A Moroccan Fantasy
By: Habeeb Salloum/Arab America Contributing Writer
Hamid al-Badawi was relaxed in the Moorish atmosphere of the richly decorated Alhambra room in Agadir’s deluxe Sahara Hotel. The musicians had just begun to tune their instruments when the waiter, distinguished-looking in his Moroccan costume, served him a platter of couscous, diffusing a tempting aroma. No sooner had Hamid began to enjoy this succulent Moroccan national dish, then soft heart-rending music from the days of Moorish Spain filled the room.
The well-trained hands of the musicians, impressive in their richly embroidered traditional dress, seemed to make the instruments speak of a lost past. Like the sirens of mythology who enmeshed sea-worn sailors in their web, they ensnared the emotions of many in the audience. To most of the patrons, made up to a large degree by tourists from the Arabian Peninsula, it was the ultimate in Arab classical music. On the other hand, to a good number of guests from the West, the melodies with their strange beat were boring and monotonous.
Hamid had left the somber life of the Arabian Gulf and had me to enjoy for a few weeks the thrilling nightlife of Agadir. This top Moroccan resort had in the last part of the 20th century been developed into a glittering modern holiday spot, featuring the most up-to-date recreational facilities and all types of entertainment. To an eastern Arab living in a closed society, it was unbelievable that in a sister Arab/Muslim country one could, during the day, walk by topless women sunning themselves on the sand and at night be entertained by scantily dressed dancers. Like many of his co-patriots, Hamid had traveled more than once to savor the joys of this dazzling white resort, made even more appealing to Arab visitors because of the common language.
Nightly entertainment could be found in one or the other of the numerous first-class hotels hugging the 6 km (5mi) long and 1/2 km (1/4 mi) wide clean white sands. Amid their colorfully decorated Moorish arches and exquisitely tiled rooms, besides western diversions, visitors were able to enjoy performances by Berber dancers and singers from the High Atlas Mountains; African entertainers from the Sahara with their loud drums and women knee dancers; Musicians playing tunes from the days of Moorish Spain; snake charmers playing games with cobras; and exotic swaying dancers from Egypt and beyond. Every evening a different group would perform in one of the hotels and the following day move on.
Tonight, Hamid had come to the Sahara to see what was advertised as the finest evening of Entertainment ever to be held in Morocco. It was to feature the best of what the country had to offer in folkloric amusements.
Now, he had just finished his couscous and was sipping a highly sugared Moroccan mint tea when he felt a hand tap him cm the shoulder. “I see you are by yourself. Can I sit with you?” Hamid turned around to see a tall blond man smile. “Of course! You are welcome!” Hamid spoke in perfect English. Like most of the educated men in the Arabian Peninsula countries, he was not only fluent in his own tongue but in English as well.
My name is Richard and I am an American sailor on holiday for a few days. I have come to see what I am told is to be a scene from the Thousand and One Nights.” The blond man had a wide grin as he sat down.
Suddenly, the beat of the music changed and youth with a dozen lighted candles on a tray balanced on his head ran into the entertainment circle. Now leaping, now twisting and sweeping around the floor at a hectic pace, he kept the tray steady atop his head, and not one candle was extinguished. It was a thrilling display of muscle control and graceful dancing.
The clapping had not yet stopped when Berber drummers led in two dozen men and women, all attired in deep blue costumes, The women’s silken headdresses, heavy with silver Berber jewelry, emphasized their dark eyes encompassed by brownish features. They had a captivating smile as they swayed to the men’s songs and the music of the tambourines.
How beautiful are the women! I have always been enthralled with kohled eyes and dark features. They are my ideal of the femme fatal.” Richard appeared captivated by the gentle undulation of the dancers. “They are performing the Tata wedding dance.” Hamid wanted to show that he was an expert in Moroccan folklore. He had seen these performers a number of times before and knew the dance well.
