Tag Archives: essaouira

Banjo Berbère…

We love to cycle, otherwise we would not be cycling thousands of kilometres. However we are but man, and man must laze, eat and laze some more.

And laze we have done, though it’s fair to say we have invested in our musical time here in Essaouira. Everyone here is a musician and taking time to hear what everyone has to offer has been worthwhile.

Medina street

Take Ibrahim; a twenty something gimbri player who works in a music shop by day and plays Gnawa music by night. Ibrahim made time for us, was patient with Imran as he showed him the ropes of Krakeb playing and was keen to share his love of music. Until we met Ibrahim our short time in Essaouira had brought us to be pessimists, verging on snobs. Until we reached Essaouira, we had grown accustomed to being the only tourists in town and we found the crowds of mini-skirt parading tourists undignified. However, Essaouira wisely taught us a lesson, not to judge too sharply and to keep our eyes open.

Ibrahim playing gimbri

Imran and Ibrahim jamming...

It does seem strange that it would take a banjo for us to fully warm to Essaouira. But it has indeed been the banjo Berbère that brought us to enjoy a Moroccan jam session. After playing music and meeting various musicians around the small city we were packing our bags to leave. But in the time it took for a handful of photos to be printed we had been introduced to half a band; waiters by day and musicians by night.

True to the Moroccan spirit we were invited to rest in a quiet lounge style room with low lying couches in deep reds and gold- within a few minutes we were sipping tea and listening to the sound of the gimbri once again.

Abdul playing Gimbri

But this time the feel of the music was transformed by the resonating sound of the 4 string banjo and a gimbri. We had seen banjos for sale in various music shops but remained unenlightened as to why there presence here seemed so strong.

Mohammed playing BanjoHere the banjo is creatively played as a lotar style instrument. The lotar is a 4-string lute with a hollow tear-drop shaped carved body. Unique to musicians in the regions of the High Atlas Mountains of southwestern Morocco, it has a similar tone to the banjo. This is not a concidence, as some banjo enthusiasts or ethnomusicologists will already know that the banjo, gimbri and lotar can all trace their ancestry to the West-African ngoni.  Seing the banjo played alongside its cousin, the gimbri, was uncanny.

As they finished work the musicians around us grew in number, occasionally running away from a tune to serve a customer. We were encouraged warmly to join in and with such a supportive environment both of us felt at home.

Mikaela looks challenged by Gimbri

But every laze must come to an end, and ours will end abruptly in Tan Tan. Annoyingly our Mauritanian visa requires us to enter before the 5th November, thus we need to pick up the pace a little to allow us time in Dakhla to organise our border crossing safely. All of this means its time to take a bus, just to Tan Tan, conveniently missing some of the high mountain peaks! With freshly laundered clothes, a bag full of coconut macaroons and a couple of Kebabs we begin the next chunk of the voyage, the road into the Sahara

A quick hello from Essaouira…

Since our last post we have not strayed from our usual cycle routine but some great things have been happening in and outside of cyberspace…

Firstly, a few novel things about our blog. If you ever find yourself pondering where on earth we could be, you can now find out simply by going to the maps page. Not only will you find our latest location, updated as often as possible via SMS, you can also check our past progress in the form of waypoints, blogs and photos.

Also, you may have noticed that our first musical blog didn’t have any working music. This problem has now been resolved, so please have a listen to the fascinating Gnawa music.

We’ve also had some great press coverage in the past week. We’ve had a article about music cycles published in the Malian newspaper Le Tambour, describing an “extraordinary human adventure”. We’ve also just heard that we appear in the news section of the Nov/Dec edition of Songlines magazine, an exciting world music publication.

We left Safi a few days ago and we’ve battled some steep hills but the wind has been much kinder, making our progress slow, but painless. We’re now in Essaouira, which hosts the annual Gnawa festival, so we’re hoping to hear some more gimbris and krakebs whilst here! Essaouira is also known for its beach life, so we feel almost obliged to extend our current suntans from our forearms and shins, perhaps even bronzing beyond the glove and sock marks..!