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Continuing our new tradition of going to the last night of concert events in Rabat, we managed to make to the final evening of the Jazz au Chellah series. Long time readers (mythical creatures that exist only in my mind) will remember that I have mentioned the Chellah several times before.  These ancient Roman and Moroccan ruins surrounded by a medieval wall are a popular spot to visit, and when we saw the posters advertising the event we knew instantly that they would be a perfect venue for an open-air jazz concert. Then we promptly forgot. Fortunately Shannon, my personal event coordinator, was on hand to call and remind me.

I, unusually, had to work till 8—the time the concert started. I’d just rushed my class out and gotten in the car when Shannon called. “I’m saving seats but it’s getting ugly,” she warned me. “They have seats? Cool!” I replied.  I flew—that is, I drove sensibly and carefully—across town, picked up my family who were waiting for me, and hightailed it over to the Chellah. Parking was adventurous. The kids spotted several of their teachers’ cars, which didn’t surprise me, since apparently all of Rabat had driven to this very spot at the same time.

Once inside the Chellah, walking along a path strung with twinkle lights, it became apparent where all the occupants of all those cars were now. Every single seat was taken, plus every available inch in the aisles and on the steps. The carpets laid between the bleachers and the stage were crammed with bodies. It was a fire marshal’s worse nightmare. We actually did manage to spot Shannon and her son, and we waved cheerfully. Then, we found a spot at the edge of the carpets, and settled down to enjoy the jazz.

The first concert was a Finnish group, Ilmiliekki Quartet, and they were fine. This is a snippet so I’m not going to get into details. The twins kept insisting that they had “very good views” and borrowing my camera to take blurry photographs.

At the break, Ilsa and I managed to make our way up to sit by Shannon, thanks to her son going down to the carpets to hang out with Elliot, who had been brought to the concert by force. (He took some pains to make sure I understood that he did not like jazz and wanted to go to a café and watch a soccer match, but we insisted that the experience of an open-air concert in ruins that are millennia old was not to be missed).  As I was squeezing my way down the row, past others who cheerfully made way for me, I managed to bang a woman in front in the side of the head with my purse. I apologized profusely but she was not to be mollified, pulling a face and muttering about “americaines” to her companion. Shannon, shaking with laughter, told me she’d done the same thing earlier, then her son had kicked their chairs accidentally (he’s tall), plus they’d been extremely irritated with her for trying to save seats. “They talked about me in Arabic for at least 10 minutes,” she said.

We saw several friends, teachers or kids from my kids’ school,  and waved at them. It was beginning to get dark by this point.

Finally the second group came out; a combination European jazz trio and a gnaoua group—which is kind of worldbeat, quasi-religious music originally from Morocco, Mali, and West Africa in general. The set up included two complete drum sets and a xylophone made of gourds, as well as spaces for guitar and saxophone and singers. Initially, it was a trio—drummer Ramon Lopez and saxophonist Louis Sclavis , as well as Majid Bekkas, who sang and played the sintar.

A diversion arrived in the form of some attention-starved young men. One, dubbed “Morocco Man” by my family, was wearing a red unitard with a green “S” on the chest and green undies. His hair was a red Mohawk and his cape was a Moroccan flag (red with green star outlined in center). His friend was high on something more than life, I sensed. He had long floaty hair. Together they danced enthusiastically at the edge of the stage. It was funny to watch people’s reactions. On the one hand, many people were simply entertained. On the other, the dynamic duo were definitely the focus of a lot of attention, and you could see that the saxophonist in particular wasn’t too happy about it, although he kept that tight-lipped “hey I’m cool” smile going. The dancers tried to pull everyone into their happy skippy dance, and got yelled at for their pains. But the TV crews filmed them, and I could see why the musicians were less than thrilled.

Why yes, my blog would look much better if I always used Donn’s pics. But I don’t, because I keep finding copies of my blog posts on other sites, which annoys me no end. It’s not fair to subject him to that.

Later, 2 more singers/chanters came out, dressed in traditional multi-coloured outfits, clanking their krakebs rhythmically, and a young man with an enormous smile appeared to play the gourd-xylophone, which had a very sweet sound. A second European drummer appeared, and enjoyed getting the crowd involved. It was a very enthusiastic audience. Majid Bekkas started playing a thumb-piano, which I found fascinating. Donn wanted one of those for years and I was never very sympathetic (although rather that than a dijeridoo), but I found the plunking of the thumb piano to be very melodic and pleasant. Later Bekkas switched to an oud, the sound rich in the mellow dusk. The saxophonist proved to be adept at clarinet and trumpet as well, and the two drummers and the singers added rhythm and harmony to the warm summer night.

Aly Keita was fantastic

Gnaoua music is not our favorite. It’s awfully repetitive, for a start. We were glad we’d come and it was worth seeing, but it was also now after 11 on a school night, and plus we wanted to beat the crowd. So we left early. Ilsa bought herself a very cool black “Jazz au Chellah” tshirt for $3.50, which she now wears with black leggings and bead necklaces, looking freakily like I looked in the late 80s. Seriously. Same hairstyle, same penchant for wearing one long dangly earring and one small stud.

We found our car and took a look back at the Chellah lit up for the night.

It was gorgeous. We wish we’d made it to more of the concerts, but that’s life.

June 2010

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