Fez music

What am I doing here? Getting Gnawa Morocco Mind Medicine

Vago Damitio. What am I doing here?
Sefrou, Morocco
23 January 2013

As you read this I am on my way to an odyssey that has me both nervous and excited. I wrote an article about this for Travel and Escape back in December and so I’m going to borrow heavily from it here. I’m on my way to get a dose of Gnawa Morocco Mind Medicine.

Gnawi chanting and the Atlas Mountain music known as Ahidous form the backdrop to a spiritual celebration that pilgrims flock to every year for a deeper understanding of life, faith healing, trance healing and, perhaps most importantly, to ask for favors from saints and djinn.


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I’m one of those flocking to it! I’m part of an artists workshop and retreat that is heading to Sidi Ali. Tonight, I will meet with the other participants for a dinner and then we will head to where the madness errr…Mind Medicine…happens.

Key to these gatherings and pilgrimages are Sufi brotherhoods such as the Gnawa, the Aïssawa and the Hamadcha, with their trance-like music and bizarre (to us) ritual behaviour. One of the most famous but least witnessed (by outsiders) is the celebration connected with Sidi (Saint) Ali Ben Hamdouch, the founder and patron saint of the Hamadcha brotherhood. This particular brotherhood provided much of the basis for Gnawa’s music, which is much more widely known for its trance-inducing rhythms. Hamadcha trance music is known as ‘medicine for the mind’ by many Moroccans.

Sidi Ali is about 70 km from Fez where we meet for dinner tonight. From Fez we will trek to Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch and absorb the energy and wonders of music, trance,possession ceremonies, prayers and sacrificial slaughters dedicated to the spirit world. We will be among the thousands of pilgrims filling every available bed, couch or tent space as Moroccans come to entangle themselves with the supernatural aura of a place where spirits and humans join together to honor God.

I’m terribly excited as I write this and very happy to be joining in on this. Much thanks to my friend Jessica who is the coordinator of this group of artists gathering and who has thoughtfully asked me to participate.

From ritual baths in the spring of Aisha Ben Hamcoucha to the music and sweet incense that continue without stop, this is a celebration of the mystical—and whether you are there as an observer, a performer or a pilgrim, chances are you will be brought into the ritual as the feeling of trance wraps its way around the crowds.

Moroccan fiddle playerIt’s not that my mind needs the medicine as I feel like my time in Morocco is coming to an end. February 2nd will mark four years since I arrived and I feel in my bones that like a Presidential term – my time is almost up – in Morocco (I’ll still live for another 60 years). This is a chance to really feel it, dig it, live it, breathe it, because it does not get any more Moroccan than what I am heading towards.

Mansion in Newport, Rhode Island

Mansion in Newport, Rhode Island

Mansion in Newport, Rhode Island

Mansion in Newport, Rhode Island

In this world where you can find people starving on the streets and millions have nowhere to sleep, I find it amazing that places like this Newport, Rhode Island mansion are in private hands. This isn’t even a full time residence. It’s a vacation home. Mind blowing. If I owned a house like that, it would be filled with creative people working to make the world a better, happier place. Not sitting empty behind an iron grate.

Boracay White Beach ccImage by Jbeaulieau on Flickr

Exploring Boracay’s White Beach – Bars and Fire Spinners

Boracay White Beach ccImage by Jbeaulieau on Flickr
Boracay White Beach ccImage by Jbeaulieau on Flickr

Boracay’s White Beach is the famous 4-km at Station 2. It is certainly the busiest in Boracay. Its waters buzz with various sports. Holidaymakers play in the shallows which extend 20 meters or so off the beach.

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At the beach, sun worshippers lay out on the sand soaking up the rays and getting a tan. Even in midday heat, the sand feels cool to the feet. They are finely ground corals, not just ordinary soil particles. You don’t feel them getting into your shoes or shirt. Soft, the sands are easily malleable for building elaborate sand castles. Have your picture taken beside a sand sculpture—and hand the artist a tip or buy him a beer.

White Beach Sunset
Boracay White Beach ccImage by JBeaulieau on Flickr

People-watching is a common activity at the beach. Lay back under the shade with a beer or piña colada in hand and watch people go by. And you will see there are many young people around — Koreans, Swedes, Germans, Brits, Aussies and the newbies in town, Russians. Local tourists often come on the weekend with their families, a very Filipino trait. Young, they are not rowdy but decorous, even stylish. They leave no broken beer bottles at the beach. No crazy mischiefs or late night pranks. They come here to see. And to be seen.

Some tourists are not comfortable with crowds. But Station 2 is meant to be crowded. At dusk, people flock to White Beach to feel the breeze, watch the sunset, and shoot pictures. After all, a picture-postcard beach must have a picture-perfect sunset. They are not disappointed.

When night falls, White Beach comes to life. At times, it is even livelier at night than in daytime. And the parties here last from dusk to dawn, literally.

Start your night with a blaze. Some beach restaurants, like the Bamboo Lounge, entertain diners with fire dance shows. It is a hot, eye-popping, spectacle with all those flaming rods and twirling stringed balls of fire.

Boracay White Beach ccImage by Roslyn on Starfish Island
After dinner, walk down the beach. If it is a holiday, some establishments will light up fireworks. Just buy a drink and sit at a bar or on the beach to watch the bursting colorful light displays. If not, see what’s up in the beaches’ many nightspots. A number of bars play live music.

For leisurely listening, try Hey Jude Bar fronting D’Mall, the island’s shopping center, in Station 2. Deejays play a wide selection, from bossa novas to retros. The ambience is warm and cozy; the staff, friendly.

Bom-Bom’s Bar plays reggae music and draws Bob Marley diehards. The drinks are very affordable. Ariel’s Bar of Boracay Beach Club at Station 1 occasionally invites Manila and foreign DJs to spin and liven up the parties.

Guilly’s Bar at Station 1 is the favorite hangout of the young crowd. But its popularity is now drawing customers across the ages. With a good sound system and selections, it is hard to keep the crowd in their seats. The dance floor rarely gets empty. But once Guilly’s is packed to the walls, latecomers jump to Club Paraw next door. It plays hip-hop and R&B tunes.

Other party places are Wave at Regency Hotel; also Beachcomber, Cocomangas, and Juice bars.

Of course, if you make it to White Beach, you will almost certainly find a place that suits you. If not, you might not be at Station 2.

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