Sunday 20 July 2008


Hard to believe it, but today, July 20th, is the 34th anniversary of the Turkish Invasion of Cyprus. 34 years sounds such a long time but I still remember clearly the Greek Cypriot coup, which started on Monday 15th July, and the Turkish Invasion on the following Saturday.

I shall never forget the absolute horror of that shrill air-raid siren early on that Saturday morning that shattered our already fragile peace and my life has never been the same since.

I had married into a Greek Cypriot family and we had a thriving business - The White Horse Pub in Famagusta - a comfortable home, a fabulous lifestyle, lots of friends, several dogs and a baby on the way. The only thing to survive was the baby, now a successful young woman who is a pleasure to know, and I'm very grateful for that.

I also lost my faith in government, my respect for politicians and my belief that everything said on The World Service was true.

What I gained, was a sickening realization that human life means squat all to politicians, that you're just as likely to be killed by friendly fire and that the best place to be during an air-attack is either tucked away outside your house or hidden under some solid piece of furniture e.g. a bed or a table.

But since that day, I've counted each day as a blessing and marvel that I've lasted so long.

I have never been back to Famagusta but the desire to do so is growing within me and I long to stand in front of my old home and the pub and walk along the beach.

And I do feel that I am so lucky that not only did I survive, but also that I have been able to build a new life.

I harboured a lot of anger about the Invasion and being refugeed for a long time until, just before the Iraq Invasion, when I was so chewed up with all the talk of war that I had a long chat with my vicar who said: 'You have every right to be angry.' And I thought:' Yes, I do! But I choose not to be angry any more.'He was the first person that had not tried to brush what had happened under the carpet and that acknowledgment released me.

Returning to Cyprus a few years ago to visit all my relatives and see some of my old haunts in the unoccupied part of the island, plus a lovely afternoon in Kyrenia (still occupied) helped put to bed a lot of ghosts and writing the novel was my way of using the experience for good.

One thing still puzzles me, though, and that is why the rest of the world don't seem to give a toss about Cyprus, including the UK. We have such strong links with Cyprus with lots of expats living there, army/RAF bases, and loads of tourists each year, you'd think that writers and dramatists would have been falling over themselves to write about the conflict.

There's plenty of literature about Africa, India, Parkistan etc all having been part of the British Empire, as was Cyprus, but hardly a dicky bird about Cyprus. I searched Google today to find literature set in Cyprus and there's only about half a dozen novels, and none of them set during the period of the Invasion. I seem to be the only person who has done so and I'M HAVING GREAT TROUBLE GETTING PUBLISHED!!! Of course, it could be that my novel isn't very good but personally, I think it's a cracker AND would make an excellent film.

But it's almost as if there's a secret embargo on anything coming out of Cyprus/written about Cyprus.


And, if anybody thinks they know me from Cyprus - my name was Maggie Charalambous then - then please leave a comment so we can get in touch.

Thursday 3 July 2008



Hard to know where to start, really, since so much has happened: travelling to Marrakesh on the Monday and returning home late Tuesday, just over a week later, absolutely exhausted but with the music still ringing in our ears.

Probably best to start at the beginning.


Starting the day with a smile at La Villa Des Orangers.

Firstly, we spent several days in Marrakesh at the best hotel that I've ever stayed at - La Villa Des Orangers (which figures in the top ten of recommended hotels on Google) - to chill out before the Festival, much needed after the frantic rush to pack etc and all the uncertainty about whether our balcony at the hotel in Essaouira would face onto one of the stages for the Festival or be a bleak, lonely place, far removed from the action.

La Villa Des Oranges is a marvellous hotel to chill out in. I'm often saying to friends that Morocco is a country of extremes and there is no better example of this than La Villa Des Orangers.

The hotel looks absolutely nothing from the outside, just an old walled building with a few small windows facing outward. It's positioned by a dusty, busy road, used by cars, motorcyclists, cyclists, donkeys and carts etc (pedestrians beware - this is not a pedestrian friendly town!); the pavement is crumbling in parts and nearby is a car park and filling station. Just a small sign advertising the hotel and a doorway manned by a concierge give any indication that this is a hotel. But walk through that open door and you are in a different world - a world straight out of the Arabian Nights.

