Wednesday 18 May 2011


The good news

The programme for the Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival 2011 has just been released. Again it lasts for four days and we were pleased to see that many of our favourite Gnaoua groups will be playing, including those led by Maalems Mahmoud Guinea, Hassan Boussou, Hamid El Kasri, Mustapha Bakbou and Omar Hayat (John calls him the Little Richard of Gnaoua). There will also be a liberal sprinkling of World Music musicians from other countries, including Haiti and Afghanistan. Plus, and of course this is brilliant news for John and I, we will be getting press badges again. YIPPEE and thank you God.

The bad news

However, the festival has been scaled down, with no big performers like Ki-mani Marley and Youssou N'Dour. And, and this is terrible news for John and I, the large square outside our hotel, Bab Marrakech, is not to be used so we will not have the great pleasure of sitting on our balcony to watch some of the acts. I shall miss this dreadfully.

We really were lucky to have found this hotel, Hotel Blue, with its two rooms with balconies facing onto the square. And equally lucky to have been able to book one of the rooms each year. I can't remember how many years but it's probably six. Amazed actually. It has been an absolute delight to have been so close to the action and I think we were incredibly blessed to have had this experience. In fact, we used to pinch ourselves each year, almost in disbelief, that we were able to do this.

And it was wonderful not just for the evenings of live, fantastic music and dancing: we really enjoyed watching and listening to the crowd, whose enthusiastic rappour with the musicians was so infectious. There was one time when I was dancing on the balcony and a guy below saw me and started dancing in time to my dancing. It was such fun.

Plus, it was so exciting watching the stage being erected and the sound system being tested over and over again all day using the most marvellous of music. It was on such an occasion that we discovered the singer Jeff Buckley. We were in great awe of the professionalism and skill of the guys involved. Unsung heroes of the festival.

But probably the main disadvantage will be that John cannot record the music being played on the Bab Marrakech stage whilst videoing at Mouley Hassan. Therefore, it will reduce our recording capacity.

The setting of Bab Marrakech as a venue meant that all of Essaouira was buzzing to the sound of music during the afternoon, evening and late into the night. It was so exciting. Magical. This year, however, it will be a large, empty, quiet space and I'm sure that the tens of thousands of people who watched performances there will feel the loss just as much as us.

Who's to blame?

The wanker bankers, of course. Perhaps this is being too simplistic but I doubt it. Because of the greed and the unscrupulous financial dealings of so many bankers, including knowingly selling mortgages to people who quite clearly could not afford them, we have all been left in a financial state of bankruptcy. So it's no surprise then that sponsors such as Pepsi have pulled out of the festival. The fact that it actually taking place in such an uncertain financial climate is a small miracle in itself and one I am grateful for. As for Bab Marrakech and the enviable position of our hotel room, we always knew it would end one day because nothing stays the same. But it's very sad for us nevertheless.

Back to the festival

This year there will be two large open air venues: Place Moulay Hassan and Scene Meditel, on the beach. Both of these venues will be free and obviously bursting to the seams. And there will be two venues which will be chargeable: Bastion de Bab Marrakech and Zaouia Sidna Bilal, both inside. I have no doubt that the festival will be a huge success as usual and John and I intend to make full use of our press badges. I have been learning how to use a larger and hopefully better camera because I want to take even better photographs this year. And, of course, I am really, really, really looking forward to being back in my beloved Morocco. So, again, thank you God .

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