January 11, 2014

I had been alone too long. Traveling alone can be good. You meet more new people,myou can get into more adventures, but sometimes it just can be lonely.myou dont meet anyone, you feel distant and things can start to close in on you. I was starting to panic too because my travel had become too laid back. I was on my way to marakesh and I had no idea where to go in Marakech or a hostel or hotel name. When I saw 2 other backpackers, I hurried over to talk. They seemed a little surprised to be intruded on. The woman seemed quite assertive and I felt fine following along. I needed a break. That worked for about 20 minutes, and then I realized that she was dumber, far dumber than I. They had no idea where they were going, and the woman starting saying more and more stupid things. It took forever walking with heavy packs to find our place. By that time I wanted to strangle her. Back in a youth hostel, 8 strangers to a room. Its weird, yet safe somehow. The hostel was nestled in the old city called the medina. In the center of the medina was a large square, Jema el Fna.
The main square is a bazaar in the true sense of the word. It’s a huge area, maybe 200 meters square of open paved area. During the day, people sit and try to attract attention and change from the tourists and the Moroccans who come to visit. There are monkeys, snakes and snake charmers, fortune tellers, healers, salesman, carnival games, strange instruments blaring, people selling popcorn, sweets, dates, nuts. At night it becomes even more fantastic. Performers come out and they are surrounded by large groups of people, 3 or 4 deep, maybe 100-200 people. They are scores of these circles spreading across the squares, like some kind of giant super cells. The lights From the stalls the the smoke rising from the barbecues and food stalls lends a surreal atmosphere to it all. Peoples faces are backlit with huge rolling clouds of drifting spreading smoke. Its beautiful and unearthly. Of course I wanted to play music too, but what place did io have here. I didn’t know African music, witty it’s lilting rhythms, strange scales with jumps and unexpected turns. and blended notes. But that is what I do supposedly, I challenge myself and go out and try to play anywhere. Going out that first night to the bazaar area, who do I run into but the couple. Maybe it’s a good sign, they can support me. I tell them where and what am doing. They want to come along. Unfortunately, I turn into their alley. It’s not the wide boulevard I had picked out that runs into the bazaar, but a narrow alley that is pulled and congested. In my confusion I think it’s the other one, anid i take out my instrument. There is no room, there are donkeys, motorcycles, bikes, all fighting for precious space. I set up and play though and the couple stands by and watches, takes pictures. Some people stop to listen, but this is not the time or place , here in this small alley. Finally, the couple has to go, and the guy encourages me. Go to the bazaar and play there. You can do it. Join them. His words of encouragement come easily. We encourage others easily, but its not so easy to follow. I am reluctant. I don’t belong here. I go into the bazaar and stand in a circle where there is an Afrcian band playing trance music called g’nowa music. I listen transfixed. The time is shifting constantly, not a steady 4/4….. But a 3 then a 5 then a seven, then a 2 and another 2. It seems random, and maybe it is, yet it all holds together somehow.
Suddenly the lead player is motioning to me. You with the instrument, come here, sit down, play with us. I am surprised, and reluctant. I can’t play with these guys. But I take my horn out. Everyone is smiling warmly. they want to hear. Me too.i figure out as best I can the key and start out. At first it sounds strange, there is no blend, i can’t follow. Then I stop counting, stop trying to figure the time, stop trying to be perfect. I just listen to the bass and play around it. I can’t follow exactly but I go right after. The effect is. A blend, a weave, I don’t worry at,out the misses, i just follow along, and everyone is smiling. It’s like a conversation between me and the lead player. Sometimes we are talking back and forth,. Sometimes arguing, sometimes battling for power, who is the leader, sometimes swimming together. The audience looks aghast, who is this tourist? Other tourists look on incredulous. Who is this guy. I just hold on and try to follow. The dancers, the drummers, the singers, we are all locked in, falling together. One more , they say, the musicians, they like me. They grandly and majestically introduce me. The crowd gives big applause. I broke through. I play another one. When I get up to leave, the band protests loudly, stays with us. But i insist. I want to try my own music. I get up and walk around. I see another nice group. Again, they see my instrument, and call me in . It is a less complex rhythm. I can follow it easier. I can take over, and I find that I am leading them. I am playing with an amazing band with Africans background,round and backup. It is a strange fusion of jazz and African. It sounds surprising, different. I play 2 songs with them as well. Now it is time to try my music. I walk around and fInd a space where nobody is. I put my small amp down and define my space.People start walking around me. Some start looking. What’s this gonna be? I blow some tentative notes, turn on the amp and start playing summertime. A number of Moroccan men surround me. They look so curious. What is this. The rhythm is so Simple, but the melody, is regular and complex and beautiful. Yes they can understand the music. music is music. The feelings that come out when I play, they can hear and feel. A nice idea springs forth, like a baby coming out into this world. They are on top of it, and start clapping and yelling right as it comes out. They can feels it. They are smiling, clapping. About 60 people surround me. Try are smiling, look interested. They are thinking, I don’t know this strange music, but I like it. Many of the faces are curious. They look like wounded dogs, hungry, cold! Dark, but then a nice idea is born, and their sharp expressions turn into light and wonder and their smiles are warm and childish and lovely. Music hath charms. I play a few songs and people listen, walk by, stop and share with me. The. Bazaar is a magical place, where anything can happen, all your dreams come true.
I walk back to the hostel, through the large connecting street I had originally planned to play on. I figure it’s worth one more try. Here is an ideal spot to play. Quieter than the square with its jumble of sounds and thunderous drumming. Here its quiet and people are strolling by, a rare vehicle.
I take out my stuff and start to play. Immediately a large crowd forms. People are intent, smiling, sharing smiles around. Sme people even come up and give me money. there is no hat, just lay it on my bag. It’s what I had imagined, I’m sharing feelings with people from another part of the world, real foreigners, without words, we are sharing deep feelings. Two police walk by and I hole my breathe, turn down the music. Nothing. I play another song and two more police walk by (the area is well patrolled) and they seem to slow down. I keep playing. In a few seconds there are 6 policeman surrounding me. One of the brutes is pulling at my amp, trying to pull the wires out. I put my hand over it to protect it and we struggle for a second, then a plain clothes man, filled with power and authority comes up and says ominously, ” you may not play here. You can only play in the square”. He watches me intently. Any hesitation or rebellion would be severely dealt with I am sure. I bow and apologize and immediately start to put my horn away. The man sees I won’t be a problems and gives me a nod and moves on. The crowd fizzles. I am happy. I exceeded my expectations. I conquered the bazaar and my fears. My dreams came true.


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