The leader of traditional Moroccan music group, the Master Musicians of Jajouka, relishes Tangier’s cultural scene and fondly recalls meeting the Rolling Stones.
Tangier is the most artistic city in Morocco. There is a big creative community and people are very open. It’s one of the few places where you can still live an artistic life and meet real artists. They come from Europe and America to visit and many stay, because there’s such magic here. I have lived in New York and visited cities all over the world, but I love Tangier best.
People from Winston Churchill to John Malkovich have stayed at Hotel El Minzah. One of the city’s oldest and most important hotels, it opened in 1930 and its bars have always been a great place for parties. The Rolling Stones stayed many times, and I’ve been for dinner and parties with writers and musicians from all over the world.
The best thing to eat in Tangier is fish – whichever kind is fresh that day. Chellah Beach Club on Avenue Mohammed VI is a wonderful place to try it. To prepare seafood, we use herbs and spices, then grill it, fry it or cook it in a tagine. In the north of Morocco, we eat dishes with goat or pigeon too, and these are very nice. Couscous should always be made at home; it tastes better that way. People in northern Morocco still make bread fresh every day in their homes.
My favourite neighbourhood is the Kasbah. The architecture is a mix of Andalucian, Moorish, colonial and Moroccan. Many big old houses are owned by European expats – writers, musicians, painters – who throw fantastic parties. A little jazz cafe called Les Fils du Détroit, next to the Kasbah Museum, is popular with older Arab-Andalucian musicians. There are jamming sessions and the tea is not too expensive.
It’s traditional in Tangier to smoke kief [the Arabic word for hash]. You use a long wooden pipe called a sebsi, which you can buy in the medina. This is the way we smoked hashish for centuries, especially in the countryside. You can also buy leather pouches for storing kief and all kinds of ashtrays.
The best place to hear traditional Moroccan music is Jajouka. This is the village where I was born, around two hours from Tangier by car. Our music dates back over 4,000 years and my family has lived there for generations. Some Moroccan music is for dancing or worship, but ours is for healing. We use the gimbri (a goatskin-covered bass lute), the ghaita (a double-reed horn) and the lira (a bamboo flute), as well as several types of small drum.
Our summer music festival is Master Musicians of Jajouka (26-28 August, jajouka.com). The lineup last year included Donovan, Lazywall and DJ Logic, as well as Public Overdrive, the band of Joolz Leitch, grandson of Brian Jones (of the Rolling Stones). Locals, visitors from Tangier and tourists all come, and we have a big musical party.
In the 1980s, the Rolling Stones spent time with us in Tangier and Jajouka. They loved to smoke kief. I remember once, after dinner at El Minzah, Mick Jagger turned to me and said, “Bachir, I need a pipe and some kief. Will you go and find some?” I went out and found a guy who was selling but realised I had no money! I had to persuade him to give me the pipe and kief for free because it was for the Stones.
Mick used to borrow money and forget to pay it back. Once I lent him 2,000 dirhams (about £135). Just before he was leaving, I said: “Mick, I’m looking for my 2,000 dirhams.” He knelt on the ground and wrote me two traveller’s cheques for $100 each. I sold one for $500, and the other one I still have. It is a funny symbol of this time in my life, but a good investment too, I think.
I think the development of Tangier today is a good thing. The city is cleaner and there are new buildings and new roads. We can’t stay in the past. If you want to be part of the city, you have to change with it.
Originally published by The Guardian. Image above courtesy of Cherie Nutting and the Master Musicians of Jajouka.