Music of Marrakesh: Immersing ourselves in the music of Morocco, jamming with local musicians and our fanboy-moments with Cheb Khaled
There is little doubt that the one thing we will take away with us from Morocco would be the richness of its music and the warmth of its people. Music is everywhere. And everyone appears to be musicians!
Pictured here are Kraqabs. The percussive sound that is the hallmark of Gnawa – the traditional folk music of Morocco.
When I tottered out of the 36 hour plane ride into Casablanca’s waiting arms, my pickup was Louaï l’Majdoub Hafa, a volunteer with the festival. No sooner than Aman and I had stepped into the van with our luggage he got the driver to put on some insanely awesome music – Chaabi (popular) music, he explained was what most people listened to, and was marked by staccato and syncopated hand-claps. Despite not having slept in 2 days, I felt the exuberance of the music of the land literally wash over me. That wasn’t all, the next CD to be popped into the deck was ‘Gnawa’ the traditional religious form of music that uses a three-string bass-guitar-ish lute called the Gimbri and the Kraqoub, twin hand-held percussion. That’s how my three hour drive from Casa to Marrakech was spent!
[Photo-1] We met the great Cheb Khaled who performed at the festival on Day 1. Unassuming and down-to-earth, he laughed with us when we told him about how we were huge fans of his, all the way from India! Pic: Tassi Osman Kenza
[Photo-2] These gentemen were part of the 30 piece orchestra that backed up the pro-acts in the festival. Seen here trying their hand at Pavan's Kanjiras. Pic: Pavan KJ
We were keen to jam with some street musicians, and had heard a lot about the square Jama el Fna where artists flock to every evening and we were not disappointed. There were no less than six or seven groups of musicians going at it, with a curious crowd, sometimes appreciative, sometimes indifferent, making an odd donation. When we approached one such group to join them they were really thrilled, and made us very welcome. They played their songs, we played ours, each of us adding our own flavour to the other’s songs. But the true high point came when one of their Banjo players broke into ‘Tujhe Dekha Toh Yeh Jaana’ with an impish grin! They made quite a killing that day, folks all around paid quite a bit for the Indian novelty item!
We spent a lot of time in the markets in the Medina, looking in at many music stores. Two of them stand out: Bob’s Music where Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are rumoured to have dropped in and the little known Hasan’s Tresor De L’Art Musical. That’s where we learned most about the instruments, the way they play it.
[Photo] The Oud is a common Moroccan string instrument. There were many of these in the orchestra at the Festival Awtar. Pic: Delna
This is where we also thank the beautiful people of Morocco, especially the ones who made our visit so memorable. I cannot remember the number of people (right from the time we made contact with the Festival organizers on Facebook) who told us, “You are very welcome here!” At the risk of missing out a few names, Kenza, Faty and Nadia: you ladies made everything lovelier than it already was. There was Louai and a bunch of his friends (whose names I cannot all recall, alas) who we owe thanks for all the help.
Finally, we didn’t realize it then, but there is a hugely positive musical vibe all over the country of Morocco. We are fortunate to have tasted it. And I hope we’ve managed to bring some of it back with us!
Text: Jishnu Dasgupta