Underneath the Hammans, in the bowels of the earth, there are men whose job it is to keep the fires burning that heat the water for the Hammams. They sit in rocky outcroppings, feeding the flames day in and day out. From all appearances, when not working, they sleep in another part of the earth below the buildings. Besides keeping fires for the Hammam, they have another task related to heat. One of the favored meat dishes in Moroccan cities is a Tangia which, unlike a Tagine that has vegetables, is a simple braised meat meal with spices and seasonings in it. It is made by the men in Moroccan families. The container which it is cooked in is about a fifteen-inch tall, pot-bellied clay jar with a rolled collar on the top. Meat (beef or lamb) and spices and water are added to the pot, then heavy paper is tightly tied with twine to keep the steam inside, and it is taken down an alley near one’s riad to the fire-keeper, who sets it in the hot coals under the Hammam where it braises. In time, the fire keeper pulls it out and sets aside to be retrieved, taken home and enjoyed for family dinner.
Enter Joanne Weir’s culinary group on a walking tour of one of the oldest parts of the souks. We gazed maybe twenty feet down below us to a blazing fire and saw Mohamad doing his job. He dramatically fanned the flames, added more fuel to the fire and pointed to the Tangia pots he had already removed from the fire. Mustapha, our guide and Mohamed exchanged a few words in Arabic. Mustapha turned to us and informed us that Mohamed is a well known singer in Morocco, known for his singing throughout the country. He belongs to a group of Moroccan folk musicians who sing Gwana style music that originated in sub-Saharan Africa and he was going to come up to his little sod ledge covered with colorful rugs—his home, and serenade us—which he did. Someone in our group motioned for me to take a load off my legs and sit on an outcropping next to him. He pulled out his zither-like instrument (an hejjouj) AND a turquoise fez that he plunked on my head and began to sing his song while twirling the tassel on his own fez. It was a sight to behold, a song whose words we didn’t understand until later when we listened to a video recording I had made. He took the words ‘how are you today’ and wove them into a dramatic folk song—poetry in music.
On my last day in Marrakech as I was checking out of my room, I ended up telling the hotel concierge about Mohamed. She laughed and said Mohamed had been invited to La Sultana to provide entertainment to a special group of visitors and added to the story. Among the visitors was a well-known opera singer. During Mohamed’s performance at the hotel he invited the opera singer to join him—the juxtaposition of the opera and folk singer duet has become a legendary memory at La Sultana Hotel.
The turquoise fez was a gift from him, our group thanked him with a generous tip—and the fez is on it’s way to Klamath Falls in my checked luggage!
4 thoughts on “Mohamed Sings For Us”
You look fantastic in that fez with your dollar size eyes sparkling. What an adventure! Thanks so much for sharing so many details of food preparation along with the photos.
We are one!
Fascinating, enriching, thought provoking! Tell us more!
Beautiful and well crafted story about our mysterious encounter with the musically gifted fire tender.
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