Monday, July 16, 2012

Genoua Music in the Sahara

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the Sahara to ride Camels with 15 friends in eastern Morocco. Needless to say, the experience was once in a lifetime; the stark contrast of the golden dunes and the black, expansive sky, sleeping outside under the stars, and, above all, the rolling pellets of camel poop. However, the thing that caught me most off guard during this excursion wasn't the Sahara at all, but, ironically, just a small stop along the way. After getting out of the van and into 4x4s to go off roading once the main road ended, we drove for about 40 minutes to a small compound of ten or so small buildings. When I asked the driver of the buildings, Abdul, he replied simply "Genoua," which he explained tersely meant 'black African.'
     The Genoua visit was fun: they played more traditional African music-- versus Moroccan music we've heard with arabic lyrics and strings-- as it they played (after some quick Wikipedia research) the n'goni (a 4-7 string lute guitar), the jeli dununba (a large mallet drum hung from one shoulder and played with a curved stick), and  the n'taman (an hourglass shaped tension drum), and the bells (pairs of metal bars with interlocking halves of metal spheres on the end). Anyway,they served us tea, we danced a bit, some people bought some CDs, and when it was all said and done we had a good time. What ended up surprising me, though, was that no real information of these people was ever explained to us. In fact, it wasn't until I was leaving the compound that I noticed the sign which said these people were not Moroccan, but actually from Mali. Why would a group of Malis be living on a isolated compound in the middle of the Moroccan eastern Sahara? What is life like for these people when tourists aren't around? Does my driver's lack of a response and others' unwillingness to give and explanation indicate that this is a touchy subject?
     Later that night I approached my Resident Director, Nabeela-- to whom I could talk about anything-- to talk about why there would be people from Mali living in Morocco. She told me about the big immigration problem Morocco lays claim to: in order to cross into Europe people from all over Africa come to northern Morocco to illegally cross the Mediterranean. Once these people are discovered by Spanish authorities, though, they are deported back to Morocco where they stay indefinitely-- to far from their home land but unable to enter Europe. After talking with locals in the week to follow about the immigration problem it's impossible not to notice the racism towards the Genouas for not contributing to Morocco yet living there, but also probably just because they look different and don't speak Arabic.
   What ended up being the best inside view on the subject was a student of the international school we're attending in Rabat. John, who works abroad in the Military, and was on leave with his wife and child in Morocco, explained that emigration from Morocco-- both of actual Moroccan citizens and Genouas, although the Genoua are usually blamed-- is an incredible problem to Morocco and Europe. It started in the 1960s and 70s when Europe still needed a cheap labor supply but now Europe doesn't have enough jobs even for its own. It's still only economically motivated. Anyway, the system is plagued with corruption and back dealing so that only a 2000 or 4000 Dhr bribe can sway a European guard to look the other way.
      In all, the trip to Sahara was a blast. Everyone had a great time and it was an unforgettable experience. But with that, I would urge others to look under the surface instead of merely staring at what lays in front of them. For me, a small, off color detail prompted me looking into something that really changed my view of Morocco, and my perceptual sets of other nations as a whole. All too often the vastness of a mosaic distracts from the smaller detailing which completes it.


No comments:

Post a Comment