Friday, November 12, 2010

Essaouira and the Jimi Hendrix myths

From time to time The View from Fez receives emails from people wanting to know which riad Jimi Hendrix stayed in in Essaouira. So our intrepid rock fan, Ibn Warraq investigates.

The other day I came across "The Hip Guide to Morocco" and discovered the following quote:

The claim to fame of Essaouira is as a hippy hang-out dating back to the sixties, when Jimi Hendrix lived here on-and-off for a few years. He also owned a hotel in town, an attractive old palace with traditional Arabic architecture. It has been restored recently, and is open to the public with guest rooms and a restaurant.

Hendrix lived here "on and off for a few years"? I was astounded! The way myths have grown and spread like a malignant virus! Yet, it is understandable why. Talk to locals in Essaouira and almost everyone will launch into their favourite Jimi Hendrix story. If they are to believed, then Jimi spread himself about. He stayed in this riad, he stayed in that riad, he composed Castles Made of Sand in this place, or that. Sadly, most of this is untrue.

The cottage industry sparked by Hendrix is no doubt good for Essaouira, and you could ask, "why let the truth get in the way of a good story?" The problem is that even people who should know better have perpetuated this myth. We even discovered it on liner notes for the CD Morocco: Crossroads of Time released by Ellipsis Arts, U.S.A., 1995 But, for the record, Hendrix only made one visit to Morocco. Those who insist he visited several times are just wrong. The trip, in July of 1969 was his only visit so, a quick check of the release date of his album Axis: Bold as Love will show you, it was out a year and a half before Hendrix was in Morocco. So we can strike down the notion that Castles Made of Sand was Morocco inspired.

Other local stories have Hendrix sleeping in a tent or camper van. Nice try, but again dead wrong! In fact, far from slumming, the first thing he did on arriving in Casablanca, was to hire a car and driver. Another widespread myth is that Hendrix tried to buy land in Morocco. One story says it was the the small Berber village of Diabet, yet another claims he tried to purchase the beautiful Ilse de Mogador! Mind you, given the extraordnary views from the island, it is possible the idea flitted through his head. As far as Diabet's claim to fame. Hendrix never even visited the village.

Other, even more far out claims include Hendrix fathering children in Morocco, trying to adopt a Moroccan boy, and recording songs on tape while in the country. All of these are nonsense. For the record, Hendrix was accompanied by then girlfriend, Collette Mimram. He did not even take a guitar with him as it was a holiday.

Despite the lack of evidence for any of these myths, television travel shows, guide books and other publications have continued to trot them out time and again. Despite what the owners may claim, Hendrix did not frequent Restaurant du Port/Chez Sam. It did not even exist back in 1969! But this has not stopped the owners hanging a photo of Hendrix with the inscription "A MON AMI SAM, 63". Confused? Yes, I am too. What sort of purple haze must Hendrix have been in to get the date of his visit wrong by 6 years?

Hendrix photo at Sam's

Of course, for local riad owners, it is all good business. Talk to the folks at Riad al Madina, and they will swear Hendrix and a host of other notable musicians stayed there. Back in 1969 Riad al Madina was called Hotel du Pacha. Again, for the record, Hendrix did not stay there. He stayed at Des Iles Hotel. Oh and he did not share a room with Timothy Leary - Leary did visit Morocco, but not at that time.

The facts show that Hendrix stayed for around a week in Morocco of which a few days were in Essaouira. Despite some comments by biographers, those with Hendrix at the time said he absolutely loved Morocco.

PS. I DID stay in Essaouira. Now I'll just wait for MY legend to grow.


Anonymous said...

What legend? Did you ever composed "purple haze" or something remotely similar?
How about "little wing"? Feel like doing something like that?
I think it's going to be a LONG LONG LONG time before anybody ever remembers you have been anywhere on this planet!!

True Hendrix Fan said...

Ibn! You ARE a legend! Great story. We have been to 'souira and heard all that crap. Rock on brother !

Debbie does Essaouira said...

Ha ha! Wrong! I remember him already! Cool story, thanks

Erin said...

That's really funny, I stayed at the Riad Al Madina and the owner made a note of the fact telling me that I had 'Jimmy's room' - and then I heard her telling someone else that they had it! Despite the little white lies, the Al Madina is probably one of the best places I've ever stayed, all the staff were great, the breakfast was delicious and it's right in the middle of everything - perfick!