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.
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.
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.
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.
Here 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.
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…