The hotel owners created this little paradise of quiet tranquility and welcome shade amidst the noise and chaos of Marrakesh by renovating two old riad houses and transforming them into a hotel. Rooms are positioned around two central courtyards, on three levels, and it's most attractive on the eye with its central fountains full of fresh roses; orange trees that are the home for cheeky little sparrows who hover about, waiting scraps of food; and the contrast in colours of the soft terracota walls and brown stone floors and the vivid greens and reds of large pot plants. There are shady alcoves with richly coloured couches and cushions and ornate Moroccan carvings on the walls and ceilings, with large mirrors reflecting the green and orange: places where you just want to lie down, close your eyes and do absolutely nothing.

Most rooms are on two levels and it's true to say that we've probably stayed in all of them during our visits over the years. Our favourites, though, are those which have upstairs terraces, centred around one of the three swimming pools, on the roof of the hotel. I can't think of a nicer way to spend an evening - lying on one of the loungers and looking up at the sky and the stars, hearing the distant, brash noise of the drumming in the famous (and,in my opinion, increasingly expensive tourist trap) Place Jemaa El Fna and feeling a warm breeze which just makes me so glad to be alive and in Morocco.

We stayed at this hotel at Xmas, with our daughter, Lou, and it was strange walking past the room that she stayed in. This is a splendid room, of palatial dimensions, on just one level and Lou reckoned that the two rooms together - bedroom and bathroom - were larger than her flat in London. She would have been happy to live in this room permanently, so taken with it as she was, and I expected to see her, each time I passed by this time, sitting on the settee outside the room with her embroidery, a hot chocolate and surrounded by female members of staff, fascinated by her embroidery and, later, the thank you card she made for them all.

Me outside 'Lou's' room at La Villa Des Orangers

Since Xmas, the hotel has bought the old building next to it and converted it into extra rooms, a hamman and third swimming pool, all fitting in beautifully with the style of the hotel. We were amazed that the work had been completed so quickly - I couldn't help thinking how the builders in England struggled with the new Wembley Stadium and I dread to think how building for the 2012 Olympics is going. Maybe they should consult the builders of La Villa's extension.

But what makes the hotel so special are the staff. They are not just excellent at their jobs, but they are friendly and welcoming and remember us from one visit to the next even though they must have hundreds of visitors each year.

Mohammed from La Villa Des Orangers with me in the main courtyard.

FAMOUS LAST WORDS ON SETTING OFF ON HOLIDAY: If I've forgotten anything, it's not worth taking! I forgot essential daily medication which could have caused me serious problems but by noon of our first day, I had been visited by a doctor, the reception had fetched my prescription and sanity was restored. Had to pay for this, of course, but maybe this will be covered by my travel insurance. It's one of the about a hundred
things I need to sort out, which I should be sorting out instead of writing this, but not half as much fun. (No, it's not covered, I have discovered).

Two other things I want to tell you about and both concern eating out.

Firstly, we found ourselves, one evening, sitting next to an English mother and her daughter at one of the roof top restaurants facing onto the Place and discovered that we were all from Winchester, were all going to the Festival and had friends in common, including Polly of Polly and the Billets Doux ( whom I've already reviewed in an earlier blog). Talk about coincidences. AND we met up several times in Essaouira, too. I hope we can get together in Winchester and swap stories.

Secondly, I had the worse meal I've ever had. It was in a very posh, expensive restaurant on the outskirts of Marrakech, called Bo-Zin. A very fancy place, with an impressive inside restaurant, complete with a shiny grand piano, and romantic outside setting spread out over quite an area, with a bar, pond and lots of lanterns etc etc.

However, they herded the few customers that they had cheek by jowl so there was little privacy and there were so many waiters and attendants that it was hard not to fall over them. There were three dark suited 'heavies' at the front, I presume to keep out the riff-raff, whoever they might be, and even a lady to guide you to the toilet along a very dark corridor. I must admit, though, that actually having toilet paper in the loos would have been preferable.

