Saturday, February 22, 2020

Tangier: From the Romans to the Rolling Stones - review

A new book by Richard Hamilton tells the story of Tangier though the stories of its best known residents - historical figures; writers; artists and musicians 

Some cities have names that evoke much more than the sum of their everyday realities. Mention "Casablanca", and those unfamiliar with Morocco will wax lyrical about the Humphrey Bogart movie. Say "Tangier" and response is likely to be the Beat Poets, Paul Bowles and William Burroughs - all foreigners who produced some of their best work there.

Yet, Tangier is much culturally richer than this, as can be discovered through the pages of Richard Hamilton's latest book, Tangier: From the Romans to the Rolling Stones.

"Much of Tangier's history is a chronology of foreigners and exiles." Hamilton writes.

"Nearly 3,000 years ago the Phoenicians set up trading colonies on the coast and ever since, the local inhabitants have, much to their bemusement seen waves of successive civilizations come and go, imposing their lifestyles upon them. Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Portuguese, British, Spanish and French have all occupied the region in their time."

Tangier: From the Romans to the Rolling Stones is impeccably researched, erudite, and with flashes of humour. Hamilton weaves the history of the city and its antecedents into a complex carpet; managing to capture the atmosphere of faded glory; of a history little regarded by the present day occupants.

He quotes Moroccan novelist, Lofti Akalay, "Tangier is a town where people talk of elsewhere. There is a local saying: Tangerines have one eye on the sea, one ear on the news, and one buttock on the rocks."

"We are separated from Europe by 14 kilometres and as many centuries."

The chapters of the book are replete with entertaining stories about the likes of the Roman god Hercules, Roman statesman and general Quintus Sertorius, independant ruler of Spain and the defacto governor of Tangier; Arab explorer Ibn Battuta; diarist Samuel Pepys; journalist and fabulist Walter Harris; artist Henri Matisse; writers Paul Bowles and William Burroughs; poet and painter Brion Gysin; painter Francis Bacon; playwright Joe Orton; writer Mohamed Mrabet and musician Brian Jones.

However, that isn't where the cast of characters ends. Renowned names who have also played a part in Tangier's history also get a look in - among them,  Samuel Beckett; Barbara Hutton; WH Auden and Rita Hayworth.

Despite brief sojourns by female authors such as Edith Wharton and Patricia Highsmith, and a longer one by Jane Bowles, the major writers and artists associated with Tangier are overwhelmingly male, and Hamilton's book reflects this.

Pepys's take on seventeenth century Tangier was far from flattering: "Nothing but vice in the whole place of all sorts for swearing, cursing, drinking and whoring," he wrote.

Matisse's visit in 1912 was in another dimension entirely. On a journey to Tetouan, he wrote, "We rode in among this sea of flowers as if no human being had ever set foot there before."

For Paul Bowles, who first travelled to Tangier in 1931 the city became synonymous with his work. "Back in New York, Bowles achieved success as a composer, but pined for Tangier. 'I tried to drown my melancholy in my work,' he said, 'but I was obsessed by memories of the air and light in North Africa.' He moved there in 1947, and went on to develop his skills as a writer, and create his most famous works such as The Sheltering Sky and The Spider's House. He also made extensive recordings of traditional Moroccan music for posterity.

Richard Hamilton is a professional broadcast journalist who has worked for the BBC World Service. He has spent time reporting from Morocco, South Africa and Madagascar. While in Morocco he co-authored the Time Out Guide to Marrakech and has written throughout his career for various newspapers and magazines.

That Hamilton has a huge affection and deep fascination for Morocco is clearly evident. The country has a long history of storytelling, as he recounted in his earlier book, The Last Storytellers: Tales from the Heart of Morocco. That was a collection of stories, as told by five storytellers from Marrakech's famous square - the Jemaa el Fna. "...Marrakech's marketplace, sacred space, cultural crucible, melting pot and meeting point for centuries." His book on Tangier, too, is composed of a series of stories, of lives which intersect through space but not time, to give an impressionistic portrait of the city.

"Tangier seems to be suspended in unreality," he writes. "It escapes definition and defies categorization...Tangier has been hailed as a paradigm for international cooperation and a cradle of creativity, but it is also a kind of museum of failure, a graveyard of ambition."