As the Tata dancers filed out, black entertainers from the Sahara accompanied by loud drumming made their way into the room. In an amazing display of rapid movements, they performed the Gnaoua, a lively and exciting dance of purely African origin.
After this performance, a dozen women robed in blue danced on their knees, sustained by the spellbinding rhythm of the Guedra, a cooking pot type instrument after which the dance is named. A provocative, almost erotic south Moroccan dance, it seemed to mesmerize the audience.
No sooner had the exotic Guedra dancers left, then the snake charmers entered with their baskets of cobras and other snakes. They wrapped some around their necks and let others slide all over their bodies, then called the brave ones from the onlookers to join in the bizarre performance. Those who had seen previous shows were unimpressed, but the European and North American tourists were hypnotized by the clowning with these slithering creatures.
The program continued with the very thrilling Rouoisse, one of the most rousing of Morocco’s folkloric dances. The women in colorful costumes undulated their stomachs and, at the same time, with lively steps danced along with the men who were playing stringed instruments as they kept pace. Every once in a while both men and women broke out in a fit of stamping their feet in a frenzy. One could see why it is said, the fiery flamenco has its origin in this dance.
In spite of the fact that the women’s dresses covered them from head to foot, with only hands and faces showing, their movements oozed feminine charm.. “Imagine what these women would be like if they were robed in the revealing nightdress of the West? Richard seemed to be talking more to himself than to his new-found companion.
Hamid smiled, “All you westerners are intrigued with mysterious dark-eyed women hidden behind enveloping clothing or high walls. Myself, I like what the eye can see, not what it envisages.”
The music of the Moorish-Andalusian orchestra which had recommenced playing cut into their conversation. Its soul-piercing melodies entrapped Hamid’s very being, but Richard was unaffected. The strange sound of oriental music gave him a wearisome feeling.
However, soon his mood changed as a flimsily dressed young dancer, with long black hair flowing behind her like a silken pennant floating in the wind, twirled in. Her sheer black attire hardly hid her ivory skin or the firm breasts, rising like desert dunes in the moonlight. The transparency of her dress exposed the loveliness of her body and emphasized her every curve. As she swayed, her subtle movements and permanent smile, made appealing by fiery dark eyes, hypnotized most of the patrons into silence.
Hamid was as if in a dream. “This is what I have been waiting for. Notice how bewitching are her looks and how enticing are her motions. I tell you, she represents the woman for whom every Arab yearns.” He went on, “Are not our women the most seductive in the world? After the dance, I will call her to our table. Perhaps, she has a friend and they will keep us company for the remainder of the night. To me, they are the essence of life these women of the night which we openly reject, yet secretly desire.”
Hamid motioned to one of the waiters and handed him a fifty-dirham note, then whispered in his ear, “After the dancer finishes tell her we want to see her at our table.
As the waiter walked away, Hamid turned to Richard, “Soon you will be savoring the .joys of our eastern women.” Richard blushed and nodded his head, not knowing what to say as the dancer glided out of the room amid thunderous applause.
A few minutes later the beautiful dancer, now wearing an elegant Moroccan robe, was standing by their table. Both men quickly got up from their seats. Hamid addressed her in Arabic, “Sit down with us for a while. We would be honored with your company.” The dancer looked at him in an inquiring way and spoke in English, “I did not understand a word you said. I am an American from New York. I am only working in Morocco for a few weeks.”
Hamid’s face reddened and he appeared to be at a loss for words. Noting his table companion’s embarrassment, Richard broke the ice, “My friend is enamored with you and thought that you were an Arab dancer. He wanted to introduce me to the world of oriental women. My husband is waiting at yonder table.” She grinned as she turned and walked away.
Hamid, confused and angry, sat down. “The Americans have taken over the globe, even our dancing. How could this woman not be an Arab?” He mused to himself. Richard put his hand on his companion’s shoulder, “Come and visit me in New York. The city is full of beautiful Arab dancers.”