We had a surly waiter who at first pretended not to understand us whatever language we spoke in and who continually interrupted our conversation to pour out not just our wine but also our water, which he kept well away from us. What did he think we were going to do? Drink it all in one go?

But my main criticism I reserve for the actual food. I have to say that John was fairly happy with his meal, although he did say it was too salty, but mine was absolutely foul. It was supposed to be sole stir-fry and there were a couple of small pieces of fish but most of the white chunks were actually potato (what a cheat!) and the whole dish was swimming in soy sauce and was incredibly salty, leaving a really unpleasant taste in my mouth for some time afterwards.

Did I walk meekly out without saying anything? Well, no, actually. I told it as it was to the pretty receptionist in the hope (futile?) that the chef would buck up his ideas.

Not an experience to be missed - it all adds to the diversity of the holiday. If life was perfect then we wouldn't still be on earth; we'd be in Heaven!

And marks out of ten for your meal at the Bo-Zin, Maggie?

If YOU have been to this restaurant and had a great meal or a similar experience to us, then please add a comment.


A welcome stop for coffee. ciggie and loo break

I love the road journey from Marrakesh to Essaouira because it's so full of anticipation and the countryside changes quite dramatically. We usually take a taxi, although this year we took a 4-by-4, which for some reason we found really exciting (never been in a 4-by-4 before).

Firstly, you drive through the new part of Marrakesh, with its wide avenues and hotels, flats, houses and shops (including the new shopping centre where Jen from 'The Apprentice' tried to bribe the assistants in the sports shop - I could have told her that it wouldn't work, as well as being totally unethical). There's a lot of new building work here and you can tell that it's a growth area but, as per usual, there are a lot of Europeans buying here so the locals are being priced out and I wonder if the economic downturn will affect sales/growth.

You continue through the suburbs, with its large new flats, sprouting air-conditioning units and satellite dishes, separated by areas of dry red ground, until you leave the town and gradually the land becomes more arid, although the magnificent Atlas Mountains on your left continually remind you of the beauty of Morocco.

There are several small towns dotted along the way, with very basic shops displaying meat and fruit, including enormous water melons, and the first few times we took this route I used to think how desolate they looked but now they are welcome friends.

The land becomes more desert-like and we always think how much we would love to travel much further south than Essaouira into the real desert.

And then, much later than you've first started to feel the need for a break, like a real oasis in the desert, there is the small row of restaurants, frequented by locals of the town beyond (haven't recorded the name yet but I will do so next time (God Willing) but also geared towards tourists (e.g. the toilets are very clean). We stop here for a coffee (nous nous), which is pretty damn good. The bustle of Marrakech and the solitude of La Villa Des Oranges fade from memory and it's a totally new ball game.

One of the much appreciated restaurants..

Just after we arrived, a bus full of tourists turned up and invaded the restaurant, including these two ladies (names unknown) who we first met at Casablanca Airport during an unscheduled change of planes (the London to Marrakech route) and the four of us were temporarily lost and almost through customs before we realized our mistake!

John with our two friends.

Then a pretend 'gnawa' group turned up, made a bit of a din and then went round the tables with a hat. Really, when you hear the real Gnawa groups playing, you realize what a sham this type of tourist attraction is, plus what goes on in the Place in Marrakech. But it all adds to the colour of the place and if these guys earn a bit of money, then good luck to them.

Pretend 'gnawa musician' trying to get some dosh.

And now I was itching to get going. But first, I fancied getting a choc ice for the journey, since I'm very partial to choc ices (Magnums are my favourite). But hanging onto a choc ice in the Moroccan heat to have a photo taken with 4-by-4 and driver was, perhaps, a tad ambitious and eating it in the car before it melted was a feat in itself.

Along the route to Essaouira there are police checkpoints every so often. We've never been stopped so far, although we were stopped on the way to Casablanca airport on our way home. The police check documents and, for foreigners, passports. On this journey, though, we were waved through. More irritating are the endless speed restrictions at a time when you just want to GET there.

