I find Casablanca, Morocco’s commercial hub and biggest city, hard to like. It’s a big, grubby urban metropolis. However, if you look hard enough and lift your head above street level, it has Art Deco features to rival Miami or Berlin, Art Nouveau swirls reminiscent of Vienna or Glasgow and – of course – all with an Andalusian twist. I was asked by Virgin Australia Voyeur Magazine to summarise the charm of Art Deco Casablanca in an article about global Art Deco. Here is a screenshot of the piece. The article can be viewed on Magzter (registration required).
One of my favourite Arabic songs is the Algerian chaâbi classic, Ya Rayah, which was revived and brought to a new generation of North Africans, Europeans and Arabic speakers by the now almost mythical 1,2,3 Soleils concert of 1998. I heard the original by Dahmane el Harrachi (from the 1970s) on the radio in a taxi in Fez the other day and it prompted me to look into the song a little further. Continue reading →
The 20th Essaouira Gnaoua Festival gets underway on 29 June 2017. For an overview of this year’s format and programme, see my post here. I am not able to attend this year, but if I were, here are the acts that I would most look forward to seeing.
Thursday, midnight, beach stage – Ribab Fusion
This Agadir band played at my very first Gnaoua Festival in 2011 and really impressed me with their energy and ability to take traditional Moroccan instruments and make them rock! Since then, the band has gained significant international recognition and is set to begin a U.S. tour after the summer festival season. The ribab is a traditional Amazigh stringed instrument from the southwest of Morocco and is often played by a solo player/singer or in front of a group of musicians, singers and dancers. If you are in Essaouira for any length of time, you will see local Berber street musicians playing a version of ribab, but don’t miss Ribab Fusion as they bring the traditions right up to date on the beach stage. Continue reading →
The 2017 Essaouira Gnaoua Festival opens later this week and runs from 29 June to 1 July. As before, the event will open with an all-singing, all-dancing, multicoloured opening parade through the centre of the port city. The festival programme features Moroccan Gnaoua groups as well as world music artists from several continents.
All Moroccan summer festivals have experienced timing challenges since Ramadan has fallen in the summer months, reducing the number of weekends available for the organisation of festivals so that they don’t clash with either the Muslim holy month or each other. Following several years of deviation from the usual timing of the third weekend in June, the festival is almost back to its habitual calendar slot, albeit immediately after Ramadan, which may cause some practical issues in terms of preparation during the Eid public holidays. Nonetheless, the stages are already in place in Essaouira and this promises to be an exciting edition of the festival now in its 20th edition. Continue reading →
Opening Night of the Fes Sacred Music Festival 2017
The Fez Sacred Music Festival 2017 has come to a close. this year we were treated to a number of fabulous fusion collaborations. My three favourite acts of this year’s festival were Aziz Sahmaoui’s Cuban Project, the Songhai collaboration and Violons Barbares. I had expected the former two to be in my top three as the kora, Cuban music and Gnaoua culture are big interests of mine. However, the Barbaric Violins were a surprise hit for me. I loved their energy, their creativity and their musical entrepreneurship.
Read my contributions to the coverage of The View From Fez of the Fez Sacred Music Festival 2017 on my writing portfolio page.
Thanks to my work on multicultural diversity and built heritage with the High Atlas Foundation, I was selected as a participant in a documentary about Christians, Jews, Muslims in Essaouira, city of peaceful cohabitation. The documentary (in French and Arabic) follows 3 Essaouira residents in their daily lives, each of a different cultural/religious heritage, representing the three main groups which historically and still today cohabit peacefully in the town. The documentary was shown on Al Jazeera in February 2017.
It’s taken a while, but my e-guide to Essaouira, The Best of Essaouira is now updated for 2016. Unlike the usual pace of life, things have been changing fast in this sleepy seaside town, with many businesses closing or changing, so this 2nd edition represents a substantial revision. Available on the maroc-o-phile website and on Amazon for Kindle, The Best of Essaouira helps you make the most of your stay.
The Best of Essaouira gives you the lowdown – three choices in each category of the best places to eat, sleep, shop, watch the sunset and grab an elusive beer. Likewise, three ways to meet locals, to give back to the community and to get out into the countryside. And much more: The Best of Essaouira contains over 75 top tips in a concise, downloadable e-book. It takes no extra space in your luggage and it’s all you’ll need. All for only £3.49. 20% of proceeds go to support kids’ education in Essaouira.
Find out more on the dedicated page – and let me know what you think – both of the website and the book.
COP22 in Marrakech starts on Tuesday! In a previous life, I was a climate change negotiator; I represented the EU at the regular UN climate change meetings under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The 22nd UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP) will take place in Marrakech from 7-18 November 2016. I remember my work at COPs 12 (Nairobi), 13 (Bali) and 14 (Poznan) fondly. COPs are hard work. Negotiations frequently go on all night and they feel like a battle of attrition. Agreements are made by consensus, so all Parties need to be won round before progress can be made. As much work is done in side meetings and at side events as in the formal meetings and plenary and negotiators frequently have to be in several places at once. All of this means the camaraderie between colleagues from across the world is incredible. And all that stress means there ain’t no party like a Conference of the Parties. So, this post is dedicated to all my friend and colleagues in the UNFCCC process. They have made some incredible progress, seemingly against the odds. Here is COP22 in Marrakech – the lowdown for negotiators. Continue reading →
Essaouira naive art is known world-wide. The colourful style is reminiscent of aboriginal and outsider art from other cultures in Africa and on other continents. The Swiri artists are self-taught and many are principally employed in agriculture and fishing.
As I wrote in the Fodor’s Guide to Morocco, “The work of the naïve Souiri artists is frequently exhibited locally, and you can track down artists such as Abdelaziz Baki, Ali Maimoune, and Asmah Ennaji at their workshops in the joutiya, Essaouira’s flea market in the industrial quarter to the north of the medina. Here, their colorful work is displayed in two and three dimensions, often incorporating found objects or up-cycled items from the nearby market.”
This summer, Swiris and visitors will have a unique opportunity to see two exhibitions by local artist, Ben Ali (Abdelghani Didouh). The exhibitions are being held to raise funds for Essaouira-based charity Project 91, to establish a fund for the widows of fishermen lost at sea. Continue reading →
Avid followers of this blog will know that my Swiri husband and I now have a baby and I am currently in Essaouira with him (baby not hubby) for the second time. I don’t plan to get into mummy blogging, but I thought some parents might find it useful if I shared my top tips for travelling with baby in Essaouira. Moroccans love kids and your baby will be hugged, kissed and generally entertained everywhere you go. However, there are very few family friendly facilities. Some canny packing will help you make your trip with your previous little one as trouble-free as possible. Continue reading →