Myself In Essaouira!
By Kaoutar Hrari
Morocco News Tribune
It is often said that spirituality is rather related to abstract thing, but I believe it might be chained to a concrete one. I have actually found my spiritual place: A place where I feel light, I mingle with strangers, I regain my inner peace, I acquire a kind of acceptance of society, of its corruption, and its negativity; and I feel myself. What I adore the most in that place is finding myself, again. I have strange tastes, I admit, and strange preferences. in that place I become the one I have always wanted to be, I take off the masks that society has forced me to wear, I reveal myself, my life style, and my old-fashioned African-impacted hippy clothes, I undisguised myself.
In fact, Essaouira is a place where no one judges you on your clothes, your choices, and your life style; a place of no prejudices, no stereotypical thinking. It is a place where people from different places, famous people such as singers, T.V reporters, actors and non-famous ones, gather in peace, their main interests are music, love, peace, freedom -in all its forms, and hashish—in the person of joints. Of course, I do not indulge in the last of this list, but I do strongly believe in the others.
My friends often described Essaouira, but they didn’t do it justice; it is beyond description. It is neither a metropolis where you find all amenities; nor a big city where you find tens of places of entertainment. It is a small city that modernism is, unfortunately, on its way to tarnishing; but let us forget about the modernized part of it, and stick to the old Medina: the Skala which is a tower that used to be a shield against pirates and has a breathtaking view over the sea, the Djzira- or the isle, that according to some, used to be a prison which needs to be reached by boat, for it is in the sea; the port colonized by pigeons, always crowded with fresh fish of all sorts; the open-air restaurant, frying fish along with French fries, tomato-onion salad, olives and tea.
The people of Essaouira are another subject matter; natives with a Marrakechi-like accent, Jews and foreigners who fell for the charm of such a city, open-minded, hospitable and very welcoming. I like the freezing air even in summer time, the sun, the beach, the people, the old houses, the hippies, the musical instruments, the traditional jewelry shops, the wooden made furniture, all of it, including myself.
Geographically speaking, Essaouira is a small maritime city. It is located in the Southern Morocco, between Assafi and Agadir. It is windy and cold all year long. In terms of its history, it is famous for its being under the control of pirates, long time ago. Additionally, Essaouira is famous for its wealth of fish.
Another aspect of Essaouira’ fame is the Gnawa music festival, held in the last days of June, adds some spices to the place. With the multi-colored clothes of the singers and their groups, the cocktail of music genres at the opening ceremony, the instruments made of wood, iron and animal skin; attending the festival in such a city symbolizes heaven for me, a duality of spirituality—Gnawa music and Essaouira. It is not by chance that Essaouira is considered as the city of Gnawa. It is the city where slaves settled down and started their lives; some stayed in, while others moved to other cities such as Meknes, Marrakesh, Rabat and others. All day long, Gnawa music is heard in every corner of the city, in shops, cafés, houses, whether played traditionally or in a modern style using Djembes, Didgeridoos, and other instruments.
I had the opportunity, for the first time of my life, to attend a Gnawa trance. I seized it. my mother, my sister and I were invited by a man who turned out to be a Maalem or leader of the Gnawa music section of the city (each Moroccan city has its own Gnawa music section: Gnawa of Essaouira, Gnawa of Rabat… etc). It was an unforgettable experience. I was surrounded by famous leaders of Gnawa music and non-famous. I witnessed the effect of Gnawa music, its spirituality and its magic on people, Moroccans and foreigners as well.
One has to visit Essaouira to really understand what it looks like and what feelings it engenders. I had been told about it for years, but when I visited it, I discovered it. And yet only a few would praise it and admire its beauty.
To confess, my birthday coincides with my yearly visit to Essaouira. I celebrate it in that city, surrounded by its walls, its people, its Gnawa groups and the spirit of freedom. Could I ask for more? I doubt it, for celebrate my birthday, my spirituality and the day of the revelation of myself in Essaouira.
*Kaoutar Hrari is a Moroccan future Translator. She pursues her Masters in translation at the king Fahd Institute of Translation (Ecole Superieur Roi Fahd de Traduction), Tangier, Morocco. She earned her License degree From Mohamed V university of Rabat, entitled “When Literature and Photography Meet”. She speaks Arabic, English, French and some Spanish. Her centers of interests are Arts, learning languages, voluntary work and cultures, especially African Cultures.