Moroccan Desert Drums

About a month ago we visited Eat The Dream: Moroccan Reveries on the Awkward Movements NTS show (out to Kamikaze for the pick as always). Originally released on CD in 1996, Eat The Dream is a compilation of field recordings from Morocco, compiled and edited by Tucker Martine on his trip to Marrakech in 1994. Strangely enough, when it finally got a wax pressing earlier this year it came out as Eat The Drum – a great title, though I’m not sure if they decided to rename it due to the hand drum influence of the tracks or if it was a misprint somewhere along the way.

You read the liner notes of these field recordings, and about how musicians came and went, stepping in and out of session over a few days while recording was going on. They talk about echoes of James Brown from Moroccan kids dial surfing and capturing the spirit of the street and Gnawa culture – and it seems like a pretty special recording that would never be captured again. But here’s the thing, Morocco actually sounds like this. Especially as you get to the edge of the desert and the Berbere communities where everyone can play music. Passing family picnics or day trips out you can’t escape the sounds of the drums, castanets and tambourines – it’s just a part of their life.

The Berbere people are nomads who live in the desert, the exact population unknown as they exist for the most part outside the Arabic government that controls Morocco, and the Berbere history is ill recorded except within their own people. Even before independence from France the details were kept from the government. For schooling, they get sent away to board right at the edge of the desert. Those who give up desert living at the ages of 15 or 16 stay around those areas and frequently go back to their roots. Berbere’s know the entire desert like you’d know the street you grew up on.

On our way out to spend the night in the Sahara we detoured to a musicians building – a sort of local hang out to jam when you’re taking a break from the desert. We’d missed a festival by a day, but fortunately caught one collective who were still hanging about selling CDs, playing and chatting before taking off again.

As always, film doesn’t quite justify, but interesting all the same.

That night in the Sahara we were chatting about the day’s music, and our guide Ibrahim disappeared in to his tent and came back with a selection of drums. He casually started playing and was soon joined by another Berbere who happened to be camping nearby and wandered over, kicking off an improptu session. I asked him what he was singing about and he simply replied “life…desert life”, later embelishing by saying “hard life in the desert.” A small part of it was recorded below, again apologies for the darkness and wind – it’s dark and windy at night in the desert.