U2.Com have been in Morocco with Brian Eno, Danny Lanois and U2. During June we're bringing you the inside track on the Fez songwriting sessions.
In Part 1 Larry explained that 'Sometimes you just have to get away in order to write the songs.'
In our second Fez story, the band check out one of the headline acts at the Festival of Sacred Music and Brian Eno muses on why Arabic music is so distinctive. (Apparently its 'teleological.' )
'The Moroccan policeman is apopletic. Outside the house in the centre of Fez, where U2 are songwriting with Danny Lanois and Brian Eno, the driver of the van who taking us to see legendary Iranian vocalist Parissa perform, is receiving a serious ear-bashing from the local constabulary.
Judging by the disinterest of people making their way to the nearby market, this is an unremarkable episode even though the debating point seems to focus on the convoy of cars which has recently passed by carrying Queen Rania of Jordan - in Fez as a guest of the King of Morocco, and on her way to the same gig. With a peaceful resolution unlikely in the immediate future, most of U2 and a small band of companions reluctantly abandon the van and head off on foot through the medieval streets to find Parissa.
Twenty minutes later and we're seated with 2,000 others inside a beautiful walled garden, as Parissa and the five-piece Dastan Ensemble, begin their set on a low stage under the shade of two huge trees. Turns out the Ensemble are the most famous classical Iranian group in the world and they deliver a virtuoso performance on the kind of percussion and string instruments rarely played in the West. Parissa herself is a mesmerising Arabic soul singer, totally lost in the music, hands raised heavenward in mystic praise even though no-one has a clue what she's singing about.
'Teleological' is the word Brian Eno later uses to describe this Arabic musical tradition. It has little in common with the 'verse, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge...' construction of western rock'n'roll heritage. For a start they're not big on the idea of the hit single - the first track alone lasts forty five minutes.
'Can you believe this?' asks Bono, as the audience rises as one to salute them at the end of their two-song, 70-minute set. 'Isn't that something else ?'
As Bono talks infectiously about the historical overlaps between Arabic music and Irish music, about 'copts and celts' and how he has come to Fez to experience the Sufi singing and storytelling tradition, Edge is amazed at the sheer musical dexterity of the players. Savouring music like this is one of the reasons the band chose this city to write music in, home as it is to the annual Festival of World Sacred Music. It's a perfect setting to sample some indigenous North African music.
'The Festival of Sacred Music was a big lure for us and for Brian who has been very interested in Arabic music for years,' he says. 'We felt we might meet some interesting musicians while here - and we certainly have.'
Eventually managing to negotiate a way through the crowds who are thronging for a picture with Queen Rania, an hour later it's early evening back in the riad and work is starting on another song.
'Briefly,' says Eno, explaining the peculiar distinction of the Arabic musical tradition, 'You could say that African-based music is generally cyclic - ideas that go round and round in a fairly straightforward way - but Arabic music generally isn't cyclic. It's generally a sort of narrative in that it starts in one place and ends up in another place... the proper word is 'teleological.'
Towards a finish?
'Yes, it has a definite trajectory and a narrative to it and it doesn't repeat in the same way that most African-based pop music does. So in a typical pop song you will have 'A B A B A B C A B B' or something like that but in Arabic music you might have 'A B C F B G F' or something like that.
'Basically it just goes off and what we've been doing here these past few days is enjoying things like that more and more, moving away from the simply cyclic way of writing things.'
So you're trying to create a different sensibility in the songwriting here? Well, he says, put it like this: 'Whenever there was an aesthetic decision to be made we've asked, 'How would it be solved in Arabic music?' So that gives us another frame to think in - it doesn't mean we always do what an Arabic player might have done but it gives us a different frame of reference.'
In fact, he says, just coming to Morocco, after earlier periods writing in Ireland and France, has changed their approach to songwriting. 'I've had this thing about Arabic music for ages, thinking that it's where the next big future in fusion will come from - I've been saying that for about thirty years and finally I think it is coming true.
'There are things I like a lot about Arabic music which are different to what we do in western music and so we have started trying to incorporate some of those elements. It is not a question of sounds so much but of different structural decisions about how things are made.'
As Larry gets set at his kit and Adam writes out some chords, Edge begins tuning a mandolin which is the signal for Eno to get back to his MacBook and keyboard and his own place in the songwriting circle. So, if pushed, how far along the way does he feel they have got so far ?
'There'll be some differences of opinion about which things will constitute a record,' he says. 'But we have a lot of pieces. My general rule is that I'm only interested in things I have never heard anything like before - and we've got plenty of those!'
For the next four hours, except for a short break for supper, the house reverberates to the sound of six musicians working on two more songs. It is detailed, repetitive, laborious work, each take followed by discussion on where it isn't working or how it could change - and then by another take.
'They say it's like sausage making,' laughs Bono, looking up from his battered copy of Minds At War, an anthology of First World War poetry. 'If you saw what went into it you would never want to try it at the end!'
But these people have been here before - there are very few distractions in Fez and so the music takes all the attention. And by the end of the night, one of the songs is sounding like it's going to go the distance. Eno seems to agree. As another take begins he starts jogging with unconcealed glee at his desk, does a quick pirhouette and plays the first note on his keyboard... behind his back.
More from Fez coming up.