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09/23/2010

Rhythms of Rabat

As we drive past the Atlantic to the coastal town of Temara, where I will be residing for the next few months, I hear the adhan inviting everybody to Zuhr prayers. The ocean waves are violently beating against the rocks, and it all feels so surreal. One of the main reasons I chose to study in Morocco is to have the opportunity to immerse myself into the various musical styles and sounds of the country, and it’s been a pleasant surprise so far. My first meal was in a French restaurant near our hotel, and it seemed that Mariah Carey had followed me to Rabat. I was slightly disappointed, but optimistic.

I am actually quite lucky in that I arrived in Rabat on the 27th night of Ramadan, Laylat al-Qadr. It is believed that this is the day that the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet, and hence it is a very sacred, and celebratory day. During the day, the city is lifeless. Right after Maghrib, I was amazed to watch hundreds of families trickle out into the streets in clothing bedizened in sequins and patterns. Children were dancing to the beat of the drummers. Young girls dressed as brides were having their photos taken in small chariots. Others were avidly campaigning for money to go on the rides. Near the beach, boys were daringly jumping into the murky water despite signs warning against it.  It was a sight to hear. Around 2 AM, everyone began to return to their homes, and things quieted down, but I could still hear one man reciting the Qur’an till Fajr the next morning.

On the second day, Madiha, our program leader, took us to her family’s home in Tamara for iftar. Our program director, Zaki, introduced his niece, Nabyla, as a professional singer. I took this as his way of giving her his utmost appreciation. It turns out that she is actually very well-known throughout Morocco, and her songs are played on the international radio quite often. Most of her work falls under the category of Rai, folk music that originated in Algeria. My counterpart. A Nabila who can sing. Over some mint tea, Nabyla serenaded us with her sweet rendition of La Vie en Rose. I was in awe, to say the least.

After it was affirmative that the Americans were well fed, Nabyla and Rime, the director’s daughter, took us to a cafe to listen to a fusion band.  Again, I was expecting some new beats, only to be surprised to hear the lead guitarist belt out Eric Clapton’s Layla and even more surprised to see everyone in the cafe singing along. Apparently, Hotel California is an extremely popular song in Morocco as well. The crowd was ecstatic when the band jammed to Pink Floyd’s We Don’t need No Education. Go figure. That’s not to say I did not have a great time! 

My favorite moment yet, however, is when all the kids gathered outside the house in Tamara with various pots, and pans, and plastic stools to drum out some fantastic beats. They sang traditional songs that they must have been listening to since their days as infants, and danced vivaciously. As someone who yearns for any sort of musical inclination, I have great respect for these guys.  

Of course, I must mention my appreciation for the random Bollywood songs I hear almost everywhere I go whether it be Jiya Jale at the boardwalk, or Mehboob Mere in a small shop in Asila. This country really is quite cosmopolitan. 

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Nothing dries sooner than a tear.
Nothing is to be got without pains but poverty.
Nothing is difficult to the man who will try.
Nothing in the world is difficult for one who sets his mind to it.

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