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BUSINESS |

MARRAKECH MUSIC

92 | TRAVELLER


BUSINESS |

MARRAKECH MUSIC

L R P WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOUR UK MUSIC BUSINESS BURNS DOWN? FOR NICK WILDE THE ANSWER WAS SIMPLE: START AGAIN AMID THE SOUKS DEREK WORKMAN

TIM MARRS

WHEN THE GODS of rock and roll tell you it’s time

to move on – by flooding your recording studio twice in six months and then, just to be sure you get the message, setting fire to it – you start to take notice. Nick Wilde lost everything in 2007 when his London-based production house, Fat Fox, went up in flames; so he and his wife, Tatiana, decided to step back for six months and see where life took them. Following in the footsteps of countless hippies, poets and bon viveurs, they found themselves in Marrakech where they were immediately seduced by the mixture of hedonism and history. With its ancient, narrow streets, on the one hand, and the upbeat modernity of Guéliz (the new town) on the other, the Red City is a hard place to resist and the couple decided to stay. They bought the shell of a riad in the Medina, making the decision to begin restoring it with no thought whatsoever for their former life in London. But then that life caught up with them in an unexpected way. As Wilde worked on his new home, he got to know his neighbours in the tiny alleyways and his ears pricked up – quite literally. “ I discovered that there were some brilliant young musicians living in the Medina,” recalls Wilde, “but most of them come from very meagre backgrounds and there was no way they could ever get produced. It seemed an obvious idea to convert part of our riad into a studio.” Soon youngsters started to arrive at his door and Wilde quickly realised he was onto something special. Mixing the rhythms of rebab (a North African stringed instrument), the Berber and Sufi songs of the Gnawa people and rap based on traditional African beats from the souk alleyways with his own experience of house, electronic and hip-hop soon created a crosscultural blend that he knew was unique. “We didn’t intend to start a business, but once I got a bit known, more and more people began to come to the studio. There’s a very rich network of talent here and eventually I was working with some

TIM WHITE

very interesting musicians from the Sahara, Agadir, Casablanca – all over Morocco. The whole thing just came together organically. I didn’t particularly plan it,” he says. And so Marrakchi Records was born. The studio got its first major break in 2009, when Ibiza’s Café del Mar contacted Wilde to produce a number of tracks for them. He brought together a group of young musicians who became Blue Medina Although the material wasn’t used in the end, the band sent a copy of the CD to 2M, Morocco’s national radio and TV station. Their track, Edge of the World, did very well on Moroccan radio and found its way on to several compilations in Europe. From there, Wilde received a phone call from Younes Lazrak, one of the main presenters at the station, who loved the work he was doing. Lazrak

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offered him a 40-minute TV programme based on the bands and musicians working with Marrakchi Records. “That was Monday and I was in England,” recalls Wilde. “The live show was on Saturday in Casablanca. We had four days to rehearse. These were kids who had never performed live, never mind in front of a camera. They went down an absolute storm.” According to Wilde, it’s this casual networking that is the essence of business in Morocco. “Here, almost everything is done through word of mouth, family and friends. So much happens out of the blue. It’s much more difficult to approach someone in London, but here everyone is helpful. They know it’s difficult to operate in the music business in Morocco, because it’s actually a very small industry.” It was through Lazrak that Wilde found some of the musicians for his new album, Caravane, which he describes as down-tempo and laid-back, a mixture of electronic and acoustic with a lot of Moroccan sounds. The vocals are in Arabic, but done in a way that is accessible to an international audience. During its recording, he was surprised to find that, no matter how contemporary the music was he came across, it was still highly influenced by traditional themes. “Moroccans are highly patriotic people and have enormous respect for their musical traditions. It even shows itself in the rap scene, which is huge here.” At first glance, it’s not particularly easy to uncover the music scene in Marrakech, beyond the Westernised versions of Moroccan music found in the main clubs and hotels, but for Wilde, that can be a good thing. “It’s part of travel; you don’t always want to be spoon-fed everything. It can be a lot more interesting to go and find things yourself. Some of the smaller bars and clubs are beginning to put on traditional music, often mixed with European beats, but some of the best events are spontaneous. “Occasionally, you’ll hear of a group of Gnawa musicians taking over an old warehouse or large space, and playing and dancing through the night. These events are incredible, but never publicised. Perhaps that’s why there’s no recognised scene as such – there is no listings guide.” Like anywhere in the world, throughout Marrakech there are hundreds of kids recording music on computers in bedroom studios, but these are mainly backing tracks for rap. Apart from Marrakchi Records, there are only a handful of studios in the city that can take budding musicians on to the next step. “There’s a brilliant Moroccan producer called DJ Van, who’s probably the top producer for rap in the country. He’s having a lot of success with the band Fnaire. 94 | TRAVELLER

“Kamar Studios are also in the Medina. They’ve just released a three-CD set of minimal trance called The Black Album, but they work mainly with bigger names, and most of their work is for films and major soundscapes. They did the music for the opening of La Mamounia, Marrakech’s iconic hotel, after its €40-million refit. “Apart from them, I’m the only small, independent producer in the city and the only one who actually works a lot with local kids. On the other hand, Marrakech is becoming a major destination for international acts to record in, because it’s such a great place. There are a number of top-flight – and very, very expensive – studios springing up around the city.” Marrakchi is now so highly regarded that Wilde has been able to call on two of Morocco’s top musical talents: the amazing vocals of Oum, and the rebab and violin of Foulane. But earning the respect of the local establishment and the funds to keep going has been a slow process. “It took about three years to begin to make any money. Even now, four years since I began producing in Marrakech, I still have to rely on about 50% of my income from the work I do in the UK.” Seeking out North African music for a wider audience takes time. Wilde spent more than a year


BUSINESS |

MARRAKECH MUSIC

Nick Wilde hits the Sahara desert and, below, a recording session in the courtyard of his riad

travelling around Morocco recording the music for Caravane, which comes out this month, and he’s keen to continue his musical explorations. “Essaouira is a great place to look for music. There’s always live music on somewhere there, but one of the best times to go is in June, for the World Music Festival. It’s incredible and bands come from all over the world. “Agadir is also good, but for me the most interesting place at the moment is M’hammid, a town on the edge of the Sahara, about a 10-hour drive south of Marrakech. There’s music everywhere there – every street corner has someone playing on it. They have the Nomads Festival every March, with both international musicians and nomadic bands from the desert playing. That’s my next project – I’m going to go with a camera crew to record the desert rock that’s coming out of the region for release on CD and as a TV programme.” Caravane is available from 1 November at iTunes, Amazon, UK record shops and facebook.com/ caravanemusic easyJet flies to... Marrakech from eight destinations. See our insider guide on page 160. Book online at easyJet.com

“I’m the only small independent producer who actually works a lot with local kids”

Maroc Rock  

When Nick Wilde's recording studio in London was flooded twice and then burned out he set up a new one in the ancient Medina of Marrakech.