Saturday, May 31, 2014

Tangier Day 2 Hamadsha

Onward from here.

12/16/13 Tangier, Morocco

Jay said to record the morning prayer call so I got up a little before 6am opened the wooden shutters and carefully held my recorder with it's built-in condenser mics out the window to take an audio photograph of the sounds at dawn.  I did hear a call to prayer, distant, but cutting through the still, fresh air.  All the muezzins nowadays use microphones through small Voice of Islam P.A.speakers positioned high atop the mosque's minarets for maximum effect.  They actually do broadcast quite far.  Usually, somehow, they have exactly the right amount of distortion on them suggesting the sound the edge of a classic rock vocal only in Arabic.  Even a crusty old Agnostic such as Yours Truly can relate to the musicality of an Adhan, an Islamic call to prayer, without having a clue to its literal meaning.  The passion and devotion of the muezzin, to this listener, does what music does ie opens up alternate worlds, lets in new information.  It makes a crack in the world between the tonal and the nagual to use Castenada's terms.  The key to getting out and riding an Adhan to a brief, natural, psychedelic high - exterminate all rational thought, drop all concepts of religion, culture, whatever you "think" it's supposed to be and just LISTEN!!!

From Wikipedia, the free and truthful encyclopedia:

The adhān (Arabic: أَذَان[ʔaˈðaːn]), (or azan as pronounced in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, India, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, ezan in Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina), azon in Uzbekistan, is the Islamic call to worship, recited by the muezzin at prescribed times of the day. The root of the word is ʾadhina أَذِنَ meaning "to listen, to hear, be informed about". Another derivative of this word is ʾudhun (أُذُن), meaning "ear".

Recording prayer calls is something I try to do as much as possible in Moslem countries, so even though this first one was distant and out of focus to some degree, I expected there would be other chances for a closer Adhan.

Bags packed and hauled downstairs, sitting in the lobby area of this house with Bill waiting to move out.  Everything in this space reminds me of an invisible, non-human presence.  The overhead light coverings - lamp shades is too inadequate a term - are silverish metal cylinders that come to a conical point.  Many small apertures of various shapes and sizes are cut out of these cylinders making a variety of small windows for the light to shine through in a psychedelic mosaic of forms.  The light dances and flickers about the room, and could be why this space feels so alive.  It reminds me of the Dream Machine that Brion Gysin helped design and promote.  Another crack between worlds.  I'm getting high just sitting here.

A small sitting room with a fireplace off the lobby is the one area where the wi fi hotspot works to connect to the world.  On the inside wall above the arched entrance resides a shrine to Isis in her Christian guise of Mary, Mother of God.  Various small artifacts, photos, ceramics, paintings, delicate porcelains adorn the wall, giving this atmosphere a soft quality.  A well-fed, fuzzy-haired cat introduced itself to me, very friendly.  A couple of other cats roamed about the premise, and I remembered seeing a rather large number of cats on the street yesterday in  Tangier.  I wondered if this is where William Burroughs picked up his love for cats.

Driving down to the Square where the Rif Cinema is located,  a 1938 Arthouse theater.  A traffic roundabout in the center of the square revolves around a stone walkway that circumambulates a large basin of Moorish stonemasonry design. People sit around the walls of the masonry freely relaxing, waiting, tasting the artistic perfection of this day or just resting.  Water flows from a 3 tiered fountain in the center of the basin.  A mosque resides on the southern end of the Square where I'll try to capture a good, loud prayer call. After filming and recording in the Square, we'll be recording a Hamadsha ceremony.  We talk about set up time on the way down.  I ask for 90 minutes, Eric says it will take that long to set up the lights, also he has an interview to do before the music.

Recording ambience in the Square invisibly to the world; getting mostly traffic, but even traffic has locational clues, site specific sounds that makes for its own, unique music.  The traffic in LA sounds much different than the traffic in Tangier, but what would happen if you edit and mix the two together?  Paul Bowles heard the car horns of Paris sounding like the trumpets at the start of Gershwin's An American in Paris.

