Digging in Morocco

This is going to be a long piece of text, so be prepared. Finding music on vinyl in Morocco is not easy, This article will present my finds and it will hopefully serve as a guide for other people who are trying to find music. It contains my experiences and locations which might serve useful for future travelers.

Let me start with the beginning. I never listened to much Moroccan music before somewhere around late 2015. I encountered the sounds on some mixtapes and enjoyed it, but I had no idea who was playing or what the song titles were. Than somewhere around 2016 a Belgian label called Radio Martiko reissued a record from Abdou El Omari called Nuits D'Ete https://soundcloud.com/radio-martiko/rmlp-001-nuits-dete-avec-abdou-el-omari-zifaf-filfada https://soundcloud.com/radio-martiko/rmlp-001-nuits-dete-avec-abdou-el-omari-afrah-el-maghreb. A psychedelic, organ heavy record which I very much enjoyed. The echoes on the drums and all the weird effects makes it a very enjoyable listening experience. In that same year a German label reissued a record by Nass El Ghiwane 'https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kmV1wivlsg'. A bit more traditional Moroccan sounding but enjoyable nonetheless.

The mixtapes and those two records got me wondering what more can be unearthed from Morocco? To that question I wanted to find an answer. A lot of people went before me, but the information on the internet is really slim. I did find these articles: http://psychfunk.com/features/crate-digging-morocco-fes-casablanca/ https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/14/letter-from-morocco-casablanca-records and others which are listed furthermore in this article.

Off we go ...

I traveled to Morocco and started out in Casablanca. I started there because Abdou El Omari's music is from Casablanca. In fact, his music is reissued from Disques Gam https://www.google.com/maps/place/99+Boulevard+de+Paris,+Casablanca+20250,+Morocco/@33.5931058,-7.6215903,17z/data=!4m13!1m7!3m6!1s0xda7d29b1d24c911:0x9db70758bd6ccf90!2sBoulevard+de+Paris,+Casablanca+20250,+Morocco!3b1!8m2!3d33.5931014!4d-7.6194016!3m4!1s0xda7d29c79ca0af1:0xadde6c5eb817e19b!8m2!3d33.5922315!4d-7.6168929, which is still a record store you can visit in Casablanca itself. I went and things were a bit different than any normal record store you'd visit in Europe. To start off, nothing is priced. The next odd thing you'll notice is that all the records are behind glass cabinets, chained off or hung from the ceiling.

My experience in Disques Gam was not a positive one. As I've managed to read somewhere online, the man behind the record store (Gam Boujemma) is not keen on people just touching his records and is very, very protective about them. You have to know exactly what you're looking for or else you can just get out of the door. Me, being a more exploring and digging type of character, this was not what I was expecting. I looked around and eventually the man in the store grunts (in French) something along the lines of: "what are you doing here?!". It took me a moment to understand what he asked because my French is pretty poor. Than I proceeded to touch a bunch of records and he got quite angry, and pointed me out of his store with the magical French word "sortie!". And I do know what that means.

After that disappointing experience at Disques Gam I tried to find Le Comptoir Marocain de Distribution de Disques https://www.google.com/maps/place/Avenue+Lalla+Yacout,+Casablanca+20250,+Morocco/@33.5907286,-7.6156143,17z/data=!4m13!1m7!3m6!1s0xda7d29b1d24c911:0x9db70758bd6ccf90!2sBoulevard+de+Paris,+Casablanca+20250,+Morocco!3b1!8m2!3d33.5931014!4d-7.6194016!3m4!1s0xda7d29de2c09673:0x36b61f70c9ae40a7!8m2!3d33.5902195!4d-7.6120837 which is a bit further down the road. I managed to find it, but unfortunately it was closed due to the fact that I was visiting Morocco during the Ramadan. That was a bummer.

The next stop was trying the medinas, which are the old market places and city centers in most Moroccan places. Stating that I was in Casablanca, I tried the old medina https://www.google.com/maps/place/Ancienne+Medina,+Casablanca+20250,+Morocco/@33.6009926,-7.6258712,16z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m13!1m7!3m6!1s0xda7d29b1d24c911:0x9db70758bd6ccf90!2sBoulevard+de+Paris,+Casablanca+20250,+Morocco!3b1!8m2!3d33.5931014!4d-7.6194016!3m4!1s0xda7d2842753b1cf:0xd872188d7a277139!8m2!3d33.6022285!4d-7.6209108 of Casablanca first. Lots of stallholders will try to persuade you to buy something in their store, knock-off Western products, food, merchandise, cheaply build ouds and all the stuff you don't really want. I walked out of the medina with nothing and I lost my spirit a little bit.

Sigh...

