Tangier: Beat City

Morocco is the only Muslim country with an Atlantic and Mediterranean coastline. Myth says Hercules stood with one leg on Gibraltar and one on Jebel Musa and pushed the mountains apart to create the Straits. Hercules then rested in a cave on the coast.The Berber people, the original inhabitants of North Africa fashioned this cave by digging out circular millstones. After Phoenician traders and Roman inhabitants, the Muslimsconquered Al-Andalus (North Africa and Muslim Spain)in the 8th C. Great writers includingIbn Battuta (1304 – 1369) and IbnKhaldun (1332 – 1406) came from this region.
Morocco is the most Western part of the Islamic world. In Critical Muslim Volume 9, the authors point out the origin of the Arabic name, ‘al-Maghreb’to be Ghareeb meaning strange. Tangier its most Western tip is therefore the strangest of the strange.
As beautiful as the beaches and forestsare, for a foreigner it is a culture shock. People read from right to left and the Muslim year is 1438 AH! Yet, there is a typical Moroccanaesthetic and style to Tangier. The natural colour schemes imitate the ocean and skies whilst great iron-studded doors give way to enormous apartments with balconies and roof terraces. Artisanal foods and crafts are purchased in the labyrinth of alleyways and shops all over the medina.And this experience can continue into neighbouring villages such as Asilah orChefchaouen.
Foreign writers used Tangier as a source of inspiration. Hans Christian Anderson, Mark Twain and Daniel Dafoe were early visitors andEdith Wharton and Walter Harris resident authors. Harris was buried in the Church of St Andrew, the Arabesque Anglican church painted by Matisse during his residency in Tangier 1912.
Tangier experienced its’ golden era during the yearsof the international zone (interzone) 1924 – 56. Under the joint administration of France, Spain and Britain, cultural diversity flooded the city.
Many young writers came to Tangier to capture the bohemian spirit of café culture.Endearing mixture of architecture, endless views of the Mediterranean and the abundance of Kif(cannabis) gave birth to characterisations, conversations andTangeirian stories.
Tangier became associated with a dreamscape of identity seeking through unlimited freedom. Rolling Stones lead guitarist Keith Richards is remembered today as Kif Richards. Jack Kerouac who visited for a short time in 1957 to help William Burroughs called Tangier, ‘the city of vice’.

“Withdraw all your savings and say goodbye to your friends – heaven knows when you will see them again.” Truman Capote

Paul and Jane Bowles made an enduring contribution to the magical tapestry of the literature and culture of the city by empowering local authors with translations of their works. Mohamed Choukri emerged from a poverty stricken background to become the most famous Moroccan writer telling stories about the history of his people and the eccentric writers of his generation such as Bowles, Jean Genet and Tennessee Williams. With funds from the Rockefeller foundation, Paul Bowles recorded 250 styles of Moroccan music on an extensive field trip. “The entire history and mythology of the people is clothed in song,” he wrote.
This work together with his complete collection of writings is preserved in the Legation Museum, the oldest American government property outside the US. Stunning artwork is also on display such as Scottish artist and resident James McBey.
Jajouka music from the Southern Rif Mountains isan ancient healing fusion of Berber, African and Arabic sounds with Sufi rhythms. Artist BrionGyson was the first to popularise this music when in 1951 he linked its performance to paganism and the god Pan. Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones and Ornette Coleman made recordings with the master musicians of Jajouka.
The music of Tangier is a mixture of Andalusian, Moorish and Moroccan. They call it Nawbah Andalusiya, (Nubat). The cities most celebrated musicians are Les fils du Detroit, “Sons of the straits.” They have been jamming morning and night for 40 years out of their 15M2, Arab Andalusian Café situated next door to the Casbah museum.
The sounds of the Derbouga drum, 12 string Oud, lira bamboo flute and violins are heard in an open source environment whereby anyone can bring their instruments, sit in and improvise on the minor pentatonic.
However, after independence in 1956 the Moroccan king, Hassan II, neglected Tangier.This drove it into an era of decay which is evident to this day. The Petit Socco once a prime meeting place for the writers of Tangier is now quite gritty.
For the majority ofTangaouis (locals) the saying goes,“It is bum on a rock, eyes to Spain and ears on everyone else’s business.” These youngsters are called“burners,” as they burn their identity papers in the attempt to cross to Spain, only 15km away.
The expat community, the Tangerines are also diminishing. Many are featured in the latest picture book published by American painter, Elena Prentice. London ex-journalist Jonathan Dawson is known as the soft touch for the helping hand he gives to the poverty stricken migrants and disabled. Pierre Bergé has re-married at the age of 85. He and Christopher Gibbs are philanthropists that have made a tremendous contribution to Tangier.
The landmark bookstore Librairie des Colonnes, founded in 1949 and a meeting place for many authors throughout the literary history of Tangier was revived in 2010 through funds from Bergé.The store has expanded its output with a publishing company and support structure for Moroccan literature. Gibbs on behalf of the Getty foundation has empowered ten charitable organisations, one of which takes children off the streets with theatre.
South African born Noel Mostert, author of Supership and Frontiers still lives in Tangiers and is famously reclusive. The film location industry in Morocco is strong. A visit to the El Menzah hotel showcases a large selection of black and white photos of some of the many stars that have visited over the years. Scarlett Johansson is scheduled to arrive for a forthcoming film.
There is a new 9 hall cinema in the new mall and existing small cinema’s Paris and Proxy, however Cinema Rif situated in the grand square is the only surviving independent cinema. It was once one of 10 which includedLux, Mauretania, Goya and Alcazar.
Cinema Rif is celebrating 10 years of reactivation and has archiving and screening projects. Founded by photographer YtaBarrada (based in New York) it showcases great Moroccan film makers such as JilaliFerhati, IzzaGenini, Farida Benlyazid (based in France) and Hakim Belabbes (based in Chicago).
Strong economic development is shaping the future of Tangier. The current king, Mohamed VI has embarked on a programme of economic development to revive Tangier and create Pan African links. The industrial port, a winding beach road, Palais de Culture under construction and endless landscapes of brand new property developments ranging from 250 000 to 5 Million Dirham (4/3 stronger than the Rand), are changing the face of the city. Stunning ports and beach coves have great yachting potential for luxury tourism.