A Production Assistant told me the time of the noon adhan, the prayer call, 12:10pm or something like that.  Got all set up for it on a grassy knoll by the mosque, but then was called away to record a woman in a restaurant.  Actually did catch the adhan, but it was from the balcony of a restaurant admist the foreground of people chatter, glasses clinking, sea gulls crying and wind blowing in from the sea.  The raspy muezzin voice still cut through with as much intensity as Iggy Pop's vocal singing Cold Metal (first song on the Instinct album).

The mint tea here is delicious.  Adam and I drank some while waiting to get kicked out of this restaurant and find a different one.  The owner caught up in some issue about his establishment being filmed.  The woman didn't care, and neither did I.  The tea was very good and we'd had exactly enough time to enjoy it outside in the pleasantly mild afternoon. Very minty and sans sucre, best I had in Morocco, or anywhere for that matter.

The Hamadsha are a Sufi Brotherhood.  They trace their lineage back to two Sufi Saints from the 18th Century, Sidi Ali ben Hamdush and Sidi Ahmed Dghughi.  They are also said to have close ties with Aisha Qandisha said to be the most powerful female djinn or spirit.  She's also been called the djinn of threshold and danger.  She seems one of the most common archetypal characters that the ecstatics who go into trance allow, or find themselves possessed by.  The Hamadsha use their rituals for purposes of healing.  According to Vincent Crapanzano in The Hamadsha: A Study in Moroccan Ethnopsychiatry (a most unappealing title), they use music and dance to dramatize the illness and to access the trance state where they make an accommodation with the djinn responsible for the disease.  I don't know what the intention of today's ceremony was meant to be.

The location for their invocation was downstairs in a fairly small space a few blocks down a hill into a congested shopping district area with throngs of people on the streets and in the shops.  All kinds of cheap goods available everywhere you look; I remember seeing lots of shoes and T-shirts.  I was told that the location was a sacred space where a Saint, or rather their body, was buried.  It did have unusually good acoustics, a reflective synergy of stone walls, carpet on the floor, and lots of people - men, woman, and children dressed in robes.  The sound was clear and alive.  The musicians were able to balance themselves acoustically quite naturally.  An intimate, powerful small room sound, like seeing the Rolling Stones at the El Macombo in Toronto circa 1977 except this was a Sufi Brotherhood, but I get ahead of myself.

Transportation was again by these loud motorcycles attached  to big metal carts.  I had all the equipment I needed ready to load by the fountain.  The first haul was all the camera and lighting equipment.  I waited patiently for a good 20 - 30 minutes for my ride.  The negative ions from the water must have had effect as I felt very relaxed amongst the bustle of people, traffic and commerce.  It would be the last relaxed moment of this day.  This wait to get to location would go against the 90 minute set up time.

Arrived on site, shoes off at the door, we are treading sacred ground.  I get a rundown on the musicians: 4 drummers, 2 rhaita players, 4 singers, then look for a room close to the stage, but out of frame to set up the recording gear.  They found a back storage room with just enough room to set up my 3 small pieces of equipment and sit on a crate behind them, bit of a balancing act.  Started setting up mics, always a negotiation with the camera people - clip-on lavaliers for the 4 singers, 414s left and right for stage ambience. Going for some floor mics for the drums when Jay tells me to stop and get ready to record.  Fortunately, the acoustics were co-operative and the recording came out well despite not enough mics.  The rhaitas cut through nicely over the thick percussion.  The vocals were mostly acapella, and when starting to play drums they did so softly while the singing was still happening, then really got going after they stopped singing.

About one minute before filming, the set quiet in preparation, all of a sudden for no apparent reason a loud crashing sound comes from right across me in the storage room, I think a metal bowl had fallen.  I didn't even consider what might have caused it, just seemed like an announcing gong of sorts for the music.  Afterwards, I noticed a snow white pigeon perambulating about in that area and figured that's what did it.

I was told that Sufis go into trance to connect with God because they don't believe in The Prophet.  Other trances are darker because they involve spirit possession. The person who told me this seemed to feel that this Hamadsha fell into the latter category.  I don't know why, I had almost the opposite experience.