The closer you get to Essaouira, the more lush the vegetation becomes and there are field after field of argana trees, which produce wonderful argana oil (I have found a shop in Essaouira that sells the most fabulous argana products, particularly face creams - it's called Arga Dor on the Rue Ibn Rochd No 5. The quality is much better than the stuff that you can buy on the street stalls and not significantly more expensive.)And if you're lucky, you may see a goat or two up an argana tree, eating the foliage.

And then, after several hours of travelling (less if you travel early in the morning), you literally drive round a bend and there, just a few miles away, is the wonderful white town of Essaouira, spreading northwards along the coast and with the shimmering Atlantic, dotted with tiny deserted islands, as a backdrop. And southwards are dunes and the village of Diabet, where Jimi Hendrix lived for a while. Beyond, are a farm of wind turbines and I really don't know what all the fuss about them is here in the UK. They don't look stupid or out of place or 'a blot on the landscape' They are just doing their job producing eco-friendly power .

I have a movie of this scene but not a photograph. Next time we go (God Willing), I'll take some photos and post them on this blog. There's a layby by the side of the road, where you can stop and take in the view and there are always a few camels there plus their owners if you want to do the tourist thing.

Off you go again and soon you're on the outskirts, where finished and unfinished flats line the road, as do young men waving keys in the hope that you need to rent a flat and they have just the place for you. Luckily, we always have a hotel booked because I suspect these guys will charge far over the odds. But, it means that we're here.


There's just the small matter of driving down the wide avenue towards the old town, over the infernal speed bumps, past the hotels and private houses, a sweep along a back street to get the Bab Marrakesh Square, a brief argument with the soldier manning the road block to drive closer to the hotel (it happens every time and, in the end, our driver always gets out, removes the barriers (with verbal signs of annoyance), drives through, and then replaces the barriers) and a minute later, we're outside our hotel - Hotel Bleu - and there's Mamadoo or one of the other guys welcoming us back, shaking our hands and carrying our bags into yet another beautiful, calm and cool paradise.


A warm welcome from one of the receptionists.

A shaded passageway.

The swimming pool on the roof terrace.

View of Bab Marrakech Square and the sea beyond from the roof terrace.

Hicham looking absolutely gorgeous on the roof terrace.

What a surprise! - another picture of Hicham.

The Hotel Bleu is an extremely exclusive riad hotel, with rooms centring, on several levels, around an open courtyard. And as with La Villa Des Orangers, the staff are so brilliant that when we visited at Xmas and stayed in another hotel (much cheaper to be honest and more within our usual price range), we went round to the hotel several times to say hello to all the staff, have a coffee and give recordings that John had made from last year's Festival.

What is so heart-warming is that they put up with our little eccentricities and my occasional outbursts of emotion, e.g. after I had been pick-pocketed in a crush of people just outside the hotel a few years ago, or when I rushed out this year to try to prevent what looked like cruelty to a dog in the square below (dog and man had disappeared before I could get to them) and again this year, when I clobbered downstairs to rave about the Morrocan Gnawa Maleem - Hamid El Kasri - and his group, who were top notch brilliant (log onto to hear some of their music), they act as if it's perfectly normal behaviour and I thank them for that.

Just a little message here for Kamal, who is in charge of the roof terrace. Kamal, I don't have any photos of you, which is why there are none on this blog. Next Time. AND I definitely want to use your 'lazy-person's' exercise machine next time, the one in your new super-mirrored gym on the roof. My friend has just got one and it's really good.


Yes, the balcony - now we're getting to the nitty gritty. The Balcony. Resigned to maybe not having the balcony or no music, it was WONDERFUL that we had both. Our room had not been booked to someone else and the Bab Marrakesh Square was one of the venues.

Me looking suitably happy/relieved on the cherished balcony.

Considering all the fuss I've made about this balcony, you'd think I would have more photographs of the spectacular view but, sadly, I don't. However, log onto stupid and you'll see a number of music videos shot from there. However, here's a picture of the balcony from the Square - ours is the lower of the two balconies.


