Lynnsay Maynard (photo, left), former public radio producer/host at MPBN, now manuscript reader with Electric Literature (Brooklyn, NY), reflects on the work of Paul Bowles in recording and preserving Morocco's traditional music and the role of the American Legation in continuing his work. Lynnsay's guest post originally appeared on The View From Fez, probably Morocco's best English-language blog of the cultural scene. We are happy to "cross-post" with them.
Due to the length of the article, this is a "split post" – just click on the highlighted line midway through the article to continue reading.
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In early March of 1959, the first performances of Tennessee Williams’ play “Sweet Bird of Youth” opened at Martin Beck Theatre in New York City starring Paul Newman and Geraldine Page. Directed by Greek-American Broadway and Hollywood legend Elia Kazan, most famous for conceptualizing ‘method acting’, the production of the Hollywood-lustful gigolo Chance Wayne would go on to garner four Tony Award nominations and enjoy over 350 performances in its initial run. Hidden amongst the dazzling list of cast and crew was the production’s composer: Paul Bowles, an American composer and author known preeminently for his 1949 novel “The Sheltering Sky” and his notoriously colorful expatriate lifestyle in his adopted home base of Tangier, Morocco.
Bowles was busy in 1959. A collection of his short stories, “The Hours after Noon”, was published. From Tangier, he was caring for his wife, writer Jane Bowles, who had suffered a debilitating stroke two years prior. A lifelong friend and collaborator of Williams, “Sweet Bird of Youth” marked the third production to which Bowles penned the music. And in the spring, Bowles was awarded a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation totaling $6,800 to fund an expansive project in conjunction with the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress (LOC): travel across Morocco and record as much folk, tribal and modern music as possible.
After a weeks’ training on Ampex reel-to-reel recording equipment at the LOC in Washington D.C., Bowles returned to Tangier. In early August, Bowles set out in a Volkswagen Beetle stocked with equipment, bedding and pots and pans accompanied by Christopher Wanklyn, a subdued American associate of Bowles’, and Mohammed Larbi Jilali, a kif-dependent native Moroccan who knew the local officials and the terrain.
My stint, in attempting to record the music of Morocco, was to capture in the space of the six months which the Rockefeller Foundation allotted me for the project, examples of every major musical genre to be found within the boundaries of the country… By [December 1959]… I already had more than two hundred and fifty selections… as diversified a body of music as one could find in any land west of India.
Paul Bowles, Their Heads Are Green ("The Rif, To Music")
During four, five-week trips separated by days of respite in Tangier, the trio zipped across Morocco visiting 23 cities and towns along the Rif and Atlas Mountains, northern Sahara and southeastern and northern corners operating from a map of Bowles’ design. In his essay, “The Rif, To Music”, Bowles details portions of the trip including terse negotiations over performance costs, audible gunfire from Oujda, a town 5km west of Algeria which was in the throes of its revolution against French forces and the unbridled joy of a hot shower after days of traversing unpaved back roads.