Monday, July 30, 2012

A Road-trip with the Hamadcha Sufis - Part Three

No road-trip would be complete without at least one unexpected diversion. In our case there were two.
Prior to the first night's concert we stopped off for coffee and had a chance meeting with some truly interesting characters - painters, poets and writers. Among them was the charismatic Abdul Hamid Gharbowy who became an instant friend.

Abdul Hamid Gharbowy

Stumbling out for some fresh air the following morning we immediately bumped into Abdul Hamid Gharbowy who, in true Moroccan style, invited us to vist his home and gallery.

It was an unexpected treat as the paintings were wonderful - mainly acrylic, but some interesting collage work as well as calligraphic embellishments.  The style was fresh, modern, invigorating and certainly worth a second visit in the future.

Then, to our bleary-eyed astonishment, we were treated to a recitation of poetry from one of his many published works. A rare treat and it was no surprise to learn he had previously worked as an actor. A few years earlier, we commented, he would have made a fine Hamlet. Many of his stories are written for children, but one senses there is a great novel in him, awaiting the right moment to emerge - inshallah.

All the world's a stage....

The second diversion was one of a musical kind. Rumour had it that somewhere in the back streets of Casablanca was a small shop that stocked vinyl records - genuine old LPs and 45s. It took some finding, but eventually we found the amazing ...

This shop holds a treasure trove of recordings from the golden age of Egyptian music. Artists such as Umm Kulthum, Abd al-Halim Hafiz, Farid al-Atrash, etc., as well as some of the foundational Moroccan musicians from the mid-twentieth century, artists like Nass al-Ghiwane, Jil Jilala, Hamid al-Zahir, and many other folk, shaabi, Malhun, and Andalusian musicians. Most of the stock here has never been played!

The records are pristine, some with slightly faded covers or a bit of mold from siting untouched for thirty plus years. The beautiful dark hardwood displays give this place the feel of a museum, while accentuating the vivid and colourful artwork of these rare gems. The prices are extremely reasonable, however if you are a collector be warned it is easy to spend money here. We left with bags of records, and the proprietor? Smiling; set up for the rest of this Ramadan and possibly the next one as well.

MEANWHILE.... Back with the Hamadsha

After only five hours sleep during the 48 hour marathon, Chris Witulski reflects on a memorable and rewarding experience.

At the feet of a master musician - The View from Fez's Chris Witulski found the experience extremely valuable

When I look back at this time that we spent together, all of us, in Casablanca, I continue to dwell on the few memorable hours between the end of the first concert and the extraordinarily late Ramadan bedtime.

After we ate the "dinner" that followed the concert, the entire posse retired to the shared flat around the corner. In both large rooms, musicians took up residence on the long couches that wound around the space.

In the main meeting room, where Sandy, Phil, and I ended up sleeping hours later, two players began to sing old songs from Eastern Morocco and Algeria. These masters made each other tear up as they made their way through the long stories that comprise the lyrics of these tunes from their youth. Reclining listeners joined in for choruses and verses that they remembered and the younger members of the group watched intently, hoping to learn.

The ensemble was made up of a number of respected elders, but they were offset by promising young talents, including two women. More women are taking up music in Morocco, but they, just like other players of the coming generation, are attempting to balance their musical skills against the demands of their studies in vastly unrelated fields.

These opportunities, I can only hope, are as fulfilling for them as they are for us researchers. The evening saw a number of mini-lessons as the elder generation taught short improvisations and melodic fragments to the younger players, and within the concerts themselves, they conceded space for these growing instrumentalists to lead sections and take solos.

Sharqawi conducts the jam session

The most endearing part of the evening, for me, however, was after about half of the group had gone to sleep in the main room. As people were lying down, they struggled to sleep due to the raucous energy coming from the next room.

I wandered over to listen to all the singing. Faiçel, a phenomenal oud player, was leading the performance of hours and hours of Egyptian popular music, all but dragging the tiring vocalists deep into the night. Hakima, one of the group's featured performers, and Sara, a younger singer who shared the stage for a duet on the second night, were giggling together like mother and daughter as they belted out the love songs of Um Kulthoum and Abd al-Halim Hafez.

The instrumentalists in the room, mostly violinists and suissen players (a smaller instrument plucked with a pic like a guitar) were jumping in with the chorus parts, and the noise meant that, somewhere around 3:00am, we had to close the window in case someone, somewhere was actually trying to sleep. (The door, however, stayed open, despite poor Sandy, who had attempted unsuccessfully to go to bed hours earlier just a few feet away…)

Majdouline - an oud player with a great singing voice

When the songs lulled, a new leader would emerge, often from the younger players. Majdouline, a 22 year old oud player, began to belt a lesser-known song, which prompted everyone to quietly listen as she performed for her new peers.

Appreciative applause grew into yet another 20-minute composition and so on until Fajr, the call to pray that signaled the beginning of the next day's Ramadan fasting. I needed to try and sleep, but the music continued even as I drifted off in the next room.

Algerian, Moroccan and American musicians - a true fusion
A rare instrument, the suisson, is not easy to play - Mohamed Masbahi makes it look easy!

The beauty of this is not that Sandy, Phil, and I did good research, got some good photos, and collected stories. By spending days with this same group of Moroccan musicians and music lovers, we build relationships that will continue. Now, when I visit Meknes or Rabat, I have a slightly larger handful of people that I absolutely have to call and see.

Instead of asking questions, we sat and laughed together. Instead of working out details, we shared an art. Mustafa Khalili, the director of the festival and a small man who never ceased acting like a jolly and excited child surrounded by his closest friends, refused to let us walk out the door at the end of the second evening. We fought our way through, though, with a long series of promises to return in the future.

After the travelling, rehearsals and concert, the party went on until 5 am... the aftermath was predictable

The View from Fez team would like to thanks the Fez Hamadsha and Abd ar-Rahim Amrani, the artistic director of the festival and leader of the Hamadsha of Fes for inviting us to participate and to record all the events.

Abd ar-Rahim Amrani


Text: Chris Witulski, Phil Murphy & Sandy McCutcheon
Photographs: Sandy McCutcheon and Phil Murphy
Video: Phil Murphy


1 comment:

Fatima Zohra said...

Shukran! A wonderful series with great photographs.