fez and its Festival of World Sacred Music, there was this overwhelming musical-spiritual unity on display between Arabs, Jews, Christians and just plain folk. Not since the Summer of Love has there been such innocent, sincere expression of people trying to come together.

Fez is magic: In the maze of the narrow alleys of the ancient (but cell-phone saturated) medina, donkeys pass in the middle of teeming humanity; they have had the right-of-way since the city’s birth in the 8th century, and the rule stands.

In this fabled imperial city, the festival brings together musicians from various cultures, societies, religions and ideologies, allowing them to leave excess baggage behind and celebrate humanity. The American opera singer Julia Migenes appears along with Iran’s great Sufi singer Mohamed Reza Shajarian, Yungchen Lhamo of Tibet chants along with the gospel songs of the Anointed Jackson Sisters, Brazilian Gilberto Gil and Indian Madhavi Mudgal, artists from Pakistan, Vietnam, Sénégal and, yes, even Iraq (the wonderful Farida Mohamed Ali) make the scene.

The year before and the year after my experience of the Fez Festival, another Bay Area visitor, filmmaker Stephen Olsson went to Fez, and he returned with tons of video, from which he fashioned a remarkable documentary, "Sound of the Soul." Introduced at the Mill Valley Film Festival before, it’s coming to commercial distribution now.

Ohlsson’s work is a grand upper, pulling together Berber women, a fabulous Portuguese Fado singer, a French early-music ensemble, players and vocalists from Afghanistan, England, Russia, Ireland, Mauritania, Turkey and a gospel band from New York City. Among the featured groups: Farida Mahwash — the first woman in Afghanistan to be named an "Ustad" or master musician — and the Kabul Ensemble.

Ecstatic Sufi performers dominate the concert, but the sound, the music, the "message" are all suffused with sincere expressions of love and longing, against a great heritage of tolerance.

Sound of the Soul ***½

Starring Sayed Temsamani Group, Malhoun, Fraja, Farida Mahwash, Kabul Ensemble

Directed by Stephen Olsson

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 18 minutes

Playing at The Roxie

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