The musicians are in traditional costume, colorful robes and head gear, lots of white and red, seated in place.  The small room looks about 80% full, expectant, hushed participents in flowing robes, children, women and men, fellow travelers through these mystical trance spaces accessed by music.  The expression of heart, body and mind fused together through sound.  The carrier wave that takes you out.

They started slow, four part acapella singing sounding a little Eastern Orthodox liturgical at a dirge tempo rising in passion and emotion as they progress.  I don't know what language they are singing in, probably a Moroccan Arabic dialect, but I do hear what sounds like the word Allah at various times.  I use it like a grapple hook in a video game for bhakti fueled expansion keying into a trance space overview traveling pretty fast, but not at the speed of light, after all I'm on the job.  It felt very emotionally uplifting.

The whole ceremony had a continuous progression to a climatic finish, reminding me of  Ravel's Bolero, another Sufi inspired classic.  In this case, it ended with loud uptempo drums and piercing rhaitas with many people dancing about.  The main singer/chief invocant had taken off his mic to  move out into the dancing crowd stirring the mood into an ecstatic release, an offering of sorts.  Immediately after they stopped I started backing up the files.  It doesn't exist until it's backed up.  Just as I started, a large determined woman with a baby tied to her back bulldozed her way into the space moving past the recording gear to a closet on the other side which turned out to have baby supplies.  It was a very small space, I became nervous and put my attention around the gear to try to protect it. You can encounter all kinds of strange resistance to powerful music so never take chances.  Everything turned out ok for all three of us.

Different Hamadsha group at Volubilis, one of our future locations

The lighting and camera crew broke down and were out of there at lightening speed.  The Sound Department took a little longer despite various "helpers" attacking the mics and stuffing them into cases.  The pace felt about the same as a roadrunner with a wiley coyote on its tracks, I couldn't move fast enough.  Rode atop the equipment facing backwards when getting whisked uphill back to the Rif Cinema Square on a blue chipped motorcart.  Looking at the people and street going backwards felt like looking at a film in reverse.  Still very high and altered by the music and space.

Also, this seemed like a quasi-military operation - drop in with the gear, execute the mission in unknown territory in a time sensitive and efficient way, then pull out, get extracted.  Riding on the back of the cart, it felt like I was getting extracted from a world I had just soared in.  Going to the next thing, which was the evening meal; catering was set up in a restaurant on a street behind the Square.  I'm given vague directions, but see a familiar face when I get close.  Made the mistake of eating something I couldn't identify. 

Tonight we drive to Ketama, over 5200' up in the Rif Mountains.  Going there to film a ritual celebration for a child's circumcision.  Shortly before we're about to leave, the evening prayer call commences.  Fortunately, the trucks were parked right beside the mosque. I quickly go into record and get a close version of it, though traffic was loud.  We pull out of Tangier as it's starting to get dark.

Ketama is known as the hashish capital of the world.  Even as far back as 1959 it was recognized as such by Paul Bowles in Their Heads are Green and Their Hands are Blue.  As we get close someone remarks that this valley was completely full of marijuana plants in the Spring when they went here to scout locations.  The story goes that this part of the Rif Mountains never got conquered by any of the colonial imperialist forces who tried, they've always been independent.  They are also secessionists, but the government pacifies them by discreetly allowing them to continue making their product without interference.

After all this talk it began to feel like we were going into the hidden valley of Hassan I Sabbah (where the word "hashish" derives) , or some other magical realm.  Unfortunately, I also became quite nauseous especially when the road became very windy, constantly going around mountain curves.  They had to stop once for me.  The crisp night air felt great.  Standing by the side of the road looking into the darkened valley, it definitely seemed somewhere outside the ordinary Universe, in a land with a different set of physics even in the haze of my physical distress.  Narnia or Tolkien spring to mind, not to mention Wonderland or the film Something Wicked This Way Comes.  Twenty minutes later we stop again for something else.  I get out again and this time see a nearly full moon with the largest halo I've ever seen around it, taking up nearly half the sky, awe inspiring and spooky.  I tried to space out for the rest of the drive, only about another 20 minutes, to dissociate from the physical pain.  It worked to some degree, but I was real glad to arrive at our destination and stop moving.  It had been a long day.


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