By: George Bajalia and Aida Alami
In this discussion at Youmein 2021: Roots and Traces, anthropologist George Bajalia and journalist Aida Alami explore the roots and traces of contemporary cultural life in Tangier, especially as they relate to northern Morocco’s border regions.
From questions of diversity and difference to the roots of present debates around representation, responsibility, and justice, Youmein 2021: Roots and Traces was an open-ended artistic inquiry into how the structures of our past have shaped our current moment. The traces of this past appear in unexpected places, both institutionally and in the social milieu from which we develop artistic reflections. Uncomfortable inequities and realities sit adjacent to the rise of powerful populist and progressive movements worldwide. Since Youmein began in 2014, xenophobia, isolationism, and neo-imperialism have grown simultaneously with new forms of solidarities and ways of being in-common. How will these movements leave their traces in our shifting social orders, and how will they transform, sediment, and root themselves differently? So far, each edition of the Youmein Festival has taken on themes speaking to Tangier as a space of both border and bridge: al-barzakh, crisis, imitation, limit(s), and desire. This year, those themes became the fertile ground on which we will reconvene and dig deep into what has come before and make choices about where we want to go next. After a year of isolated reflections, and alongside the Bicentennial of the Tangier-American Legation, Youmein invited the artists, speakers, and the public to critically reflect on the view from Tangier, and the cultures, peoples, and conditions which compose it.
As a part of the 2021 Youmein Festival, Alami and Bajalia reflected on Tangier and its myths, past and present, and alternative cultural histories and present realities in this corner of the Strait of Gibraltar. From Maalem Abdellah Gourd and the renovation of his home in Tangier medina to the role of the Tangier American Legation Museum in the city, they share thoughts how different flows of people through the city, categorized differently as migrants, immigrants, “ex-pats,” and artists, intersect and overlap.
George Bajalia is an anthropologist (Ph.D., Columbia University), Assistant Professor at Wesleyan University, and theatre director based between Morocco and New York. He is the co-founder of the annual Youmein Creative Media Festival in Tangier, Morocco and the Northwestern University in Qatar Creative Media Festival. His work has been supported by the CAORC-Mellon Mediterranean Research Fellowship, the American Institute of Maghrib Studies Long-Term Fellowship, and the Fulbright Foundation, and he is a Fellow of the Tangier- American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies.
Aida Alami is a Moroccan freelance journalist who’s frequently on the road, reporting from North Africa, France, the Caribbean, and more recently, Senegal. She regularly contributes to the New York Times, and her work has also been published by the New York Review of Books, The Financial Times, and Foreign Policy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in media studies at Hunter College and her master’s degree in journalism at Columbia University. She mainly covers migration, human rights, religion, politics and racism. These days, Aida spends a lot of time in France, where she is directing a documentary feature on antiracism activists and police violence.
Alami, Aida. 2020. “‘It’s a Joy for Me to Bury Them’: A Quest to Honor Migrant Dead.” The New York Times, August 28, 2020, sec. World. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/28/world/africa/morocco-bodies-migrants.html.
Alami, Aida. 2021. “The Struggle to Save a House of Music, and Its Legacy.” The New York Times, August 21, 2021, sec. World. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/21/world/africa/morocco-dar-gnawa.html
Bajalia, A. George, and Charlotte Malterre-Barthes. 2018. “Crossing into Ceuta.” Migrant Journal, no. 4, Dark Matters (June): 8–23.
Bajalia, A. George. 2020. “Dima Africa, Daily Darija: Im/Migrant Sociality, Settlement, and State Policy in Tangier, Morocco.” The Journal of North African Studies, July, 1–20.
Recommended Reading referenced in the podcast:
Aidi, Hisham. 2017. “Juan Goytisolo: Tangier, Havana and the Treasonous Intellectual.” Middle East Report, no. 282: 18–31.