Wednesday, 1 July 2009


Ishar and Abd Halim avec moi on the balcony of Restaurant Bab Laachour (which faces onto one of the venues - Moulay Hassan) on the Sunday evening, watching the final set - Hassan Boussou and Sewarye.
It was the kind of music you just had to dance to, which most of us on the balcony were doing when we weren't taking photos of each other. One of the great things about the festival is that total strangers are united by music.

Anyway, guys, I promised you that you'd be the first photos on this post and so here you are.

You'll also be popping up further down the post so keep reading.

Well, it's difficult to know where to start with the 2009 festival because for me, this year, the main event was nothing to do with the music, although I will, of course, be writing about that, because it was pretty bloody amazing, as usual. However, the thing that just blew me away and which I still can hardly believe is all to do with THE WIRE.


If you're new to my blog, then you need to know that I can't praise the American Drama Series THE WIRE highly enough. It's by far the best TV drama series I've ever seen. I have the box sets for all five seasons, watched them all once, and in the case of Season 4, twice, and intend to watch them all again soon.

Bob Wisdom

So, keep that in mind,(and if you're a regular reader of my blog, then you'll know just how special this is to me) when I tell you that I met and talked to the actor Bob Wisdom who played Bunny in THE WIRE.

If you're a devotee of THE WIRE, like me, then you'll know that Bunny was the police boss who, in Season 3, unofficially organised a drug buy/sell area in Baltimore where the police just let them get on with it, in an attempt (which was successful while it lasted) in keeping the lid on drug gang warfare.

And in Season 4, he was involved in trying to help the most disaffected students at High School. As was the way of things in Baltimore, the money ran out and the trial scheme was scrapped, but Bunny and his wife fostered one of the boys, Natham, which most certainly gave him new opportunities in life far removed from the drug scene.

And if you haven't watched THE WIRE, get the box sets and watch it !!!

Anyway, John had already told me that he thought he'd seen Bunny from THE WIRE and I was pretty miffed that I'd missed him. But on the way to the Moulay Hussan Square to watch Mahmoud Guinea start the festival off (after we'd taken our short cut round the side of the city walls which is far less congested than the main thoroughfares) we came onto one of the main streets which has a cafe right next to the short cut.

And sitting there, with a group of friends, was Bob Wisdom !!!

Bob Wisdom and Maggie

I had to do a double take and I called John back and whispered: 'I think that's Bunny from THE WIRE' and he said: 'Yes it is.'

Now, I wouldn't normally approach someone famous because I don't want to invade his/her privacy, but, for me, this was too special to ignore, given how much I love THE WIRE. So I did approach and say: 'Excusez-moi monsieur, but aren't you Bunny from THE WIRE?'

Maggie still talking to Bob Wisdom

And he was absolutely lovely. He stood up and said: 'Yes, I am,' and I said: 'Please can I shake your hand because THE WIRE is so fantastic.' And he shook my hand and was totally generous with his time and not only patient but also most charming as I raved about THE WIRE.

Apparently, he has been to the Essaouira Gnawa and World Music Festival for the last twelve years i.e. since it started, loves Gnawa music, plays the guembri (a special guitar central to the Gnawa sound) and jams with some of the Gnawa musicians.

He is such a lovely man with a generosity of spirit that you see in the character Bunny and I was just in awe, particularly when he kissed me on both cheeks before we went on our way.

So, now I'm not just a WIRE fan, but I'm also a Bob Wisdom fan. And I can hardly believe my luck in being able to talk to him.

I asked if John could take some photos and he said that was fine. John also took a small video of us which is published below. And to my delight, the web has picked up on his name and included some short videos of Bob Wisdom in THE WIRE and a WIRE video on safe sex, all of which you can view. I should have asked him what work he's doing now but I didn't want to intrude too much on his time. So, if you see a film or TV programme with Bob Wisdom in it, please post details on my blog.

P.S. If you google Bob Wisdom's name you'll come up with loads of sites with photographs of him, details of his extensive acting portfolio and clips from his work.


Okay, so this is why we were there in the first place. I was relieved to learn that the festival was going ahead because of the world economic crisis, but it was obvious that the festival had had to scale down its 'big names'. So there was no-one like Ki-many Marley, who I'm still raving about. But the music was still very, very good.

