Sunday, 28 August 2011



There is a delicious irony to this report and it's proof that sometimes the best things can happen by pure chance.

But let me explain first what a Residence means.

For several years, John and I wondered how so many gnaoua groups were able to fuse their music with musicians from other genres e.g. jazz, hip-hop, heavy rock, reggae etc. Such performances were always so professional and one of the questions I wanted to ask in an interview was how they managed to do it when they had never played together before, had probably never even met before, and for it to sound so good.

Well, now we know. What happens is this: – the performers practice together over a period of several days before their performance, often all day, in a private venue, to acquaint themselves with their particular types of music, experiment with ways that they can fuse their music and to establish a playlist that has been rehearsed over and over again.

And we know this because months before the Festival, Hassan Boussou e-mailed John and asked him to film the practice sessions and then the performance onstage to show the progression from practice to performance, which, of course, John was very happy to do. However, somewhere along the line, we arrived at Essaouira without knowing where the private venue actually was.

Luckily, though, John met the manager of Jazz-Racines Hiati at the Sofitel hotel when he went to pick up our press passes and they went along to the Residence together, which was in a restaurant down a side street.

So, John was able to meet Hassan Boussou, whom he had interviewed the year before, and was also introduced to the members of Jazz-Racines Hiati, whom he found to be very friendly and hospitable. And he took a lot of brilliant photographs at the Residence, which he will no doubt be posting at some stage, and, and I write this through gritted teeth, are far superior to my pathetic efforts using my little Lumix. As you can see quite clearly from the examples at the beginning of this post, I didn't get the lighting right although I had been practising for months previously.

But the reason why I was able to take these photographs was as follows: the next day I ambled along to the Residence just to see how things were going. John was already in there because he was wearing his press badge. However, there were guards at the door and they wouldn't let me in because I couldn't show my press badge because it wasn't ready.

Undeterred, though, I explained that John was already inside and, standing on tiptoes and raising up my arm, described John as being very tall and all they needed to do was to ask him to come out and confirm my accreditation. To my astonishment, and possibly because they wanted to get rid of me, they simply ushered me in without finding John.

The restaurant was very pleasant indeed and it was easy to find where the practice session was located. There were several other photographers/filmers there as well as John. I gave him a wave and then looked for a good position to take photograph. I hadn't planned to do so but it was too good an opportunity to miss.

The musicians were in the left-hand corner at the back of the restaurant and directly in front of them was a sunken fountain area which was totally dry so I clambered down and knelt on one of the steps.

I was clicking away quite happily, totally unaware that my lighting was wrong, until Erol, the charismatic lead singer of Jazz- Racines Hiati, started to sing a solo number that was so beautiful that I instinctively switched my camera to recording. Then it developed into a duet with Hassan Boussou. It was so haunting and so powerful that I just kept recording. And then the gnaoua players and Jazz-Racines Hiati musicians joined in, totally changing the mood into a forceful, full-bodied fusion of gnaoua and jazz.

John, however, had already been asked to leave the venue, having been told that he had been there long enough. Apparently, photographers/filmers were only allowed to stay for a short time so that they didn't record too much of the practice. I, on the other hand, was left totally alone to do my recording. Am I really so ferocious that I am best left alone? I certainly do hope so.

Therefore, I was able to record the same song in both the practice session and then the polished performance onstage, although I didn't realise at the time that this would happen. Thus, I was able to do what John had been asked to do: to show the difference between practice and performance.

John, of course, took enough footage at the Residence and the performance to show that progression as well and he has, as I write, just finished a lengthy film weaving the two together. And, of course, it's infinitely better than mine. But I am a writer, I don't claim to be a proficient photographer or filmer but if I'm there in the right place, at the right time, then I'll do what I can to the best of my ability even if I don't have the best equipment. It's the story of my life, I suppose. And I have to laugh at the irony.

to watch my recording click here


Friday 24th of June at Moulay Hassan.

This was a stunning performance. Hassan Boussou and his gnaoua group is one of the best that there is. Hassan Boussou is a highly versatile musician, playing not just the gumbri but other instruments too. Plus, he's very pleasing on the eye; a very handsome young man, totally dedicated to his music. Therefore, it is always a pleasure to watch him and to see the good rapour that he has with his group.

I have never been a great lover of jazz but Jazz-Racines Hiati has changed that. It was a delight to hear them play, particularly when members played a solo piece. And as for Erol, the lead singer, he has a tremendous stage presence and a sense of theatre. In fact, so dramatic and dynamic that he reminded me of Freddie Mercury.

Erol is also a voodoo priest with several churches and you get a sense of that in his performance. He, too, is a strikingly good looking man with strong cheekbones that many women would die for and he takes full advantage of that. He appeared to going to some form of trance and with large, startled eyes he went into some sort of primaeval dance, bending low and staring out at the audience, the dance enhanced by his long white wrap over skirt which revealed very shapely legs.

(After the performance, John and I were able to go backstage and I was able to shake Erol's hand and compliment him on the performance. That has to be a first for me – shaking hands with a voodoo priest. The drummer is also a voodoo priest so the whole experience for me was unique.)

As with the practice, I was busy taking photographs until I heard that beautiful, haunting song and so instinctively I switched to filming. In the practice, the piece was relatively short but

the actual performance lasted about 14 minutes.

Because I was so tired and hungry (I hadn't eaten since breakfast), I was stuffing down crisps right in front of the performers as I photographed and filmed. And eventually, I just had to take a break. So, as you will see from the film of the performance, I left the photographers area, put my camera down facing the sky, had a drink of diet cola that I had brought with me in a plastic beaker, and had a cigarette. So all you can see for a while it's the sky, a brief view of my face, and a whiff of smoke.


Last year, one of the best experiences for me was to be befriended by a group of small children whom I called 'mes enfants.' We danced together and I gave one of the girls my white cap. So, I was hoping to meet them again this year and to my delight, I spotted this particular girl in the VIP area at Mouley Hassan. I recognised her immediately but it took some time for her to remember me. But when she did, she cuddled me and pulled me out of the VIP area to meet her dad, who was one of the Festival's officials.

John joined us and then Hischam from our hotel, Heure Blue, and we all sat outside the café for VIPs and just chilled out. Grandmother was also there and it was a lovely to meet so many friendly people. Getting back into the VIP area was rather tricky because I hadn't formally left so we went through this funny ritual of me being signed out and then signed back in.

At some stage, John lost an important piece of equipment and thought it was gone for ever. But the next evening it was returned to him via my little friend's father for which John was very grateful.

BACKSTAGE I had never been backstage before and had previously thought it would be a wonderfully calm place for the performers to relax before and after their performances. However, it turned out to be a stiflingly hot and claustrophobic place and far more hectic than outside. There were a lot of interviews going on and a multitude of photographs taken in it seemed quite clear to me that for the exhausted performers, their work had not as yet finished.

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