If you stroll through the winding streets nearby Rue Riad Zitoun el Kdim and the Riad Dar Habiba, you may be lucky enough to spot Hamza.
Hamza is a street cleaner by his daily trade, however he also has a burning passion for the dance moves inspired by Charlie Chaplin!
He’s somewhat of a celebrity among the locals in this sleepy residential area and I was lucky enough to get this one-off show!
As the sun set’s over the central square of Marrakech, performers, magicians and musicians descend on Jemaa al-Fnaa to perform for the thriving crowds that circulate within the area. One group of musicians who call themselves the ‘Argan group’ have become particularly popular in the square for the atmosphere they create with their array of percussion instruments.
Hailing from different Berber villages scattered around the outskirts of the red city, the musicians meet with their instruments in the centre of Marrakech to captivate the crowds of the Medina.
The Argan Group’s style reflects that of which is typical in the Rif Valley (Berber: Arif Valley) in the very Northern reaches of Morocco.
Although it’s impossible to understand the flurry of Berber and Arabic singing that pierces the smoky air of the square, just watching the group of musicians keep the steady cadence of their music whilst sharing out glasses of Moroccan mint tea and ushering curious passersby closer into the circle is a truly remarkable sight.
I quickly learn that the only way to speak with Argan group and find out more about them is by accepting to dance with the members inside the circle! After learning to dance in the traditional Berber style I learn from a man whose name is Omar that the group have been playing together since 1998 and as well as street performances they are often asked to play at weddings and other special celebrations.
The central square of Jemaa al-Fnaa is only a 5 minute walk from the Riad Dar Habiba. As you discover the street performers of Marrakech don’t be surprised to be asked to dance along too! In this corner of the world it is often not often to simply sit alongside the musicians as the line between performer and spectator is often blurred!
You never truly quite know what to expect before venturing into Marrakech’s thriving central hub, Jemaa al-Fnaa. A five minute wander through this ancient space and you will witness acrobats, story tellers and magicians all competing to hold the gaze of the moving crowds.
There is one act, however that is perhaps quite different from the others. A troupe of four musicians, Abdulrahim, Mostafa, Abdelrazak and Said make up the group known as ‘Amal Saha’ and unlike the mysterious, healing sounds of Gnawa music in the square, Amal Saha’s songs are powerfully charged with optimism.
Abdulrahim disappear’s shortly after as the crowds begin to swarm around the group once more. Soon after the steady cadence of the band’s drums slowly fills the air with sound as screams, claps and shouts erupt from the crowd. Although Amal Saha’s lyrics are of course in Arabic, the raw, uncompromising riffs flowing from the bands electric banjo through to a megaphone powered by a car battery are without need of a translation. This was not so much of a conventional music performance in which a band plays music for an audience to listen. As the drums, guitars and shrill cries of Amal Saha pierce the already wild atmosphere of Jemaa al-Fnaa I learn that this is a performance in which both musician and crowd are animated under the same energy of expression.
And unlike the various punk concerts I attend back in the United Kingdom, Amal Saha are encased by a crowd of parents, children and the elderly, all chanting in unison.
Jemaa al-Fnaa is a five to ten minute walk from any of our Riad’s and a night spent with Amal Saha for me was another case example of the remarkable experiences that can be had just from walking through the streets of the red city of Marrakech.