A Walk Through the Medina

4 08 2008

By Derek Beres

While it did not surprise me to hear Hassan Hakmoun blasting from giant stereo cabinets suspended from metal chains inside Fes’ medina—the largest non-automobile city on the planet—I was a little more taken aback to hear Souad Massi. Not that it should be odd; Algeria is a stone’s throw from Morocco. It’s just that inside a city playing such upbeat music—plenty of Gnawa and Arabic tunes, as well as the occasional hip-hop and even Nine Inch Nails—the sensual strains of “Raoui [The Storyteller]” was a nice break, especially blasting from the rooftop café near Bab Bajloud where I sat many a night drinking mint tea and soaking up bread in the broth from the couscous.

While covering the Sacred World Music Festival for PopMatters (much more detailed coverage will be posted soon), I was expecting to be greeted by a musical culture. It is true; there were plenty of stores blaring various sounds, and my petit cab drivers played music that ranged from recitations of the Qu’ran and horrible Arab electronica to Pink Floyd and some form of disco that shouldn’t have been created in the first place. I found it odd that a number of them asked if I wanted to hear American music—that was the last thing I wanted to hear in a country as sonically rich as Morocco. Cross-cultural fascination works in both directions, however.

So while my assignment was to cover performances at festival venues, my real fascination was with uncovering local music that I couldn’t find anywhere near New York City. This task was accomplished, for the most part, although it proved more of a challenge than I expected. Being that I speak little French and no Arabic, communication was a problem. Fortunately, I found a great little record store just inside the medina that did not care if the plastic wrappers stayed on the CDs. They gladly unwrapped any album, playing it inside that bass-heavy cabinet that I smacked the back of my head into (twice) during my time there.

Read the full article on PopMatters.




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