"Maybe the city that has survived waves of invasions by Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Portuguese, British, Spanish and French can now endure a new wave of development?" he asks.

Of the economic impact of the port of Tangier Med; of the proposed Chinese funded technopolis, of empty houses inhabited by a multitude of squatters waiting for their chance to jump on a boat to Europe, undercover of darkness, there is little sign in this book.

Tangier: From the Romans to the Rolling Stones is an unashamedly nostalgic look at the inspiration, and occasional despair of which the city has long been a source.

"Perhaps in the end Tangier is us," Hamilton writes. "It reflects humanity itself."

Review by Suzanna Clarke

Tangier: From the Romans to the Rolling Stones by Richard Hamilton is published by Tauris Parke 2019. 

In Fez, Morocco, it is available from the ALC-ALIF Bookstore, CLICK HERE. 


Saturday, February 08, 2020

Jazz Fusion Concert in Fez

Barakah in Fez: Jazz Fusion Concert.  Monday, Feb. 10 at 7 PM.  ALIF Riad, 6 Derb Drissi, Batha, Fez Medina

Barakah is a Vienna-based band with emphasis on fusion music. Through the fascination with free improvisation, rhythmical richness, world music and the exploration of new sounds, the Egyptian drummer Sherif Abdalla and the Austrian saxophonist Anton Prettler founded the band ''Barakah'' in summer of 2017.

Soon afterwards, the band expanded to five musicians. The pianist Paulo Correa from Paraguay, the bassist Markus Dutka from Austria and German violinist Constanze Friedel joined them and added their own ideas of music to the band.

Together they explore, experiment and try to exceed their own creativity. With absolute artistic freedom the band Barakah, or ''blessing'' in Arabic, strives to live out its meaning and create its own distinct style of music.

Anton Prettler - Sax
Martin Demmer - Guitar
Xiaotong Tong - Trumpet
Paulo Correa - Keys
Markus Dutka - Bass
Sherif Abdalla - Drums

Here’s an example of their brilliant work: Click here

This concert is free and open to the general public.


Thursday, January 30, 2020

Fine Art Photography Workshop with Nicol Vizioli

Fine Art Photography Workshop with Nicol Vizioli, Sunday, February 2 at 3:30 PM,  ALIF Riad, 6 Derb Drissi, Batha, Fes Medina.

Nicol Vizioli is an Italian artist whose practice is mainly based on photography. Coming from a fine art background her work draws upon many different influences: the natural and animal world, mythology, literature and finally painting. Her photographic work is the convergence point, a visual realization of these imaginary worlds. With the same principles, Nicol is also exploring different media, and she is currently working on her second film project. After a degree in Cinema she moved to London, where she received an MA in Photography at the University of the Arts, London.

Her work has been exhibited in international art fairs such as Scope Basel, Miami, Somerset House, the Zabludowicz Collection, The XV Biennale de la Mediterranée, Milan, London and many others.

This workshop, organized by the ALC-ALIF Photography Club, is free and open to the general public.


Friday, January 03, 2020

International Artists Gathering of Fez, 9-12 January 2020

“Creative Economy” at “the Fez Gathering”, the 5th Annual International Artists Gathering of Fez, 9-12 January 2020

The fifth Annual International Artists Gathering of Fez, Morocco is celebrating the theme “Creative Economy.” The Fez Gathering is a dynamic, Fez-based event consisting of
exhibitions, panels, demonstrations, and workshops, which brings together artists from Morocco and the international community. It supports the artistic community of Fez by providing a space to exhibit their work to international artists, academics and guests.

During its fifth edition in January 2020, the Fez Gathering will focus on the powerful role of arts and culture in the creative economy, as well as analyze and reflect upon how the arts contribute to sustainable human development, particularly within an ancient city with a modern role. Presentations and panels will explore how creative industries are a vehicle for economic development in Morocco and Africa. The Fez Gathering will explore the role of art in society, and how it can be used as a tool to impact social economics. It will offer a global platform for participants to discuss and explore the role of art in the modern world.

Artists joining us this year include Gathering regular Hamza El Fasiki, an artisan and entrepreneur from Fez; Makhanatet Koné, a fashion designer from the Ivory Coast; Lamiae Skalli, a silversmith and entrepreneur from Fez; and Niccy Pallant, an artist from Australia. Ali Gharib, curator from Germany, Ewa Potocka, a visual artist from Poland.

