Monday, June 16, 2014

Celebration in the Rif Mountains

Continues from here

12/17/13  Ketama, Morocco

Ketama feels like outlaw territory, like it has never been tamed.   A mountain community, people here wearing thick parkas and mountain gear. It's winter here, cold temperature, wind chilling it cooler, snow on the ground, the air feels wet, overcast until the evening when the moon comes out.  The Moroccans in this land appear more native and aboriginal, closer to the root of the original culture, less Europeanized. I get the sense that this is what it feels like in Tibet, the same kind of isolated holy mountain atmosphere. The vibes are strong.  It seems like lightening of some kind might strike at any second.

After a good night's rest, my health fully restored, I ate a full breakfast with Bill and Seloua in the dining area, a spacious open room with a decor looking like something out of a Shriner's Convention.  The food was served at one end, buffet-style, definitely hitting the spot.  Nourished, refueled and in good spirits I was ready for the day.

The morning and early afternoon was spent  making rough mixes, checking recordings and backing up files.  Everything I heard sounded good.  In Ketma I had to learn to communicate with the truck driver who hauled the recording gear.  These crusty nomads, dressed in thick, brown, woolen  djellabas for the mountains had to always be by their trucks in the day in case something was needed. He didn't speak English and I don't speak Arabic or French, but we figured out a way to express ourselves.  Finally, he taught me the Arabic word for "all done" which sounded something like "sofe."

Bill was helping Adam and Seloua draw up a contract that would be acceptable to Bachir and his group whom we were supposed to work with in two days.  They were successful, agreements were reached, Bachir and the Master Musicians of Jajouka were in.

5pm Production Call to go to a nearby location, within walking distance; chop chop, let's go, we're late.  Didn't know about this, but get ready to go in 5 minutes. I'm grateful for a chance to get out of the hotel.  Following Jay down the main street of this frontier town, a boardwalk lined with stalls barbequeing meat, smell of burning flesh, smokey, fragrant in its own way.  Gray, twilight dusk hour, night rapidly descending, brisk walk to keep up while recording.  It's cooling down from whatever warmth the splintered sun gave when it was out.  You can see your breath in the air.  The small recorder soft case drops out of my utility vest pocket.  Two locals pick it up, then try to get my attention, which I ignore while recording.  They are insistent, and return the case, " ah merci beaucoup." Friendly guides in Ketama, and not the last ones either.

The location is for a prelude scene to tomorrow's celebration.  Eric, the DP, has his work cut out for him as he's shooting in a room full of mirrors.  Only one place for the shotgun mic to be out of frame, on the counter right beside the camera.  Long mic cables allow me to monitor on the sidewalk.  Jay listens to the recording as it's going down.  A small audience gathers to watch the shoot, respectfully  quiet.  It's completely dark, but the moon is out now, bright and full, the sky completely clear.  After the interview scene, they film the full moon for a few minutes.

This side street off the main road is very dark, the only illumination coming from the moon.  I'm circling the area recording street ambience.  The darkness confuses things, makes direction uncertain.  Before I know it the production crew has disappeared back to the hotel or wherever they go.  They fade into the mist of night, vanishing without a trace.  I find a guide to direct me back.

Having some tea with Bill and Eric in the lounge, talking music and the day's activities.  Then we get directed to another room across the outside court where I guess food will be served.  Dark, noisy bar vibe, lots of people seated at these huge round tables.  Bill is taken to some people who want to talk to him.  I'm on the other side of the table amongst no one I recognize.  I'm not actually hungry or interested to be there but am staying out in hopes of meeting someone who said he would procure some of the world's best hash for me.  I have a medical marijuana prescription for insomnia.  I was waiting for the medicine. 

Hearing so many tales about how Ketama was like The Big Rock Candy Mountain of the cannabis world, about how this very hotel served as the rendezvous point for major French medical providers, I figured that I should, in effect, be able to snap my fingers to get some then and there.  So I stood up an announced to my end of the table that I would like to buy some hash.  It seemed like no one understood, but fortunately I discovered Jemal, our fearless bilingual driver, sitting to my immediate left.  I explained to him and he translated the request.  Once the message got across, a hobbit-like Moroccan with one of the biggest shit-eating grins I've ever seen and incredibly bloodshot eyes  pulled out a bag with about a 12 gram chunk of fresh blonde hash, not quite  a 1/2 oz.  and said to divide it between myself and someone else.  I tried to give him some dirham, the equivalent of about $30 and was told he didn't want the money.  The 6 grams lasted the rest of the trip used only during off times.

Good hash used judiciously can serve as an effective assisting factor for the mystical function.  Smoking hash in chillums and drinking a cannabis infused product called bhang comprises a key feature of sadhus in India and Nepal devoted to the worship of Shiva, the Destroyer of the World in the Hindu pantheon.  We can examine the role of this assisting factor by looking at 777, Crowley's mystical dictionary.  In table XLIII titled Vegetable Drugs it shows Hashish corresponding with key #2.  Shiva also = 2 so we have some kind of verification for the accuracy of these tables at least in this instance.  Other correspondences with key 2 = the root of the element Fire, Male, Lingam, the Inner Robe of Glory ( Magical Weapons), and the Vision of God face to face ( Magical Powers).

