Storytelling school

How a new generation is reviving the hikayat, Morocco’s ancient storytelling tradition

“Until about a decade ago there were 10 to 20 storytellers in the square at any one time,” says Zouhair. “Now you’d be lucky to find three.” But, lately, a more reliable stop has emerged: Morocco’s cafes, riads, museums and community centers now offer space for itinerant cashiers. The World Storytelling Cafe, which opened in February 2022, is one such destination – a vegan show cafe with a regular slate of storytelling.

The café first emerged as a virtual meeting place during the Covid-19 pandemic, then materialized into a physical location, thanks to the vision of British hoteliers based in Morocco, Mike Wood and Lucie Andersen-Wood. There is no official charge to watch the storytellers at the cafe, but a hat is passed around the room for donations, as per Moroccan tradition. Performing here at any time can be anyone from Abderrahim Al-Azzalia, a respected master and veteran storyteller, to Mariam Cannan, a young woman who represents a wave of storytellers in training at the school of storytelling. neighbor Al-Muniya.

“The festival is exactly what Marrakech needs,” says Zouhair. “Besides celebrating our history, we bring our culture to places in the city, so we bring tradition back to life and bring people to the beautiful riads and museums in the city.”

And, as I hear the quivering tones of the palm trees of Baba-C – the festival’s most exuberant character – echo through the square, I’m hopeful that the storytellers will make sure their voices are heard, in a one way or another.

Three other cultural and community activities

1. Take a cooking class
Master your couscous and tagine techniques at Amal Women’s Training Center, a non-profit organization located a little away from the medina. The organization employs and trains underprivileged women in Marrakech and helps them develop their cooking skills to work in restaurants and cooking schools.

2. Spend time in the baths
Throughout the medina are public hammams (public baths), used for centuries by city dwellers seeking rest and relaxation. Get black soap enriched with eucalyptus, rhassoul and a kessa glove of the souk and dive into it. Or for a more luxurious experience, try the Royal Hammam at Hotel La Sultana.

3. Learn the basics of Darija and Amazigh
In the new part of town, Henna Café is a women-run community business that runs affordable daily language classes for locals and travelers in English, Darija and Amazigh. The cafe also provides a workspace for traveling henna artists from across North Africa and has a regular roster of storytellers.

The next Marrakech International Storytelling Festival will take place in February 2023. Visit the World Storytelling Café website for more information, as well as regular live streams of storytellers.

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