Omar Chennafi, a Moroccan artist and photographer who is a native of Fez, established the Fez Gathering in 2015. The goal of each Gathering is to encourage dialogue and engagement with the arts.

In the spirit of the festival, admission is free and open to the public. After the event, participants are invited to get involved and share their feedback. The four-day festival will be documented and shared on social media. Coverage will include interviews with artists and participants.

The International Artists Gathering of Fez is supported by The American Language Center of Fez, The Goethe Institute in Rabat, Cafe Clock, The Fez Medina Project, Palais Amani and The View From Fez.

For more information, a full schedule of the Fez International Gathering of Artists, or for press inquiries, contact the Fez Gathering Press/Media Coordinator at

Visit online at and on Twitter @FezGathering.


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Gnawa Music Concert in Fez

Gnawa Music Concert Thursday, December 12, at 7 PM - ALIF Riad 6 Derb Drissi, Fez, Batha

This is a great opportunity to experience this famous Moroccan African folk music with a talented group of local musicians.

The concert is free and open to the general public and refreshments will be served!


Friday, November 29, 2019

Fez - Spiritual Festival Featuring Mystical Art of Aissawa

The spiritual heart of Morocco, Fez, is inviting locals and tourists to attend the first annual National Festival of Heritage and Aissaoui Art from December 5 to 7.

The festival seeks to take attendees of all nationalities and religions on a mystical journey into the world and rhythms of Aissawa, a type of Moroccan spiritual music.

The art, commonly rooted in the ancient cities of Morocco, especially in Fez, Meknes, and Sale, is known as Aissaoua, Issawa, or Aissawa.

The upcoming festival is set to feature a lineup of Aissawa bands from across Morocco, including the Fassi (meaning from Fez) Issaoui Community. 

The grand complex of the Fez Commune in the Ville Nouvelle will serve as a stage for the event.

The festival will take place in collaboration with several passionate associations involved in the art of Aissawa, including Fez Association of Issawa, Isawi Association of Folklore, and the Association of Authentic Art of Issawa.

Imad Oudghiri, the leader of the Fassi Issaoui 

Imad Oudghiri, the leader of the Fassi Issaoui Community, told Morocco World News that with the festival, the three associations seek to revive the pure “Aissawa art, without adding any grainy” material.

He said that there are several other festivals that feature the art in Casablanca, Rabat, and Meknes, but they have not succeeded in preserving the authentic Aissawa style.

Oudghirir also emphasized the importance of “the participation of the former well-known ‘mqadmins’ [leaders of Aissawi bands] to pay tribute and homage” to the people who contribute to keeping that kind of art alive."

Oudghiri added that if this year’s event goes well, the city of Fez will host a second festival a year later.

Whatever the level of your dancing skills, Aissawa’s rhythms stir you into movement and can even make the most reluctant dancer bust a move.

Aissawa is one of the most eminent Sufi brotherhoods in Morocco. The mystical art emerged during the 16th century with the prominent Sufi master Mohamed El Hadi Ben Aissa, otherwise known as Sheikh al-Kamel, in Meknes.

The music relies on spiritual lyrics to glorify God and the perfection of the prophet of Islam, Muhammad.

A lack of primary sources makes it difficult to learn more about al-Kamel’s “tariqa,” or the Issawi approach to Islam. However, international media interested in Morocco’s heritage represent al-Kamel as a Sufi master and a “great and wise scholar who influenced entire generations.”

Born in 1467, the scholar’s influence travelled beyond Morocco’s border to reach other countries in the Maghreb, as well as Egypt.

The scholar reportedly studied at Morocco’s renowned university of Al Qaraouiyine in Fez.

In addition to the music and the spiritual atmosphere Issawa creates, the rhythms would be incomplete without the traditional appearances that perfect the experience.

Traditionally, members of an Issawi band wear white jellabas, representing purity and spirituality. Some of them, however, wear colorful jellabas with red and white stripes.

Instruments are also important to complete the rhythms. Drums and horns are some of the most important instruments used during the religious chants.

While Aissawa are common in festivals and ceremonies, many families host an evening or “lila” of Aissawa without a particular event in mind.

The host of the event usually makes it public, with neighbors and even strangers invited to take part in the religious feast.

The host family traditionally serves mint tea and Moroccan cookies to welcome guests.