July 21 – Moroccan Wedding & Jam Session
Recently added commentary is in italics.
Friday, July 18, 2003
Last night I went to a Moroccan wedding reception here at the hotel. Nourandine, a front desk manager, invited me to his cousins’ festivities. When I got there after work at about midnight, the party was just beginning as the bride was being carried abound the room on an ornate elevated platform accompanied by the sounds of a raucous traditional sounding band consisting of long brass horns and drums. They all marched around the room in ceremonial fashion while the action was being videotaped by several coordinated high-end cameras including one on a long, remote-controlled mechanized arm.
There was plenty of food and drinks but no alcohol, and women danced separately. A belly dancer livened things up as she moved parts of her body in ways hard to imagine! I was told that her dancing style and costume is Egyptian. I managed to get a 30 second video with my small camera which can be downloaded here:
The wedding reception I attended took place at the hotel late on a Saturday night, I believe. I was able to move among the celebrants, observe and take pictures, and no one seemed to mind. There were men and women of all ages attending. I was particularly interested in the orchestra, 12 to 15 pieces, and they played popular songs of the culture. During a band break, there was a belly dancer in the middle of the floor. Men and women danced separately, but one man pushed the envelope and pretended to dance “alone” while he wandered in and out of the belly dancer’s space. I later found out what a typical fee was for an orchestra at such a high-end wedding, and I forget the dollar amount, but it was at the low end of what an American wedding band might make.
We had a jam session this past week, but we don’t have another on scheduled yet. The bass player, Hamza Soissi, drove in from Rabat (he’s a brave man to drive at all in this country!) He knew most of the jazz standards, and we got a good response from the crowd, which included some local journalists. Hamza said he’s played several times for the Moroccan King Mohammed VI. I asked him what the King’s favorite song was. Hamza said he likes salsa; also James Brown, and Earth Wind & Fire, who both played at one of the King’s recent birthday parties!
Soon after I arrived in Casablanca, I met a Frenchman named Serge Candiard who was a fan of American jazz and an amateur jazz drummer. The hotel restaurant manager introduced me to him, and the two of them were ready to make plans for a jam session provided I agreed to it. We had a jam session the following week with a bass player, Hamza Souissi, from Rabat, a short train ride away. Interesting that there were no jazz bass players in the larger city Casablanca. At the jam session we played through jazz standards and had some fun, some journalists showed up, and we had some audience response. We wanted to continue the jam sessions, but the manager was not willing to pay Hamza even a nominal fee for his trouble in taking the train from Rabat. In fact, Hamza had trouble getting paid at all for the one session; he had to make a special trip from Rabat, and he brought along his wife and son who was about 8 years old. I found them waiting in the hotel lobby on a particularly hot and humid July afternoon. The lobby was not very well air-conditioned, and it was stifling, sweltering, extremely uncomfortable. He said he’d been waiting to get paid and had already waited about two hours. I invited them up to my hotel room, which had excellent air conditioning, and offered his son a cold can of Coke. I’m sure they were relieved. Hamza was a full-time musician, and I asked him what kind of songs did he play at his gigs? He said the songs he played on his best paying gigs were American standards. After another hour, he found out his check was ready, and that was the last time I saw him. Serge and I met up again several times, and he eventually helped me produce a recording session with some of the top Parisian jazz musicians. This resulted in my CD release “From Paris With Love.”
Sunday, July 20
Yesterday I was spontaneously invited to a Moroccan home and treated to a couscous dinner! My friend Mohammed picked me up in his late model Renault and took me to his cousins’ home, a second-floor apartment in a lively neighborhood near the big mosque. His cousin, Zhour, brought out a giant bowel of couscous topped with cooked vegetables and lamb. We watched videos of his cousin’s wedding as we ate—some of the family ate with their hands directly from the large bowel in the middle of the table. It was very relaxed and comfortable. Mohammed was taking a look at his first cousin Nadia’s car problem, and the rest of us just started eating at our leaisure–just like at home! I wondered if Mohammed might be trying to fix me up with Nadia, but Mohammed is himself pursuing Nadia, I think! He’s taking her to the USA next year. It is common in Morocco for first cousins to marry.
The wedding reception on the video we watched was similar format to the large wedding I’d just witnessed at the hotel, but it was a smaller party taking place in an apartment. The music and songs seemed to be the same, but instead of an 18-piece band, there was a 3-piece band: keyboard, violin, and traditional drum, plus a singer. There was another guy on the side who might have been a soundman and he might have been also working a drum machine. Some of the family members sat in and played and sang with the band, and at least one cousin I met is a part-time professional musician. Men and women danced mostly separately, but I did see one of the nephews try to start up a dance with his aunt!
Mohammed’s family is, I believe, upper-middle class, as they seem to have good jobs and are well-traveled. I was somewhat surprised they spoke equally both French and Arabic among themselves—I’d thought Arabic was the main family language.
Across the street from the hotel, there was an outdoor eatery, and I would sometimes go there for a change of pace (my meals were free at the hotel). My first time there, I met a man named Mohammed, and he insisted on my coming to his home that evening for dinner. He picked me up at the hotel, and we went to his apartment. I met some of his family, and we watched some family videos. A large plate of lamb, couscous, and vegetables was placed in the middle of the dining table, and everyone; casually ate from the dish using their hands. I was later told that this is a very normal routine for a family dinner in Morocco.
Last night was a lively night with a tour group in from Australia. They seemed happy to hear some Frank Sinatra!
Here is a slide show with more pics: