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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Pages— Chapter 6

It was 8 pm on a Thursday evening, and the basement of Le Vertigo, a small bar in Casablanca's old colonial downtown, was slowly filling up. Moroccans and foreigners alike made their way down the steep stone staircase, greeted by loud Pop art posters, background music, and chattering voices. They may have noticed the photographers from Rapax studio setting upone being a conspicuously jovial Canadianor they might have noticed the blonde Pole from Bewildered in Morocco who seemed to be everywhere at once, making sure that this event she had planned for so long was coming together. They might not have noticed a smiley Egyptian-Moroccan from Xmore who was just as invested, being the co-organizer, but who only showed his happy anxiety through chuckles. As the attendees sat at the bar or low tables and looked around the retro-feeling basement they would have admired and discussed Mouad Abou Lhana's artwork strung up all over the walls: art that mixes tradition with novelty, pop art with technique. The bar was filling up and hummed with anticipation, waiting for Chapter 6 of Pages to begin. 

Just after 9 pm my duty as presenter began, and I grabbed the microphone to call everyone to attention, thanking them for being there and giving them the outline of the storytellers for the night. Then as an introduction to Pages for those new to the event, we played the newly-released trailer for Pages: 

(Do you recognize the voice??)

After some well-merited applause directed at Rapax Studio, it was time to introduce the night's first speakernone other than the Pop artist himself. Mouad Abou Lhana made his way to the front, took the microphone, and gave some information about his life and how he had gotten to where he is todaya full time art teacher of high school students in the small city of Taza and a part time artist. The floor was opened up for questions, and he answered many: whether the paintings and prints were for sale (Yes!), whether he was able to make a living off of his art (Nope.), and even what happens if the cops come when he's creating giant street art murals! (He tries to get a permit first.) Stepping off, he was warmly applauded, and proved to be the perfect opener for what would be a great night.

The next speaker contrasted sharply with Mouad's laid-back demeanor and quiet voice. As soon as Reda Chahoud, co-founder of the company Startupia, began speaking in his rapid English and even faster French he energized the entire room. His talk outlined his journey from Morocco to France, then back to Morocco, and his tireless pursuit of passion. He spoke about his company which gives young entrepreneurs guidance and capital while they work together to create start-ups here in Morocco. This work is so important to him, he explained, because it proves that there is not just one path we all must followgo to school, graduate, get a job, get married, have kidsbut there are a huge number of different ways of going about life. In Morocco, he said, this message is an important one, and not one that is often heard or promoted here. “On doit suivre une piste qui nous rend heureux" he said. "We should follow the path that makes us happy" our own path, not someone else's.

photo credit: Walid Bendra
Reda also gave a beautiful tribute to Pages, explaining his love for this fantastic event:
What I love about Pages is here there are a lot of people with different backgrounds, different experiences. We're gathered here to share our lifestyles and our experiences. Pages is a cultural gathering, and is all about connections. I believe in connections, and that we must create value behind connections. Anyone we meet is someone who can have an impact on our lives!
I can attest to the truth of his statements, as Othman and I have both made wonderful friends through the event, who most certainly have impacted our lives!

A break followed Reda's talk as the next presented prepared. Khalil Mounji, from the organization Gnaoua Culture, would not only tell us a story, but do it through the music his association seeks to preserve. From their Facebook page—Gnaoua Culture est une association ayant pour but de développer, enrichir et préserver le patrimoine culturel marocain gnaoui. (Translation: Gnaoua Culture is an association whose goal is to develop, enrich and preserve the cultural Moroccan tradition of Gnaoua.) Khalil spoke only briefly about himself and role in the organization before transitioning into a legend from this Western part of Africa about the boy who founded Gnaoua. Accompanied by his traditional guembri, he told the story in a way that kept all of us hooked, and at the end he was asked for an encore over and over again!

photo credit: Walid Bendra

While there was no encore from Khalil, not long after he was done he introduced the last of the night's presenters—the band Bnat Timbouktou. They are associated with Gnaoua Culture and are an inspiring group of young women who are keeping the tradition of Gnaoua alive in Morocco's economic capital. They played, sang, and danced that kind of music that can only be truly appreciated live, and the audience was captivated.

As their set went on the crowd of listeners became less passive and more a part of the music making—clapping along, dancing along, even singing along with some songs! The atmosphere was electric. It was beautiful that this many-centuries old musical tradition, that is essentially religious at its core, could provoke such a reaction in such a place at such a time. That serves as a testament to both its power and the talent and passion of the musicians!

There was also a special guest performer who was on stage both with Khalil and Bnat Timbouktou. He had boundless energy and enthusiasm and really made everyone feel the music's life and energy!

Finally, the time came to close the night, and the raffle drawings were held (with prizes from sponsors Ligne 7 and Riad Qara, and even a surprise prize from Mouad), the obligatory group photo was taken, and those who worked early the next morning left. For everyone who could stay later, however, there was a bonus concert by French/Moroccan band One of Us!

Ligne 7!

Being able to be involved in Pages has been a wonderful gift, and I count myself extremely lucky to have gotten in with the crowd of amazing people who put it together time and again. Some big changes are coming in Chapter 7, changes that we are all very excited about, and we hope to have a record number of attendees on May 31st!

Thank you Monika and Amr!

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