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I don’t know who named it, but Rabat’s city-wide music festival sounds to me like someone trying to say “magazine” with a mouth full of tooth paste. Or like the priest in Princess Bride trying to describe Modern Bride. Nonetheless, Morocco’s biggest music festival, Mawazine, is held each May, and musicians are invited from around the world to perform at one of the venues around town. They always include big names from the English-speaking world. This year’s lineup included BB King, Sting, Elton John and Santana.

The biggest concert area is about a 10 minute walk from my house. We watched the enormous stage being set up several weeks ago. Last year it faced the road and we could hear it from our house. This year, it faced toward the nearby Sofitel Hotel, and although we could still hear it, it was quieter.

Tickets to the bigger names are around 600 dirhams, which isn’t bad—that’s about 60 euros, or 80 dollars. But if you are willing to simply be a little further back, you can go for free. Either way you’re standing in a field with other enthusiastic music lovers, singing along to the lyrics in a language they don’t speak.

Being me and highly organized as usual (what? It’s the end of May already?), I missed Elton John, which I’m still bummed about. But on Thursday night at 9:30, Donn and I headed over to hear B.B. King.

I have often had cause to bless the location of our house, which is a 2 minute walk from the kids’ school. But as I eyed the streams of traffic, the motorcyclists ploughing restlessly into crowds of pedestrians, the incessant peep-peep-peep from the man in the glowing yellow vest trying to direct cars, I was thankful all over again that we were able to walk, not drive. We found our way all the way around to the back just as the concert was starting, about 10.

We made our way through the trodden grass, tripping over the occasional hillock. Interspersed with the crowd were people selling candy bars and glow-sticks, and there were carts heaped high with dates, almonds, peanuts, raisins, and dried apricots. Wandering salesman passed through with buckets full of doughnuts, packages of cookies, or bottles of water. We resisted all these treats, and found a place with an unobstructed view of the screens. We could see the stage and the men, tiny with distance, but we watched the giant Jumbotron screens quite contentedly.

BB King was, well, awesome. I know that doesn’t surprise anyone. The man is 84 and his voice is as powerful as ever. His band was composed mostly of senior citizens, large men in colourful shirts who weigh upwards of 300 pounds and who rock. “I find that encouraging,” Donn said later. “There’s hope for the future.” Apparently he is planning to gain weight and take up the tenor sax.

BB King was having FUN up there. He and the drummer played games with each other while we all cheered. “I’m sorry I don’t speak your language,” he told the roaring crowd. “But maybe, if you understand what I’m sayin’, tell the person next to you.” We didn’t though. It wasn’t necessary. BB’s language is universal, and everybody danced along.

It wasn’t a long concert, possibly because the man is 84. I mean seriously. “I’d like to keep playing,” he told us. “But I can’t.” He did do “When the Saints” for a rockin’ encore though. Next to me, a skinny Moroccan girl put her hands in her tight jeans and danced along and sang, in English. “O wen da saints,” she sang, “go marshin’ in.” It was great.

“I only know one word in French, and I say it with a Mississippi accent. But missy,” said BB King, “Missy bow-coo.” Everyone loved it.

There are many videos from Mawazine 2010 on Youtube, but I can’t find any professional ones of BB. Here’s one that’s a medley. It’s a bit long but come on—it’s BB King!

Part two coming tomorrow!

May 2010

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