CONFLUENCE IN ARABIA: A DIVERSE STORYLAND
By Fiona Morrison
Marrakech may be known as the ‘Red City,’ and the ‘Rose of the Atlas,’ but as soon as I stepped into the fiery, all-consuming mix of colour and culture, I knew that red, and all its rosy hues, could only be part of the story. Multihued lanterns, neon prints and speeding mopeds rushed past me on my way in from the airport, my tongue tripping over several languages as the taxi driver tested my Arabic, then my French and then my English (my own mother tongue getting lost in the confusion). Fortunately, I was travelling with storyteller Anne Errington; her years spent in Paris giving us an advantage as our car veered through the thick, city walls of the medina and into its meandering streets where the noise, the energy and the chaos became all the more concentrated. There was such freedom in the clashing of colours, such joy in the crashing of symbols and drums, the only way to greet Marrakech was to jump right into its open, dancing arms.
Located in Northern Africa and with a European neighbour and a Mediterranean coast, Morocco and its laughing heart, Marrakech, (known locally as the ‘city of humour’) was the perfect setting for Confluencers from around the world to come together for a week’s worth of events and workshops: Storytellers from Scotland, Morocco and Norway bringing their own flavour to performances at the local Café Clock. And with Celtic mermaids outwitting sailors, dwarfs outwitting Norwegian giants, and a Moroccan widow outwitting the King of Thieves, despite all their differences, in Confluence’s storyland – an eclectic place where cultures, traditions and characters meet – anything was possible.
Throughout the residency, local photographers and storytellers guided us through its winding streets, ancient histories and storytelling traditions. We were lucky enough to see exhibitions like ‘Femme Gravee’ at the Dar Bellarj where the cloisters of an ancient Riad were lit up with projections of tattooed women; from the geometric face tattoos of pre-Islamic Berber tribes to the larger body tattoos of modern-day Moroccans – each giving us a glimpse far beyond the more recognisable ‘tourist’ henna tattoos in Jemaa el-Fnaa.
From the colourful stories that curved their way up the domed ceilings of Dar Bellarj, to the ancient tales of Moroccan master storyteller Ahmed Ezzzarghani at Café Clock, Morocco’s vast universe of eclectic stories kept on coming. The ‘master’ gave us insight into traditional oral storytelling techniques alongside talented Norwegain storytellers Ine Mariel Solbakken and Suzanne Øfjord from Story Squad based in Oslo; the former a powerful voice-piece for a thousand-year-old tradition, the latter reinvigorating Norwegain folk and fairy tales through music, rhythm and movement, transforming it into a powerful, physical performance. In one of the few places in the world where oral storytelling traditions are still considered precious gems passed from old to young (regular performances continue to take place in Jemaa El Fnaa and at Café Clock), I couldn’t help thinking how special it was in this modern age of memes and divisive media headlines, that we got to sit and listen to stories the way that our ancestors in every culture once did; a common ground that, like the fires around which people would sit – be it in the mountains of Norway, on the coast of Scotland or in the African desert, has always brought people together.
Regular meetups on the terrace of founder Laura Hudson Mackay and her husband Scott’s beautiful Riad Rom’man in the heart of the medina (where I was also lucky enough to be staying) was also a unique opportunity for us all to come together in a relaxed, open space. And with the sweet taste of mint tea on our tongues, we were never short of conversation, celebrating what co-founder and photographer Houssain Belabbes called ‘the beauty of the differences’ and making lifelong friends.
Lastly, there were the journeys – meandering through the medina’s streets on foot, trailing the city walls on scooter at twilight, and driving from Marrakech to the Confluence book launch at the British Embassy in Rabat where photographer Ali’s Arabic-French-English soundtrack was packed to the brim with more Moroccan stories to add to my growing collection. So it was the space ‘between’ which became for me, the most revealing; and the place where people, perspectives and ideas meet. The place where questions can thrive, and where answers can change. If only everyone could go on such a road-trip or take such a walk, the world would be a much happier place. But then, let’s see where Confluence goes next…