If you want to see and hear a little of the music from the festival, just click on the playlists below. As John adds new videos to YouTube, they will appear automatically in the playlist.

This was the last set, on the Sunday evening, at Moulay Hassan. The last set is always brilliant but tinged with sadness, too, because you know the festival is about to finish,

(One plus of the down scale was that our hotel didn't have its usual first night party on the terrace with the swimming pool, which meant no extra-loud disco music blaring out and peaceful days on the terrace with none of the frantic activity of putting up and then taking down all the scaffolding and equipment. Although John and I did have a lot of fun last year watching them trying to glue down carpets.)

However, despite the scaling down, there were still nine venues for the four days of the festival, most of them outdoors, and all of them free. Plus, there were over fifty groups and individual musicians playing a wide range of music and coming from not just Morocco but all over the world.

Because of our fantastic position on our balcony, over-looking Bab Marrakesh, we watched all of the sets that were playing there. Thus we missed some acts we would have liked to have seen at Moulay Hassan, like Arrested Development, Donald Harrison and Congo Nation, all from America.

Anyway, the best, in my opinion, at Bab Marrakesh were:-

Maalem Mahmoud Guinea, Afoxi Loni and Martin Vassilev

It was great to see Mahmoud still playing so brilliantly and I spotted both his eldest son and Hussein, his apprentice, amongst the group. And they also had a young boy dancing with them: all three a welcome reminder that the Gnawa tradition is being taught to the next generation.

Blue Mogador - a young gnawa/fusion group from Essaouira, who were fantastic and had me out of my chair and dancing wildly, always a good indicator that I enjoy the music.

Hamid El Kasri & Khaled & Karim Ziad & WDR (an orchestra from Germany with a really big sound). I was absolutely bowled over last year by Hamid El Kasri (I wrote about this in my report from last year's festival) so I was really looking forward to seeing him this year.

However, although this year he and his accompanying performers were excellent, he didn't play the obviously popular songs, like Chalaba, as he did last year and so there was less audience participation. Last year he was A * plus; this year, I felt that the big band sound detracted from his own unique Gnawa sound.

Rais Brahim Assili - a Berber singer with his own group and the A*+ this year for me. I'm really looking forward to hearing this music again when John does his time-consuming editing of his tapes.

When I look at the programme, I realise how much I actually missed, so apologies to all those musicians I didn't manage to see. But I still maintain that the Western world is missing something really special by the lack of coverage of Gnawa and World music and am very thankful that I have been able to go so many of the festivals and hope to do so next year, God Willing.


Alexandra is a young music student who wants to write a paper on Gnawa music, particularly its fusion with other genres and the separation from the spiritual aspects of Gnawa. And so she contacted John i.e. daftnotstupid because she was going to be at the festival and wanted to meet up, which the three of us did at Chez Mustapha, our favourite cafe, close to Moulay Hassan Square.

So, after we had told her what we knew about Gnawa music, John asked the owner of the cafe, Hisham, if he knew any Gnawa musicians whom she could interview and by a stroke of good luck, Hisham came back shortly afterwards to tell us that there was a Gnawa musician sitting at one of the other tables, he introduced us and Alexandra got her interview there and then.

The musician in question was a young man from Essaouira called Yassine El Kanri who leads a Gnawa/fusion group called Ganga Fusion. This was all done in French, which was interesting to say the least, but I'm glad that Alexandra was able to make a start.

John and Yassine

John and Yassine

Alexandra and Yassine

Alexandra and Yassine

It's good to know that some-one intends to research Gnawa music and I hope you achieve your mission, Alexandra. Let us know how you get on.

P.S. Have listened to a track played by Ganga Fusion on their website and I'd like to hear more. There are eight players in the group and a variety of tradional and modern instruments. Definitely a group I'd like to see perform.


Hisham, one of the waiters from the restaurant, and me on the terrace of Hotel Blue. It was Hisham who told me on the Friday morning about the death of Michael Jackson, which was a big shock. No matter how mixed up his personal life was, he was a brilliant performer. Apparently, the audience at Moulay Hassan were informed at the end of the Thursday night sets; proof, if proof were needed, that bad news travels fast.

Hisham and Rachid who look after all of us on the terrace of Hotel Blue plus me.