So the mystic using hash introduces an energy to their nervous system related to the element Fire - active, kinetic, hot, which also increases the creative male energy that can get placed toward mystical or theurgic ends.  Crowley exhorts: Enflame Thyself with Prayer and Invoke Often as the primary instruction for contacting one's own Higher Genius.  He's talking about the same kind of energy.  Fire combined with Water can produce a steam engine effect given the right balance.  Knowledge and experience with the 4 Elements of the Ancients: Air, Water, Fire, Earth, including the ability to call forth, to sense and feel the different types of energy at a moment's notice comprises a significant part of basic training in the Golden Dawn brand of magick.


I'm alone in the breakfast room, first one there.  The food is all out.  Three or four long tables are set for the morning rush.  Three very heavy looking Moroccans dressed in similar traditional garb come in, ignore the room full of empty seats and sit right beside me.  Two more come in and join us.  They look like they have serious business and I wonder if they are drug dealers or gangsters, and also wonder why they sit right beside me.  Finally, the one who looks like the leader, the heaviest one, looks up giving me a friendly nod.  I relax.  We leave the hotel at 9:30am and drive up the mountain, a twisting, windy road with a sheer drop one side.  After about a 40 minute drive the van pulls onto the shoulder, we've arrived at the entrance to the villa for today's celebration.  Live music plays as we disembark - two rhaitas, a frame drum, and two smaller drums played with sticks on both sides.  The musicians were my friends from the breakfast table!

The recording equipment gets hauled down a dirt path about a quarter mile to an old stone farmhouse where the music will take place.  The house looks abandoned and unused, unfurnished except for a couch, table and rug that's been set up for the ceremony.  It's cold in the house but fortunately the room that will be the control room has a wood stove.  A fire gets lighted immediately and it warms up quickly.  I have an assistant to help with setting up mics and running cables.  Beside me in he control room the Asmas and Yakout have set up monitors to see the camera work, also a station to charge battereries and to download the SD cards onto computer hard drives.

Set up goes quickly.  A donkey peacefully grazes as I record outdoor ambience in the orchard looking down the small mountain onto the pastures and farmland that dots the valley.  It's very quiet here away from everything else.  The donkey raises his head giving me a look that seems to say "whatever" and continues his business of eating.  His front and back legs are roped together loose enough to walk at a slow pace.

The retired army Colonel who owns the property makes an appearance at lunch.  He looks like he's been through a few battles. A survivor.   Colorful, gregarious, and outspoken he's almost like a mascot for the day.  The Colonel and Jay have a mutually respectful friendship, and he takes an immediate liking to Bill.  He's sharp and quick to suss out the situation.  He would die just a few months later.

A crowd of about 50 or 60, all or mostly male, gathers after lunch.  The musicians walk down the hill to a grassy flat area then break into music while moving around in a large circle, everyone joining in then beginning loud, raucous, group chanting.  It's a celebratory, party atmosphere, shotguns are fired into the air.  Jay dispatches me with the recorder to go amongst them and look like I belong.  They are filming and I'm sure to be in the frame at some point.  So I dance with them while invisibly recording.

The action moves to the farmhouse not long after.  Today's celebration honors the rite of passage of a child that accompanies a circumcision.  The music sounds good in the house, drums loud and powerful, the rhaitas crisp and clear without sounding harsh.  Uptempo Moroccan mountain music, the musicians are tight, one solid, dynamic unit of sound generation.  Without warning before the last piece they move the couch and take up the rugs allowing everyone attending to dance and move about including the musicians.  This does not bode well for a couple of the lavalier mics which had been affixed to the couch.  One of them gets completely destroyed. Not to worry, I did have excellent coverage with microphones from the front, sides and overhead.  We had the musicians stay after the party playing samples of just the drums then just the rhaitas for future sound design purposes.

Packing up went quickly as usual, we were back on the road in no time going toward Jajouka where we would film the next day.  The motel we stayed at, in a small town on the way, had a Spanish style adobe design reminiscent of the American Southwest.  The dining room atmosphere felt more like an English pub minus the alcohol which the observing Muslim proprietors didn't serve.  They did go out of their to specially prepare food to meet my dietary requirements.  The rooms were cold but furnished with space heaters to take the edge off.  A sign on the back of the door was titled 6 Tips To Protect the Planet which I dutifully noted.


  1. Yoko Yamabe sent me this regarding the retired Army Colonel:

    Bill's notes -
    The Commandant, as Jay called him,
    upon entering his home, before he came down to the filming area.
    Bills first words to him were - I know you must get this a lot, but you look a little bit like Raul Castro. His response was - yes, and you have the beard of Fidel.
    A good connection.
    True and unfortunate, he did die in his sleep a few months later.
    Possibly the result of ingesting some unknown, foreign virus.
    A little bit like the Jesuit missionaries bringing a lot more than religion to the isolated Indian villages in the mountains of Central America.

  2. Fascinating account. Thanks.

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