I want to write about this in some detail because so much happened and it was definitely the best evening for me. I don't have many photos of the actual performances - I was too busy dancing, eating and drinking - but I do have one of the rehearsals:-

which seems to have vanished from my file! Hopefully, it will turn up later. Let me just say here that my computer is a total bitch and the sooner I get another one, the better!

So, Saturday evening and I have just had my daily hamman and feeling pleasantly chilled out. I want to see Maleem Mahmoud Guinea play at the Electric Pepsi Stage on the beach, opposite the Sofitel Hotel (fabulous swimming pool and Spa Centre) because we attended a Lila at Mahmoud's house at Xmas and I want to see if his two sons are now part of his group and how Hussein, his apprentice, is getting on and how the Gnawa music fits in with the electric stuff that is also going to be played.

So, I give them sufficient time to start late, as per usual at the Festival, but it would seem that even then, I am too early. Instead, there is ear-shattering disco music being played and several attractive young people dancing on the stage. But it's not my preferred music and although two policemen assure me, after my enquires in French, that the advertised performance is about to take place, it is quite clear that it isn't. By this time, I am tired and hungry so decide to return to my beloved balcony and watch the performances at the Bab Marrakech Square.

Disco Dancing at the Electric Pepsi stage.

So, I head back along the beach, enjoying the tranquil view of Essaouira in the early evening with the sea lazily rocking from side to side and the islands now dark but still visible, until I reach the last exit and move onto the pavement, which is still busy.

Almost immediately, my eye catches a couple of young men trying to sell scarves to a couple of Moroccan ladies and I am instantly attracted to the light/dark green one that one of the men is holding up. You can buy this type of long two coloured viscous scarf anywhere in Morocco. They're colourful and cheap and I've already got a couple but I've never seen such a beautiful green colour before.

The guys recognise my interest and swoop down on me and as we walk along the pavement, we barter price. I get them down to 25 dirams (about £2) and have the scarf now in one hand, whilst I search with the other for my purse.

But suddenly the two guys start moving away from me and so I shout: 'Hey, what about the scarf?'

'Keep it,' one says, and they're almost running. So now I understand and turn round and there they are: two policemen walking purposely towards and then past me. And now I'm thinking: 'Shit, I'm holding a stolen scarf in my hand.'

By now, the two policemen are calling out to the two guys who are shouting something or other back to them but it looks as though the police are going to let them go. But I'm wondering how I'm going to explain this scarf in my hand. In sheer frustration, I turn to a row of oldish men who look like workers sitting on a nearby wall and shrug my shoulders in an exaggerated way as if to say, physically: 'What the ....'. going on here?'Then I head towards the policemen and say, in French, that I have been given this scarf by the two guys, because there's no way in the world that I want to be accused of being an accessory to theft.

One of the two policemen takes the scarf and they both advance towards the two guys. All the conversation now is in Arabic so I don't understand it, but the two guys are doing a fantastic act of looking innocent, surprised,'we haven't done anything wrong' kind of act. I'm hovering nearby because by now I'm pretty angry with them and want to see what happens to them.

Eventually, the policemen let them go and then the one with the scarf calls them back and gives them the green scarf. And then, as I continue on my way, it's hard to credit it, the guys follow me and try to sell me the scarf!

'Don't you dare try and sell me a dodgy scarf!' I exclaim in English, indignant to the last. They give up and we go our separate ways. It's another sign of feeling more at home in Essaouira: getting lippy with the locals.

But I have to say, it really was a beautiful green colour!

Very soon, I'm back in Bab Marrakech Square and wriggle my way to the front to watch the first set of the evening, which has already started. It's Troupe Samulnori (The Academy of Music Korea). We saw them dancing on the stage at Moulay Hassan on the first evening and now they're concentrating on their music.

It's very different from anything I've seen or heard before and I'm liking it a lot. The main instruments are drums, symbols and gongs and the rhythm is captivating. And occasionally, one of the group sings - it's almost shouting - and it's all very vigorous. I particularly like their costumes, which are white, blue and yellow, and when they dance, there are very long white streamers swirling from the top of their hats. If you've got a really good magnifying glass, you'll get the idea from the photos below. And to see videos of their performance, log onto

Troupe Samulnori Molgae from Korea plus audience .

One of the things we've come to love is seeing the women in their head scarves and burkas, plus excited children, sitting on the kerb and grass to watch performances and as I stand under the balcony, trying to attract John's attention (he's recording the Koreans), some of the ladies give me a helping hand. 'John!' I shout repeatedly, waving my arms dramatically, and they call out:'John!' and then laugh as he repeatedly ignores us all. Eventually, he sees us and we all wave. It's a lovely moment.

Back on the balcony, I settle down to watch the Korean group. By now, they're sitting down and are performing what I can only describe as a drum concerto which goes on for about an hour, with varying tempo and crescendo. It's absolutely amazing. You can see and hear their passion and it really is something to behold. I try to keep time with the beat but eventually I give up. THEY'RE SO FAST! The only other performance I've seen where the group sit down (most groups include a lot of dance), has been the Ali brothers from Pakistan a few years ago and it really takes your breath away.

Then, the set is over and people drift away and we order supper from the hotel's restaurant: soup and bread and butter and chips and we eat this meal (absolutely delicious) balanced on cushions on our knees, just watching the square and in our own little heaven.

And then the next set comes on: a Moroccan Gnawa group led by Maleem Hamid El Kasri. It's too dark for me to take photographs but John is recording it all, some of which you can see on stupid.

Update from John, 20 April 2009: Here's my YouTube recording of Hamid El Kasri singing Chalaba - an old favourite Gnaoua song.

And now I literally run out of superlatives. I have never heard Gnawa played like this and it is so exciting and melodic and full of emotion that I have to get up and dance. Constantly. In order to understand the powerful effect of this music, I will tell you that a few years ago, I was so ill with an ME type of illness that I could hardly get out of bed. Although I'm much better now, I have to pace myself very carefully and certainly don't usually dance, but I can't NOT dance to this music. It won't allow me stay still.

John is dancing as he records, the audience are dancing wildly, waving t-shirts, holding up their mobile phones which flash in the darkness and the square is now so full that the surrounding streets are blocked with people. It's electric! I don't know much Arabic but I can recognise that certain words are being repeated and can join in, as do the audience. 'Allah' is one of the words repeated, which is Arabic for God and I marvel at the sheer love of God in this country, unthinkable in the UK.

After the performance, I'm so buzzed up that I rush down the many stairs to the foyer and rave about this group to anyone and everyone. Some people are just coming out of the restaurant and I say: 'I can't believe you've been eating instead of watching one of the best performances ever at this Festival. The audience have been going crazy.'

I've never seen these people before but I'm past caring.

They're wearing accreditation badges and I ask what they have to do with the Festival (the daftnotstupid rejection by the committee still rankling) and one guy, who's from New Zealand, says:'We're on freebies because our company have partly sponsored this festival.' Huh! It's just like hospitality boxes at Wimbledon, I'm thinking, or at football grounds. The rich and connected are more important than the fans.

'We're going to watch Ki-Mani Marley (one of Bob Marley's sons) playing,'he adds.

'Well, he'll have to be bloody good to top Hamid El Kasri. I've never seen the square so packed and I've been coming for years,' I say.

One of the women comes back into the foyer and says:'We can't get out. There are too many people.'

'That's because of Hamid El Kasri' I say, as I dash back upstairs for refreshments (beer and toblerone) before Ki-Mani Marley starts his set.

And was Ki-Mani good or did I slump onto the bed and go to sleep?

Normally, before a group comes on the stage, they are announced by someone from the Festival Office but not with this group: the stage is dark and then suddenly it is lit up and his backing group start to play that familiar reggae beat and yes, they have my full attention. And then Ki-Mani Marley sprints/dances onto the stage and you know you are watching something special. He is totally charismatic: white, long sleeved shirt, blue jeans, a white handkerchief flowing from a back pocket and his long, black dreadlocks, tied loosely at the back and he just fills the stage with his presence. An ultimate performer. I doubt if he stops moving or dancing for the the whole hour plus. And a voice to make the angels weep. 'Your dad would be proud of you,' I think time and time again.

