Trip Start Aug 06, 2008
39Trip End Ongoing
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Suddenly I’m jolted out of my dreamlike state when I hear a voice,
I turn around and I see a tall fellow that I vaguely recognize… it’s Oussama, the songwriter, guitarist I’d met outside the walls of the Rabat medina back in February 2008
Oussama is busy, so we’re not able to talk much—but it’s still great to see him again.
I continue on, along another wide boulevard lined with street vendors and finally to the forest that separate Temara and Rabat. Or course I’m going to hoof it, so I can finally create a “hike link” between the two cities. It’s a pleasant walk—even though the forest isn’t as well maintained as the one in Harhoura.
Finally I reach Rabat.
I have a couple of things I need to accomplish in Morocco’s capital. First of all, I need to explore the city a bit more thoroughly. I officially parkbenched it way back in February, 2008 and revisited it a couple of times, but there still are a lot of sections I haven’t touched yet. I know I won’t be able to finish it today, but I’m going to get started.
Secondly, there’s a free Cat Stevens concert at a quarter to 10, and I need to figure out where it is. I tried to find the location on the internet with no luck.
So that means I’ve got 3 hours to figure out where this venue is. But I’m not going to let that distract me from my primary goal of exploration and discovery.
I’m in Agdal quarter—an upscale neighbourhood of beautiful villas and offices and government buildings with modern designs, along with some very expensive looking cafes. Here you can easily forget that you’re in a relatively poor third world country. I continue working my way towards the coast, past the sprawling university district, and over the freeway. Here things change abruptly and I find myself in a working class neighbourhood with streets packed with scruffy looking vendors, parks overgrown with weeds… a much more lively, fun atmosphere, though. There’s a nice little plaza with a tent above it where parents bring their toddlers to run around in the middle… then an sparkly indoor shopping area
I wish I could just relax and enjoy the vibe, but the clock is ticking and there’s no sign of Cat Stevens anywhere. People I’d asked previously told me it was somewhere in the vicinity of the stadium or bus station—but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Finally I decide to suck up my pride and ask for directions. The fellow seems helpful enough, telling me I’ll have to catch a collective taxi to get there. I try, but none of the collective taxis are heading that way.
I’m half tempted to give up on the idea… after all, I’m not really a bit Cat Stevens fan—although it would be nice to hear “Father and Son” live, as it is the most popular English song in all of Morocco…
Finally I decide I can’t miss this once in a lifetime opportunity, and I flag a regular taxi and fork over 25 dirhams for a ride to the concert venue…
The Cat Stevens A.K.A Yusuf Islam Experience
I reach the sprawling outdoor concert area of OLM Souissi
This is the annual “Mawazine” festival, a series of concerts help annually here in Rabat with a parade of the biggest names in music business—Elton John, Sting, Shakira, Kanye West—you name it, they’ve sung here at Mawazine. A lot of Moroccans grumble about the huge price tag the government is paying to bring in these big stars saying that that money really should be spent more productively. I haven’t quite figured out how the economy in Morocco really works, so I’m not going to pass judgement… I’m just going to enjoy a free concert.
Yusuf comes on stage and the crowd gets excited. I don’t know how many people here are true Cat Stevens fans and who are just here because it’s a free concert. I know everybody in Morocco loves his song “Father and Son” and everyone likes to boast about the fact that he converted to Islam. But are these folks really familiar with his music? We’ll soon find out.
People are attentive as he sings some of his songs from the sixties and seventies, songs which tell of the journey of his life
For me, this turns out to be the most meaningful concert I can remember. Seeing a guy that can connect with a crowd with just a guitar and his voice—but at the same time seems just a humble, ordinary guy who sings about the experiences he’s had along his unusual life journey.
Usually when I’m at a concert, I get this frustrating feeling, wishing I were up there on that stage. But today the stage seems of little importance—it’s all about the journey, and being able to express that journey through music. Stage or no stage, I hope I can be like Cat Stevens when I’m 64 years…
Finally comes the climatic moment… Yusuf, now dressed in a Moroccan djellaba, hits the first notes of Father and Son… the crowd goes wild… But instead of waving cigarette lighters, everyone raised their smartphones to the sky to record and immortalize this moment.
An encore with “Wild World” and “Peace Train” and then that the end of the Cat Stevens experience. I catch a ride in an unofficial collective taxi back to the bus station, catch a bus to Casablanca, and arrive home at 2:30 in the morning, making this a 20 hour day—the longest day out on the road I’ve pulled off in a long time.