these days of terror and evil what a treasure to find, three
full days of the best music Morocco and the world for that
matter, has to offer. All played by the finest musicians of
the genre in one of the most enchanting and relaxing towns
of Morocco. What is more unbelievable, it cost not a penny
for the privilege. Such is the reputation and importance of
this event; it attracts a bevy of high profile corporate sponsorships.
second experience of the Gnaoua Festival d’Essaouira was every
bit as exciting and rewarding as my first, last year. I, along
with about 100,000 ‘others’, we forgot about suicide bombers,
crusades, terrorism and the other horrors of our strange world
and joined in mutual understanding of a common language and
emotion, music from all parts of the world.
crowd may well have been Woodstockian in size, but we saw
no puffed up superstars. Rather, we witnessed a fine selection
of diverse craftsmanship. The humble musicians, and I had
the privilege of chatting to a few, were interested not in
recording contracts, videos or chart action. More the enjoyment
and excitement of exposing their music to the masses through
high quality P.A’s.
Full Pass, a wonderful piece of plastic around my neck allowed
unfettered views of the action on stage, witness to the silent
and meticulous preparation of costume and instrument backstage,
and fabulous views of the thousands of faces looking on as
the music weaved its way into the crowd.
They come every June to this idyllic corner
of southwest Morocco for three days of festivity. Mostly indigenous
youth, arriving by bus, car or motorbike. Many retreating
for a few hours to the beach to sleep after each nights performances,
then up again to play football on the flat sands in the morning.
those of us who are now more used to sleeping in beds and
eating in restaurants, Essaouira has a fine selection of both
that annually satisfies many of the most particular and discerning
travellers. We stayed in a wonderful hotel converted from
a merchant’s house with four floors of charming individual
rooms, a roof terrace to enjoy the sun and breakfast, and
a typical patio with rose petalled pool adding a dash of bright
red to the earthy coloured Moroccan furnishings. From these
surroundings we were in the heart of the action, yet able
to enjoy tranquity and rest if we wanted it..
food I enjoyed a fabulous tagine in my friend Hammed‘s small
cafe bar for a couple of Euros I had met and made friends
with Hammad on my previous visit. On another occasion I joined
my fellow concertgoers for a fine French Moroccan meal that
would have shamed many a hostelry in Paris. Again situated
in a converted merchants home complete with thick stone walls,
huge patio, and a large carved door that, when closed, hides
what’s within from the day to day bustle of a typical Moroccan
medina, albeit one that is on the World Heritage List as a
protected cultural site.
But what of the
music I hear you think. Well, the list would be very long
if I mentioned everyone. But I was particularly impressed
by the local muso's, one of my favorites, the Purple Dolphins,
whom I has seen last year, offered a fine percussive accompaniment
for the swooping seagulls around the Scala, an area of Portuguese
battlements and countless tiny carpentry workshops.
the larger venues, and there were five in total, the Scene
Place Moulay Hassan played host to several local ‘superstars’
like Maalem Baska and Allal Soudani both local artists playing
Gnaoua music, a form of rhythmic trance with origins from
this part of Morocco. Some performances offered interesting
fusions with artists from France, Argentina, Senegal, Mali,
India and the United States. A very rich offering indeed.
I heard jazz, samba, and Indian Bengali music, mixed in with
unmistakable North African percussive beat. The like of which
has inspired many of our own musicians like the Rolling Stones
and Led Zeppelin to explore and adapt for their millions of
eager fans in the west.
But this festival is all about
the enjoyment of life, where football crowd’s worth of young
people can mingle and enjoy without the slightest intent to
create a disturbance. Sure they shout and whistle and some
look a little intimidating in the dark, but the air was full
of love and all I saw were smiles and contentment.
As Westerners we were certainly in the minority, but on both
occasions I felt very much at home among new friends. As we
drove away to catch our Regional Air from Casablanca I felt
good…very good indeed and wondered to myself why there is
such animosity in our world, when there is so much to enjoy.
Words and Photos by Nicholas
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