Going to Morocco…in search of The One

Micro on sintir

Micro on sintir @ Lizard Lounge

Brahim in Truro, MA 10/04

Micro & Hassan in NYC circa '04?

It’s been a looooong time coming, but I am finally going to Morocco. I still can’t quite believe it’s going to happen, and won’t really believe it until I step foot on Moroccan soil. I know that’s just my dark, can’t-get-too-exited-about-things side, and it’s tempered by my giddy, can’t-believe-my-good-fortune-holy-fucking-shit! side. This will be the culmination of a long love affair between me and this magical country that has its roots in hanging out with Mark Sandman at his Norfolk St loft (Hi-N-Dry mach 2) in the mid-90s and listening to Hassan Hakmoun‘s Gift Of The Gnawa while sharing a smoke. We marveled at the sound of the sintir, a 3-stringed bass lute with a camel-skin top that Mr Hakmoun was literally spanking the shit out of…wow. These roots deepened considerably several years later in ’99 when I met and became friends with Brahim Fribgane, an incredible oud player and percussionist who was living in NYC at the time but originally came from Casablanca.

Brahim moved to Boston and joined Club d’Elf and became my roommate. With his tutelage I began to learn the intricacies of Moroccan music, which involved he and I sitting in my car on long drives to gigs or rehearsals and listening to cassettes of Berber and Gnawa music and me trying to find where “the one” was. In much Moroccan music there is no “one”, the place of emphasis where in Western music we begin counting the rhythm. “The one” is usually accented or emphasized in some way, but in Moroccan rhythms such as the chaabi the accent is on an upbeat and if listened to with Western ears such as mine, this upbeat becomes “the one”, only it ain’t. With Brahim’s patient help I would continually clap where I felt the beat, and he would invariably laugh and clap the true “one”, which was an eighth note or two away from mine. It was maddening, but I was so into it that I just kept at it, over and over, and began a process of self-brainwashing, where I would intellectually “know” where “the one” should be, and would clap that, fighting against the pull of where I was actually hearing it. At last it was like the aural equivalent of the visual phenomena of letting your eyes go out of focus while looking at something until it takes on a 3-D quality. When this happened, it was…a-mazing. Everything became clear in that instant, only to be lost soon again. Like long-distance running I just kept at it until I could go for longer stretches without losing “the one”. I don’t know how Brahim restrained himself from strangling me…I would not have been so relaxed if I were him.

For several years from about ’00 to 03 I hung out with Brahim at his friend Abder’s store in North Cambridge called Moroccan Bazaar, now sadly gone. We would sit and drink tea and play and listen to music til all hours with all the Moroccans who would come by, as the store’s basement was a favorite after hours spot. I finally acquired a sintir when Abder, brought one back for me from a trip to Morocco to purchase merchandise for the store. With tips from Brahim and the Gnawa musicians who I met through him (including my hero Hassan Hakmoun) I set about learning to play this profound instrument, and began to incorporate it into the music that Club d’Elf was playing, which increasingly was becoming more and more influenced by Moroccan sources.

Flash forward to several months ago when I first learned of an organization called the University of the Middle East, which as it turns out in kind of a weird synchronicity, is located in the Armory in Somerville, the home of Hi-N-Dry and The Mark Sandman Music Project. Puzzling evidence. The UME are an NGO who are seeking to create links between cultures, and to that end had initiated a sister city program between Somerville, MA and Tiznit, Morocco. A delegation of people from Somerville, lead by Mayor Curtatone was going to Morocco and were accepting applications from teachers, educators, artists & musicians. Naturally I applied, and to my delight I was eventually accepted, but the cost of the trip was going to be too prohibitive for me to go. Oh well. They seemed confident that some grants might come through and asked me in the meantime to appear with them on a local cable public access show where they would discuss the trip. I would speak about my connection to Moroccan music and play a little sintir. Ok, I said. Well, the powers that be apparently saw the show and were impressed and a few days later I was notified that funding for me to go had been received. I…would…go…to…Morocco.

I’ll fill in more of the details in posts to come, as well as more of the back story. Gotta get ready for a gig tonight, so this will have to do for now.

Keeping it on the “and of one”



P.S. This documentary on Sandman looks very promising. Watch the longer trailer on Vimeo…so cool to see the home movies of him as kid….

8.14.09 Lizard D'Elf

8.14.09 Lizard D'Elf w/ (L to R) Vicente Lebron, Paul Schulthies, Mike Rivard, Mister Rourke, Randy Roos & Dean Johnston

~ by delfblog on November 28, 2009.

One Response to “Going to Morocco…in search of The One”

  1. […] the purchase of a new sintir. His trip to Morocco in Dec 2009 is detailed in several blogs, found here, here & […]

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