Speciality music shops come and go so it is a relief to confirm that Disques Gam, one of the top five vinyl shops in the world, is still up and running in Casablanca. Our man on the spot, John Horniblow, went in search of a rare copy of Goats Head Soup...
Located an a corner of Blvd de Paris, a busy cross town transit street, is the unique Disques Gam. Like so much of Casablanca’s inner city, it is an illusive reminder of Casablanca’s former prestige and grandeur as France’s pearl of the orient; present, faded and obscured by the layers of grey grit. In fact if you were walking along street you’d be most likely walk past it and miss it if weren’t looking for it. Its part of the older and intriguing side of Casablanca, where what’s secreted away and hidden from the street view is often it’s most interesting, mysterious and magical.
Stepping off the street and into a dimly lit interior you enter an extravaganza of music records, vinyl records. Larger than life portrait paintings Egyptian singing legends Umm Kulthum and Abdel Halim Hafez gaze over the shop from the back corner facing the street. This is no ordinary records shop its like an epicentre for western music greats and their Arab and Moroccan counterparts.
Original promotional posters for Fab Four records jostle for recognition in the clutter of an eclectic display of albums covers of many of the most recognisable names and records in rock and roll history, strung from the ceiling like mobiles, and across all the wallspace, facings and shelves. Ancient reel to reels; Akai GX400 D and TEAC machines rest on glass counter tops of the display cabinets bursting with records and deep stacks of vinyl in wall bins. For record and music aficionados Disques Gam is instantly apparent as collection of some of the most influential and lauded music artists and bands of the pre-digital golden age of rock and roll, funk, disco, jazz, blues, Arabic, Moroccan and French music. An almost perfectly preserved audio library or an unassuming homage to the era of the radio days of the phonogram.
I am the only person in shop but my presence barely raises the attention of the shops proprietor, the 70 year old Mn. Gam Boujemaa, who sits in his office at the back. He looks up through an open window, notices me and turns back to his interest. “There’s no hard sell here”, I think to myself as I begin to take in the enormity and depth of this collection. I am deeply impressed. 45’s of Bollywood films of the 1970’s, African stars like Fela Kuti, Italian pop singers Mina and Lucio Battisti, all the French crooners, Donna Summer, Henry Belfonte, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Isaac Hayes, The Rolling Stones, George Benson, Stevie Wonder, Lynyard Skynyrd, Fatts Domino, Bob Marley, Toots Maytal, James Brown, Steve Miller, Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton, The Doors, Santana, Frank Zappa, The Temptations, Elvis Presley, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, and Michael Jackson et al.
|Music from A to Z - Allman Brothers to Frank Zappa|
“Can I take some photos?” I call up to Mn. Gam. He waves his left arm in my general direction and calls back “yes”. I size and take a number of shots, letting my eyes wander for some time and before thumbing through some of the bins.
There are lots of records and artists I don’t recognize or know from the Arab world and Mn Gam has now come downstairs. “What do you want? I said you could take photos but you have been here for ten minutes.”
“I have read about your shop and I wanted to take a look.”
“Ah yes, some foreigners like my shop but not many. Where are you from? “
“I am Beidawi, I live here in Casablanca”, my usual line to break the ice that sometimes solicits a laugh or smile.
|nas el ghiwane - on vinyl !|
Mn Gam warms up when I ask him about the portraits on the wall and he begins to describe Egypt's very best artists Umm Kulthum, and Abdel Halim Hafez, then other Mohammed Abdel Wahab and Sayed Darwish before adding Morocco’s recording stars.
There are between 30,000 to 40,000 albums in Mn. Gam’s shop. The racks are stacked deep with 45rpm singles, 33rpm albums in their cardboard slips some faded and dusty without plastic sleeves but with most of the vinyl in mint condition with little signs of mould or dust. There’s an area of 5,000 singles of the best French singers and bands of the 60’s 70’s and early 80’s. Conspicuously there are no CD’s but rather remnants of what Mn. Gam laments sourly as investment of 20,000,000 Moroccan francs (200,000 MAD), a wall of pre-recorded cassettes.
