Beyond Digital: Village Boys, Village Magic

Photographer John Francis Peters
June 24, 2011

Last time Jace Clayton (bka DJ Rupture) was on the road with FADER photo editor John Francis Peters they were chasing down tribal guarachero in Monterrey Mexico. Now they’re in Morocco for the month of June, working on an art/research project called Beyond Digital. They’ll check in each Friday. This post was co-written with Beyond Digital's Maggie Schmitt.

Breezy city, sun-scorched desert, deliriously beautiful mountain peaks—Morocco's countryside is both expansive and compressed, filled with stunningly varied landscapes unfolding one after another. Driving through it feels like crossing into a new country and climate every 45 minutes. After three weeks in Casablanca, we set out on a ten-hour car drive south. As we mentioned in last week's update, Hassan, a forward-thinking country man scaring up work in Casablanca, had invited us to visit his home village of Issafn.


Issafn's empty adobe houses crumble back into the rocky landscape. It's newer self-built cinderblock palaces line a sliver of green—date palms, figs, monstrous olive trees—around a riverbed that's walkable barring flash-floods. Ten years ago Issafn had no electricity. Powerlines were strung when the new king came to power, and now local hiphop crews post online videos of themselves rapping in Tashelhit. Hassan and his buddies put together an hourlong DVD (that's genre-scramble seems inspired by Bollywood's action-romance-spy-comedy-melodrama-all-at-once attitude) that they shot in the hills. The women still haul water up from the creek pre-dawn, and the cybercafe's sign has been around so long that it's rusted, nearly out of legibility. What's gonna happen in the next decade?

Download: Maghreb Mix Party, Track 9 (Sexy Back Blend)

Walking around Issafn, we are the aliens. Most of our crew doesn't speak Arabic or French, not that those would help much. Tashelhit is the first language of everybody else here, and many of the older generation don't speak Arabic. So communication turns into gestures and patience. We learn that the Berber term for beetle is iguiliguiz, a word impossible to pronounce without smiling. We learn that a great magic bird named Baz taught people in this land how to make music. We learn that honeycomb and homemade almond paste and olive oil and round bread is the best breakfast ever.

These village boys in the big city, would they go back? Hassan says he would love to, but to make music he has to be in the city. His father, who sings the call to prayer from the neighborhood mosque and is impish with us gawky strangers, won’t hear of profane music. Hassan and his friends are not the first who have gone to the city looking for work but also for more creative license than the cave down by the river (their rehearsal space) provides them.

It's not just about the music. If you live in the village, you live by village rules. No music and, says Hassan, no romance. Issafn's electricity generation swoons over Bollywood video-CDs and cultivates a parallel fantasy life of whirlwind passions while families nudge them towards arranged marriages. From Casablanca’s clamor you can feel nostalgic for the ways of the village; once you're actually there, you mostly just feel oppressed by them.


We leave on the third day. This rare vacation—from the internet, from the city, from cars and the sounds of cars—has to end. A few hours before we leave Hassan's father finally asks us: what are you doing with all the cameras and microphones? We drive home by day, to experience the two-lane road sidewinding through the Atlas mountains en route to Marrakesh, pausing to splash and throw stones in the pale blue Wadi Nfiss. At a traffic light in Marrakesh, kids selling roses come up to the car; when they see Taliesin in his Dutty Artz snapback – clearly alien, clearly a rap fan -- they abandon the sales pitch and immediately start spitting lyrics to an H-Kayne track. H-Kayne made waves with this song, “Issawa Style”, and remain big.

Download: H-Kayne, "Issawa Style"

Issafn clocks are back one hour from most of Morocco. On return to Casablanca, neither Hassan or Maga Bo realize that for a few days, showing up late everywhere. The village pulls you into its sense of time. The city pushes back. It is filling with people from the hungry countryside. Casablanca is an engine. Over beer at our local dive, a Muslim woman tells John about how the Koran anticipated the fundamental theories of quantum physics. Somebody selected “DJ Latino – Cumbias” on the jukebox, after Metallica, and it wasn't us. Our friend Abdellah sings in ostentatious falsetto indoors but on a hillside does full-throated ballads, sparse and magnificent. When the phones ring they don't ring, they play techno. We believe in the magic bird that taught us how to make music.

Download: Maghreb Mix Party, Track 10

Beyond Digital: Village Boys, Village Magic