I had made photographs of these musicians before, when we last visited Marrakech, some five years ago or so. I particularly remember the guy with the glasses. They both play the Amzhad, a single stringed instrument of the Berbers. This time, after I took their photos, they offered me a seat for the classic Djemaa el Fna photo op where the tourist poses with a local. Not for me, I wanted to play the instrument.
Flashback: Many years ago in a different life, I was composing a soundtrack for a film. I needed ‘country music’ violins and I didn’t have the money to hire a musician to play the score. Actually, the film we were making was so low budget that the only person on the film who received a paycheck was the sound mixer. But that’s another story.
I bought a cheap violin. I can play stringed instruments, but the screeching sounds I made with this recalcitrant mix of balsa wood and cat gut were as musical as fingernails on a chalkboard. I rang my sister – a ‘real’ classical musician who played viola in an orchestra – and asked her what I was doing wrong. She sighed and said, “why do you do this to yourself? You can’t just learn violin in a week!” Not exactly encouraging, but quite plainly true…
Flash Forward, Djemaa el Fna, the main square of Marrakech, at dusk:
The instrument only has one damn string so I noted the guy’s finger positions and just started playing along. I must have been doing okay because he broke into the song proper and I continued to play along for the entire tune. It lasted perhaps only five minutes, but felt like an eternity for me to not embarrass myself.
When I looked up a crowd of confused local onlookers had gathered. How did this foreigner learn to play the Amzhad? After the song finished, there was such a crowd that I jokingly asked for my ‘tip’ money back as I had brought so many more people to watch! It was easily the most fun moment of the trip so far, although my fingers were numb for the rest of the night from the vibrations of the strings!