January 2nd, 2014
After what seemed like an eternity, we pulled up in front of an old building. Adil spoke, ” Get out. We are here.” he wasn’t smiling, nor was his friend. His friend stayed in the car, (to watch it? Quick getaway?) we walked a minute in silence. I found a pencil with string wrapped around it. Maybe I could use it as a weapon if I had to. We came to a place that had the words Restaurant Diwa on the outside. Outside there were 2 very large guys who could best be described as goons. They looked me and my saxophone case over closely, approaching me ominously until they saw Adil, and then they bowed and motioned for us to enter.
Inside was a large room 30 meters square, filled with plush tables with four seats to a table. The walls were hung with expensive tapestries and paintings. Seated at the tables were patrons smoking Turkish hookah pipes. In the front there was a small stage with 2 keyboards and multiple speakers and equipment. In the corner, there was a large round table with 2 men seated at it.
I recognized him as the boss immediately. He had the air of confidence about him. Supreme confidence. When he saw me, he smiled stood up and reached out his hand in greeting. “you must be Frank that I’ve heard about. I’m Lamine, the Patron of this club.” he was about 45 years old, very handsome and dashing and very fit. He was originally an Algerian, who migrated to the USA for about 10 years, and then came to Morocco in the last 6 years and had a family. He talked a lot, and seemed to be a man who was used to having people listen to him. Continually while talking with him, people would come up and whisper something in his ear, and then he would give a command. the flunky would then bow and back away. He gave me his utmost attention though. He asked me to play and when I did, he listened intently. He couldn’t say enough good things about me. It was almost too much. “Frank, you are a genius. We’ve never heard music like that before.” It was about 9 pm of my first day in Casablanca. ” you must play with Abdullah.” I shrugged sure. At 930 the regular singer named Abdullah came in. He sang along with background tracks just like I did. He was a great singer, really very nice, and he played pop western songs by artists like Sting or Cat Stevens. It was easy to play along with him. We played together until 111pm and then I sat down at Lamine’s table. He ordered me dinner and I ate a delicious plate of salad and vegetables. I wondered how he knew I was a vegetarian. I was full, but then they brought out a second dish with potatoes, and olives, and steak. You know I always maintain I am a flexible vegetarian so I ate the steak too, and it was delicious. Lamine’s friend Miwa was constantly sucking on the hookah. He was a jolly man. He kept making very funny cracks. He took it upon himself to teach me Moroccan. “Frank, repeat after me,”se’bon….that means I’m fine, ajul, that means…….etc. etc. Then , Frank, repeat this, ” sampa, sampa, gowal, gowal, elle, Elle, pakstan, pakstan, amorst, amorst, gwahan, gwahan, I repeated. ” ok, now you are a muslim, congratulations. He kept blowing the cool mint flavored hookah in my face. Really I’ve rarely laughed so hard. ” Frank, is there anything we can do for you? We want to help you. Do you need anything, money, hotel, women, hashish?” my eyebrows raised. Hashish? ” we’ll actually I could use a little hashish.” ” I like to smoke it myself,” Lamine smiled and pulled out his wallet and took out a large chunk of the stuff, about the size of an old fashioned cigarette lighter, and broke it in half. “here, take this.” it was about a three month supply if I smoked every day, which I don’t. That was one worry gone.
And where are u staying? I showed him my hotel location on my cell phone. “that’s a bad location. We have some nice hotels up here. why don’t you stay at a nice place. You will be my guest. I looked at Adil and the other guy. They were both smiling. Lamine clapped his hands and an African man appeared. ” this is Mamouddhi, from Senegal. He came one day as a tourist like you and never left. That was 20 years ago. maybe you will do the same Frank. we will find you a nice Muslim girl, and you can get married and stay here and work for me.” Mamouddhi had a beautiful comical face. When he smiled at me, it almost made me embarrassed, his smile was so angelic. ” Kiss him” , Lamine commanded, and I DID. Ouch it scratched, I complained and Mamoudi feeling his beard to verify that it was indeed scratchy mumbled slightly embarrassed, “I’m sorry.. “…Everyone laughed, “Mamoudi, go with frank and find him a room in one of the good hotels across the street. and frank, it’s all on me, including breakfast and any room service, whatever you want.” Mamoudi grabbed another guy/goon, and off we went. Thee first 2 places looked very fancy, but they were full, we walked 2 more blocks and came to an elegant one called the Palais D’enfa. There they arranged a room for me.
When we got back to the restaurant, there was another group there, a keyboard and a singer. The keyboard provided all the sounds, drum, bass keyboard, and horns. The singer just sang. The music was passionate, sometimes unsettling, with off beats, unexpected scale, and songs going in strange directions suddenly, sometimes it felt like the music was limping along with a hitch every so often, the singers were really passionate and responsive to the audience, sometimes walking right up to people and singing to them. The crowd started shaking with belly dancer moves and though the melody and rhythm seemed random, everyone was singing along directly in sync.
I got to play a few songs with the Arabic musicians. Everyone was very nice, but I knew I wasn’t following the music well. I was too locked into the musical patterns I knew, but it was fun and good practice to try to follow them.
Then Lamine announced. “Mamoudhi go and get Franks things from the hotel and bring them to his new place”. Mamoudi picked another goon and off we went. Along the way, we got to enjoy Mamoudhis driving. He went full throttle all the time. He was a wonder to watch, he was completely self assured and comfortable in his own skin, yet at times you could see a cruel streak in him, like he could murder someone, and not think anything about it. A beggar came up to the car window and cupped his hand asking for money. Mahmouddi rolled down the window and just stared at him laughing until the poor man turned away completely humiliated. When accelerating at breakneck speeds, he saw a pedestrian too close and he avoided him, but then at the last moment swerved closer to scare the poor man to death. But riding with Mamouddhinin the car was just fun, and we were howling like children. We went over and picked up my stuff. I didn’t get my money back from the hotel guy. I probably could have mentioned it to M. And he would have bullied him into it, but I dropped it. They took me back to the hotel and I got my room and keys and there I was in a beautiful 5 star hotel, 5 minutes walk from the club. I got settled in and then walked back to the club and sat with Lamine and his friends at the table in the corner. I felt like a member of the Rat Pack sitting there. All kinds of people would come in, businessmen, judges, senators, and I was introduced to each in turn with great ceremony and pomp, usually in French. I learned to say , ” se’bon?” , which could mean , “are u good”, or ” I am good”. Somehow it was so easy to feel comfortable with those guys. They were so fun and funny. My timing was perfect too because I felt comfortable, ” Frank, do you want a woman?” and me after the laughter died down, holding up 2 fingers and ushering in a new wave. ” Frank, I love you, I want you to be my girlfriend.” big wave of laughter, and then after a pause, me , “ok”. At one point the Arabic singer came over and sand at our table to us, Lamine handed me a hundred Dinwa note ( about 12 dollars) and motioned for me to give it to him. The man wiggled his chest and I thought I should put it in there like they do for strippers. Except i stuck my entire hand in there and rubbed it around his belly. The table erupted. Later I found out you are supposed to sprinkle the money over his head, but it was all good.
That night I got home late about 3 am. It had been a long ride from the Youngstown bus, to New York, to a crummy hotel in Casablanca to this upscale club sitting with these privileged funny guys, all in about 45 hours ago. I overdid it and I would pay the price, tomorrow.