He sings some of his own songs and some of his dad's and we all join in with familiar lyrics (no woman, no cry etc)and yes, I dance, dance, dance.

And what I want to know is: why aren't Ki-Meyni Mali, Hamid El Kasri and The Academy of Music Korea not generally known of in the UK?


Please leave a comment if you've heard of any of these groups, plus what you think of them.


There were only going to be two sets, both at Moulay Hassan, in the late afternoon/evening so we moseyed down there and because the first set hadn't started, we walked around the port area to check out a restaurant we'd seen down there at Xmas. I was hungry so food was on my mind.

We stopped to look at some fishing boats being constructed (the port used to have a thriving sardine industry but, like most fishing areas now, I guess, it's all been scaled down), and a nice young man invited us to get closer to one of the unfinished boats and he explained how the ship was being built. I have to say, it looked impressively sturdy. We should have realised, however, that he would want paying for his troubles so John gave him a 'tip' and I took this photograph so at least we could get our money's worth. (If anyone on the street in Marrakech or Essaouira offer to help you, they usually want to be 'tipped').

Woops - that's another photo gone. Think of Noah's Ark under construction and you've probably got a good idea what it looks like.

Then we headed back to the Moulay Hassan because we could hear music.

View of the square from the port.

A traditional water seller in the crowd.

The group playing weren't that great and since everything was running behind time and I was more ravenous than just hungry, we bagsed a table at the front of the verandah at our favourite restaurant in Essaouira - Bab Laachour - where the waiters are a lot of fun and the food is good (and they serve alcohol). I thought I'd taken a photo of you guys but apologies, Louasif, my camera must have run out of space. Next time!

So, by the time we had ordered food, the last group had started their set: ONB (Orchestre National De Barbes) from Paris. I'd never heard of them before but John had. The programme billed them as being musicians originally from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia and renowned for their 'theatrical energy and their rhythms'. All I know is that I had to leave my dish of small sole, find a space in the corner of the balcony and DANCE!!! And when they played a Rolling Stones song - Sympathy For The Devil - I sang along loudly. What a way to end the festival!!!

John with his camcorder on the verandah of Bab Laachour restaurant.

View from Bab Laachour Restaurant of Moulay Hassan square during ONB's performance.

And so it was all over for another year and it's hard not to feel very, very disappointed. MORE, MORE, MORE !!! I want to shout. And it was also impossible not to feel absolutely exhausted. I used to think that being a musician would be oh so glamorous but now I've seen just how much energy they expend, the rehearsals and set-ups, how much travelling they have to do (it most certainly is not easy to get to Essauouira)etc etc, I think it involves a lot of hard work and they deserve every penny that they earn because they give people like John and I immeasurable pleasure.

And a final thanks to all the back stage workers who set up the stages, fix the lighting and sound systems and work on the cameras. Now that John had spent a festival recording with a camcorder, he is keenly aware of just how difficult it is.


A final (desolate) photograph of the sea beyond Essaouira at the end of the evening, after all the fun had finished.

To those of you who have no idea what Gnawa music is, by the way (!) - it is African music brought to Morocco, mainly by slaves from Southern Africa, and has its own particular rhythms and instruments and includes a lot of singing/chanting and amazing dancing. These guys can certainly dance. They also play instruments at the same time and perform enmasse and individually and the crowd go crazy at the feats they can perform. They wear spectacularly colourful costumes and so it's a very visual experience, too. And at this Festival they often play with other groups who are jazz or rock or hip-hop etc groups and that's what I am particularly fond of. IT'S AN EXTENSION OF MUSICAL GENRES THAT THE WESTERN WORLD HAS NO IDEA ABOUT. AND HONESTLY GUYS, YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE MISSING!!!

To hear the music and see the performances, check out these sites:-

And I must now return to my fiction writing: a short story, continue planning my murder/mystery novel and FIND AN AGENT!!!