Tangier-America Day! (and my 1st academic conference, ever)

As it happened, the US Cultural Attaché in Morocco caught Nacim and Zakaria’s performance at the Fulbright Symposium (see previous post for videos). A week later, the American Embassy in Rabat contacted me to help organize a fusion performance for Tangier-America Day in – you guessed it – Tangier. I happily obliged. The idea was to showcase American and Moroccan collaboration, so we brought together Nacim Haddad, Zakaria Aktoui, Aicha (a Watson Fellow from the States/phenomenal singer), and myself. Aicha brought a soul-stirring addition of jazz vocals and spoken word to a Gnawa 3-piece band: Nacim on the haj houj, Zakaria on the qraqeb, and yours truly on the tabla (hand drums). The result was quite a spectacle (YES, that was a double entendre in French!), and we even had the honor of playing for the US Ambassador, Samuel Kaplan, and his wife Sylvia. Believe it or not, Zakaria did his first ever Gnawa toe touch less than a foot away from them. Check it out. Oh yeah, we called ourselves Gnawa Voyageur…and Zakaria and I just might be the greatest dance duo in Tangier-America Day history (see video 3).

Here’s the opener, a variation on “Bu Lila. Aicha comes in with the 2nd chorus on English:


Then she took center stage with a bit of poetry:

And finally, the showstopper:

I also took this time to wrap up my interviews with M’Alem Abdellah El Gourd in Tangier. We spent well over 10 hours in 3 sittings discussing my findings, playing the haj houj, and pondering the future of tagnawit. I incorporated these final talks into the paper I presented for the ICPS Conference at the Kasbah Museum in Tangier. My paper was a continuation of what I presented at the Symposium, but with a focus on site specificity. It also began with a recap of how my project had evolved over the previous months:

“At the outset, my Fulbright research project sought to explore the local impact of Gnawa musical collaborations; exemplified by the trans-Atlantic productions of M’alem Abdellah “Bualkhaeir” El Gourd of Tangier and jazz pianist Randy Weston. It has since refocused to address inherent questions of authenticity, as well as site specificity, in the context of Gnawa fusion performance. In this paper I examine the vocabulary of authentic traits, including linguistic, genealogical, religious, geographic, musical, and spiritual, that the Gnawa use to reassess tagnawit in the face of musical exchange, commercialism, and a changing audience; and also highlight the Kasbah Gnawa in Sale, the Jewish-influenced sebtiyin ritual, Dar Gnawa in Tangier, and the Festival in Essaouira as site specific case studies.”

The attending scholars, who came from as far as California and Pakistan, responded to the paper with much polite clapping and an intense Q&A session. It was my first time presenting on a topic at an academic conference, and I think it was a fantastic way to get my feet wet. It was also the first time I had the opportunity to really incorporate my own findings, data, photos, and clips from the field, into the body of my paper. I cannot explain how rewarding this was outside of the college experience. I’ve been fine-tuning the paper after receiving feedback and criticisms from the audience, and resubmitted it for publication with ICPS in their “Emerging Scholars” Journal. That’s all for now. Next post…the WORLD MUSIC FESTIVAL IN ESSAOUIRA!

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