Fes Tannery’s & Sufi Music Festival, Morocco

By Ali Karim
This post is part of a series called Morocco May 2017
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Fes Tanneries and Sufi Music festival

Another area of interest in Fes is the Tannery’s, where animal hides are processed and dyed. There are several around Fes, the biggest and most accessible/interesting is the Chouwara Tanneries in the old Medina in Fes el Bali.

A young boy “adopted” us and offered to guide us to a rooftop to view the tanneries and to a restaurant where his mother was the cook, for a meal. There are plenty of such self-styled “guides” offering their services that we had to fight off during our walk; but this young kid (10yrs old) spoke decent English and was endearing, so we let Omar guide us.

To view the Chouwara Tanneries, you go into a shop selling leather goods, where they give you some mint leaves, and then escort you to their rooftop, where they tell you the history and explain the tanning process.

The hope is that you purchase leather products from them, or they charge 10 dhirams (~$1) per person.

Tanning Process
The process is to clean the hides in vats of pigeon poop (that is the smell that you need to mask with the mint leaves), then rinse, then clean in ammonia/lye solution, followed by dyeing in vats of different natural vegetable dyes, such as poppy flower (red), indigo (blue), henna (orange), cedar wood (brown), mint (green), and saffron (yellow). Interesting process, and very smelly. The whole process is mostly manual; with men waist deep in the Vats doing all the work with their feet and hands.

The mint leaves provided help to mask the smell.

Tannery Vats used to clean and dye the hundreds of leather hides

Hundreds of hides in the dying process

Yellow hides drying

After the tannery views, we went to the restaurant where Omar’s mum, Fatima, was the cook, for an excellent meal of Moroccan Salad (moong bean and aubergene bhurto (eggplant dip)).

With Omar, our guide, at the restaurant where his mother, Fatima, works as the cook

We headed back to the Riad, to rest before the evening at the Sufi Music festival.

The Sufi music festival is an annual event held in Fes, and attracts musicians from all over the world. There are multiple venues over the old and new city of Fes, and we decide to attend these. The one that was most interesting was the one in Place Boujoud, which was close to the Bab Boujoud; where we had been earlier that day. To get there, we had to get a taxi to take us from Place Er R’Cif, and since it was now getting to sunset; this plaza was getting filled with people enjoying the evening.

Place Er R’Cif getting filled up in the evening

The Bab (gate) at the entrance to Place Er R’Cif

Businessmen in Place Er R’Cif

Found a small minivan taxi, negotiated the taxi fare to 50 Dhiram (~$5) and then got in.

Once at Place Boujoud, we found a huge open square with a stage at one end, and plenty of people of all ages hanging around. We asked a policeman when the music would start and he indicated in about 30 mins.

So we decided to go get something to eat, and walked to Bab Chorfa, where we had seen some interesting restaurants earlier that day. Found one right next to the bab (gate) and went upstairs to the rooftop, for a great view and some traditional Moroccan Tajine dishes (chicken tajine and vegetable tajine).

Tajine is a slow cooked meal in a typical clay dish, with meat/chicken and vegetables, and rice or couscous. Great view and great meal, except that Nizar got something stuck in his throat; and we had some anxious moments trying to figure out whether to panic (head to a hospital) or not.

The customer on the next table suggested that he drink some olive oil as that would help him swallow anything stuck in his throat. He did this, and felt much better; and we finished our meal in peace.

View from the rooftop restaurant

Bab Chorfa from the rooftop restaurant

Then headed back the Place Boujoud, and by now it was packed with over 50,000 people as a guess. The band was going full swing at the other end, and people were dancing and singing along. And this was full of young children, families, young people and older people, all peacefully enjoying the sufi music, with an electronic modern twist.

Sufi music time; thousands of people here

Young and old, all enjoying the concert peacefully

Sufi music band

Check out the video below of the modern Sufi music concert

The concert finished around midnight, and all the thousands of people started leaving the square, resulting in huge crowds everywhere, and very few taxi’s being available. So we hung around in the Bab Boujloud for a little while until the crowd thinned, and finally found a Petit Taxi to take us back to Place R’Cif.

However, since the Petit taxi’s are only allowed to carry 3 people by law, our taxi driver picked 2 of us around the corner to evade the cops, and took all 4 of us. This taxi driver recognized we were Indians and so he entertained us with hindi film songs and dialogues all the way back. Hindi movies are popular in this part of the world 🙂

Back to Bab Boujould to find a taxi after the crowds had thinned.

From Place El R’Cif; we walked back to our Riad, over now deserted gulley’s as it was close to 1AM by now. Went to sleep; after a great day in Fes.

Meknes next

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