Ishaq and Abd Halim looking suitably cool on the terrace of Bab Laachour.

Youssef, Youssef, Mohammed and Rachid plus me in the foyer of Hotel Blue.If you look carefully, you will see the chocolate remnants of the Magnum I had just eaten. I have, apparently, no shame. These guys, by the way, do their very best to keep me out of trouble. In fact, all the staff at Hotel Blue are highly professional and very friendly. It's always a pleasure to meet up with them each year.

Stephane and Epoise on the terrace of Bab Laachour. We got chatting to this charming French couple who were on the next table to us at Bab Laachour on the Sunday evening. I hope things are going well for them.

The final set at Moulay Hassan on the Sunday.

Turn your gaze to the right of the Moulay Hassan Square (from the Bab Laachour terrace)and there's the Atlantic Sea. It's a glorious sight, wild, rough and untamed.

Blue Mogador playing at Bab Marrakesh, taken from our famous balcony. (See last year's post on the festival to get the full story).

My favourite place and activity in the afternoon on the Terrace of Hotel Blue. This alien spaceship-shaped lounger, plus a similiar one, were new this year and became 'mine' for the holiday, thanks to Hisham. By the way, Hisham, I got a comment on this post from someone from America who recognised you. Apparently he/she went to school with you. Sadly, no name or address was left. Still, you're becoming quite a celebrity. (My friends think you're gorgeous).

The audience slowly building up at Bab Marrakesh, taken from our balcony.


I bought this teddybear, Gulliver, on the flight over with Easy Jet, who are giving two free tickets each month to the person who sends in the best photograph of Gulliver in some exotic locations. So, I took loads of photos of Gulliver in different locations and here are just a few of them. Not sure which one I'll send in. I reckon that if I send one photo a month then I may just win those tickets and then we can go back to Morocco - Yeah !!!

How I pursuaded Mamadoo to pose with Gulliver on the steps leading up to Hotel Blue I'll never know. Shows just what a good sport he is.

Gulliver filming on the balcony

Lunch on the Hotel Blue terrace. Like most bears, Gulliver enjoys the occasional glass of wine with that sharp, salty taste of olives, with accompanying freshly made bread.

Gulliver managed to sneak up onto the empty stage at Moulay Hassan having sweet-talked his way past two 'security guards'. This bear certainly knows how to get around.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Read your Essaouira tales with interest. I, too, was at this year's Festival and had quite a different experience. I had been in Essaouira 7 years ago - not during the Festival - and loved the place at once. We stayed at the Hotel des Iles and loved every minute of it. Thsi time we went back for the Festival and shared a house just up the road from Bab Marrakech with 3 other couples. The house was great but my experience of the Festival was very different to yours. On the first night in Moulay Hassan, we were listening to Sixun, a French band and the mood was wrecked by conga lines of local adolescent boys constantly moving through the crowd and buffeting everyone. To make matters worse I had my pocket picked. Not a good night; we left early. The second night I saw Babani Kone in the square by Bab Marrakech - more families, less hassle and very pleasant. The following night, on the long pedestrian street from Bab Marrakech into the heart of the Medina, someone tried to pick my pocket again (Stopped him just in time!) and by the time we returned to the square for the gig you mention with Karim Ziad and the German Orchestra, the crowd was huge and out of control. Most of our party got scared and went back to the house but 2 of us hung on, determined to see/hear some music. It was OK for the first half-hour, give or take the usual business with the conga lines of adolescent boys again, but then a small fight broke out in the crowd near us, then minutes later a much bigger fight which cleared a circle about 50 yards across in the middle of the square. Large numbers of people were simply running straight at us to get away and we nearly got trampled in the crush. That was enough for my friend Kathy, so we too left. I felt thoroughly cheated having managed to see only one complete set in three days... We watched the Sunday evening gig from one of the cafes on Moulay Hassan, but had to leave early as we had booked a meal back at the house. By then, however, I will confess that I was feeling very jaded about the whiole experience. I would definitely go to Essaouira again, but definitely not whilst the Festival is on! To my way of thinking, the policing and crowd control are totally inadequate for a Festival of this size. I also found the locals much less friendly than on our prior visit.
I blog myself ( and may well follow your lead and write my version of Essaouira 2009 - sadly, it will be by no means as positive!