Just like his fading emporium Mn. Gam was once at the centre of the Moroccan rock and roll scene setup his own record label, Disques Gam in 1970. Recording and distributing successful and popular Moroccan bands Nas El Ghiwane and Jil Jilala (“The Rolling Stones of Africa”), Abdou El Omari, Naimah Samih ( the “Moroccan Edith Piaf “) and Mohamed Bajaddoub. All names that were the pioneering generation of Moroccan musicians who tried to move the Moroccan song into the realm of contemporary music while keeping their original rhythms and roots.
|Jil Jilala -“Laayoun Aïnya,”|
Jil Jilala, whose namesake is a Sufi Muslim brotherhood, released their most important record, “Laayoun Aïnya,” in 1976 coinciding with a government backed march of Moroccans toward the Spanish territory of the Western Sahara. The jacket is conspicuously green with red figures of some of the 350,000 Moroccans who took part in the “Green March” in an affirmation Moroccan independence and sovereignty. The time was post-colonial Morocco and Casablanca was enjoying its cosmopolitan Atlantic orientation taking on new influences from Europe and across the Atlantic. Mn. Gam’s business was booming with now a long departed clientele of French expats and middle class Jews who once lived in the surrounding quartiers, eager to discover and buy the charting music of the day. These are part of the rich and buried history which he recalls as he fondly describes Disques Gam, an “Ali Baba’s cave of musical treasures”.
He reaches under the counter for an old photograph of a dapper young man in white suit posing in front of stack of turntables in cartons, and a rack of Arab pop records, “ what do you think? Harry Belfonte?” he remarks with a smile on his face as he reflects momentarily. “These are just memories and dreams of better days” he recounts with a melancholy sigh. The smile then slips from his face and Mn. Gam laments sadly, “Moroccans don’t like to pay for music. What can I do? I am told I am in the top five records stores in the world with collections like mine.”
There are no other customers in the shop, no music aficionados thumbing through the crates and stacks of what is a brilliant collectors archive, a celebration of the lost art of album covers and vinyl records; Casablanca is clearly not a centre in resurgence of people seeking the pressed vibes in vinyl that other cities are enjoying around the world today.
Mn. Gam then guffly shakes me up from my thoughts and comments on what a great collection of records he has as he cuts to the business, “What have I got to gain from talking to you? What are you a journalist? Don’t you have money to buy a record?”. Its close to lunch time and he has the door keys in his hand. It obvious he wants to close up.
“What’s on the menu Tagine or Goats Head Soup?” I ponder silently with a smile. The first thing that had caught my eye when I had stepped into the store was unmistakable un-named yellow record sleeve. A print of youthful Mike Jagger’s head, obscure and almost ghost like, wrapped and stretched upwards from his chin in cellophane or possibly nylon or light muslin cloth; fighting for space on the bottom shelf of the glass counter display cabinet amongst Pink Floyd, Bob Marley, and The Beatles and others. Forget lunch! I want the yellow album, one of The Rolling Stones great records before they slipped into the decadence of rock star excess. “Can I get a Goats Head Soup?” I asked pointing to album in the cabinet, “how much do you want for it?”, and pulled out my wallet. Mn. Gam named a good but reasonable price and as he rummaged for a plastic carry bag I had that knowing feel that I’d be back for more.
|Gotcha! - Goats Head Soup - a rare find|
(The only other time I have had a taste of the sounds of 1970’s rock’n’roll in Morocco was an encounter with David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane, nonchalantly spinning on a turntable in the junk souk of Hay Hassani … but that’s another story.)
Jil Jilala – Laayoun Ayniya video
Disques Gam, 99 Blvd de Paris. Casablanca
Photos and story: John Horniblow, for The View from Fez