Sunday mornings at the Legation are usually very quiet, much like the sleepy streets of Tangier. This Sunday, however, we were honored by a special visit from Idaho Senator James E. Risch and his family. Ambassador Dwight Bush came from Rabat to meet the Risch’s and welcome them on their first visit to Morocco. The family decided to visit Tangier while on vacation in southern Spain. Vicky Risch, Senator Risch’s wife, felt drawn to the idea of visiting the Legation: “I read about the museum before coming to Spain and I just knew that I had to see it.”
It was the only way I could think of to get the opus of Morocco’s traditional music, recorded in 1959 by Paul Bowles and digitized by TALIM in 2010, into the hands of King Mohammed VI: have a leather presentation case made, embossed with the TALIM logo and dedicated to His Majesty.
US Ambassador to Morocco Dwight Bush now has it, and will present it at an appropriate occasion. Morocco’s musical heritage will have been repatriated after more than fifty years in the vaults of the Library of Congress.
Interest in Paul Bowles’ recordings of Morocco’s traditional music continues unabated, with a new sound exhibit opening this week in Marrakesh.
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.
– – – – – – – – –
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.
Paul Bowles came alive again in Tangier last Friday, thanks to his friend and musical heir Irene Herrmann, playing the piano in a historic concert at the Legation.
The Tangier Renaissance man – composer, novelist, ethnomusicologist – received a synthesizer from his friends in 1992, and, in his eighties, proceeded to compose music. Now the machine is on display.
Paul Bowles literary and musical legacy continues to inspire the production of cultural radio documentaries throughout the world, especially in Europe.
Literary festival “Correspondances de Tanger” features Bernard Comment’s evocation of American beat writer Jack Kerouac.
Our 200th blog post and a chance to see the Legation on BBC TV.
Arch literary enemies Gore Vidal and Truman Capote meet on the docks of Tangier.