I tried to get help, because this is harder than what I prepared for. I asked people on Reddit (on /r/vinyl https://www.reddit.com/r/vinyl/comments/6ffoq6/as_a_tourist_in_morocco_where_would_i_find_vinyl/?st=j3uhylrn&sh=a2709f63 and /r/Morocco/ https://www.reddit.com/r/Morocco/comments/6ey6om/weekly_thread_for_travel_related_questions/died3fq/) if they had any tips or hints on how to find music in Morocco. And it turns out one of the easiest way is apparantly showing a man in a souk (the term for one of the market stalls) on the medina a picture of vinyl and ask where they can be found. It turns out that for me (a non-Arabic speaking, severely poor-French speaking man), this was the way to do it. A typical Moroccan haggler navigated me through the maze of small streets and souks and got me to a small stand with an older looking, white male, who sold cassettes - at first glance (it turns out the man is the same person in this picture: https://www.thevinylfactory.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/digging2.png). I than proceeded to show the picture of the records and it turns out that he had a lot of 7 inches. I couldn't listen to any of them, so I bought a stack of sixteen 7 inches purely based upon an arbitrary combination of pictures, names (like Nass El Ghiwane), record label (Boussiphone, Koutoubiaphone) and quality of the records.

I felt like I was a lucky man and greed got a bit of the best of me. The next day, I tried to find other shops in the medina of Casablanca. I found one other souk, who sold mainly cassettes and some records on the ground. Most records were Bollywood 7 inches, which were fairly easy to get and lots of Western music. I did found one Farid El-Atrache 7 inch which I haven't seen before, which might be cool. The quality was good enough and for 5 Dhm (which is €0.50) I got another record. There was nothing else in the medina as far as I could find, but maybe somebody else has some tips for a future visit.

My next stop was in Tangier. After a tremendous 6 hour train ride in the blazing heat (with a little bit of air conditioning, I must say) I arrived in Tangier. Because of the Ramadan I refrained from eating in front of the general population because it is considered to be rude. Hungry and tired I arrived in Tangier and started reading what other people have found in this city vinyl-wise. Unfortunately there isn't much information to be found on the internet. The only lead I had was a clock-maker right outside the medina who happens to sell some records https://jewishmorocco.blogspot.com/2012/11/record-digging-cassette-collecting-and.html https://www.google.com/maps/place/Rue+Nasiria,+Tanger,+Morocco/@35.7858934,-5.8120909,19z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0xd0c7f527f923205:0x746edd383fc74e92!8m2!3d35.7858923!4d-5.8115437. The man in the article also visited during the Ramadan and I was also out of luck. He had some records on display that were very discolored by the sunlight and that was it. There was another place that sold records https://www.google.com/maps/place/Rue+San+Francisco,+Tanger,+Morocco/@35.7842848,-5.8156549,17z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0xd0c7f52cb762073:0xffd425c6556141c!8m2!3d35.7841482!4d-5.8141695 right next to the mosque at Place du 9 avril 1947. He had the standard Western thrift store sounds: 70s and 80s disco, funk and soul music and classical music, which wasn't what I was looking for. On the medina I did find lots of places that sold CD's and a few that sold cassettes. But vinyl is not a thing you would find easily in Tangier. I should probably have headed out for Fez.

My finds:

At home, one of the first things I did was listening to my finds. The music I've found is mostly very traditional sounding Moroccan or Egyptian music. Not entirely what I hoped to find in the first place - in all honesty. There are a few singles which sound good to me like Robert Saghir's 'El Ayn Zergua' https://www.discogs.com/Robert-Saghir-El-Ayn-Zergua-Khaliouni-Maa-Hbibi/release/9618222, Abdelaziz Mahmoud - Chouf Chouf and the Nass El Ghiwane 7 inch https://www.discogs.com/%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%B3-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%BA%D9%8A%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AD%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%AF%D8%A9-%D8%AC%D9%88%D8%AF%D9%8A-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%B6%D8%A7%D9%83/release/6584743. But the other singles... Most of them have either really poor recording quality, bear minimal amount of instrumentation and diversity to be even called a song in my opinion, or the vocals are mixed at least two times as loud as the instrumentation. It's probably not music that's made for me. I like my oriental music a bit more with either some beat or funky undertones in it. I'll try to add the releases that aren't on Discogs to Discogs. It's the least I can do.

Morocco is not an easy country to find music on vinyl in. You have to know exactly what you're looking for. Of course without much resources online and with almost none but the most popular of songs, being available digitally, it's hard to do any proper research. I took a wild random exploratory shotgun shot at finding music from Morocco and I know now how hard it really is. This journey gives me even more respect for the likes of labels like Radio Martiko, Habibi Funk and others, who are out in this field for many years. Eventhough the music is not entirely as I expected it to sound I've learned a lot about Morocco, it's country, the culture, the Ramadan, the heat and of course the haggling. Hopefully this article will serve useful to other crate diggers and future travellers.

Leave a comment on the post entry on Reddit /r/Vinyl.