Essaouira Jimi Hendrix famously visited Essaouira in 1969. That is not so unusual. A cool guy visits a cool place, is hardly news. The visit gave rise to a huge number of apocryphal stories, none of which were true…he started a commune with Cat Stevens, he wrote the song Castles Made of Sand inspired by the nostalgic beauty of the city, he jammed with local folk musicians, the fantastic recorded results of which have mysteriously never been found, he was hanging out there with counter culture guru Timoth Leary, he fathered many children while he was there and so on…the beautiful Moroccan port can certainly trigger the imagination. Twenty years earlier in 1949 it had fired the creative mind of Orson Welles who chose it as the location for his filming of Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’, with its haunting black and white shots of the old fishing harbour, a scene which has hardly changed today.
Essaouira is certainly an engaging, vibrant, beautiful and kind of timelessly hip place. A couple hundred kilometres drive west out of the manic intensity of Marrakesh, you arrive at a seriously relaxed small city on the coast, full of art, soft architecture, a lot of Portuguese influence there, a great blend of muted and bright colour, interesting people, both locals and adopted locals, artists, artisans, musicians. Terrace cafes where you can spy people smoking shisha, drinking mint tea and actually reading books.
Musically one of the most important places in Morocco, it is the home of Gnawa music, an entrancing mix of the stringed gimbri, the iron castanets in triplet time and the mesmerising singing, usually a series of chants in homage to local spirits. In recent years Gnawa has gone from being a slightly esoteric minority ritual music to a high profile kind of contemporary folk music. Festivals devoted to Gnawa have sprung up in Essaouira and in other towns all over the country. Essaouira is not just a museum however and it has a thriving urban culture, particularly in painting and music.
There was an unlikely collaboration between Forgotten Fish Memory Orchestra and some members of the local hip hop scene, as a result of a chance street encounter between the rap prodigy Saouiri Fugitive and orchestra members Mai Que and Makmed the Miller. After a spontaneous street session it was decided to record together, the all important vocal was recorded in the quiet of Saouiri Fugitive’s mothers house, him sitting on the a large bed in the main bedroom while Makmed held the microphone steady.