Notes from the Moroccan Journals

While organizing and hosting a series of evenings of anti-war poetry and music I'd conceived that featured Amiri and Amina Baraka, Father Daniel Berrigan, Simon Shaheen, my dear friend D. H. Melhem and many others, I was told of a grant that was made for me. The Center for Peace through Culture funded my first "solo performance" at Manhattan's Alternative Museum. I developed the text with jazz and improvisational singer, coach, and immense spirit, Jeane Lee. Obsessed with a major life event that everyone else knew better about, Jeane's wisdom was hugely helpful. One day, Jeane responded to my terror about performing: "Don't be afraid. You're just getting up in front of the audience and taking off your clothes!"

In NOTES FROM THE MOROCCAN JOURNALS I show and tell my story on a simple, realistic set with snippets of Moroccan folk songs I learned with Bachir, English ballads, and my original melodies. Moroccan words and phrases punctuate the text, and henna on my hands and feet (a part of the story that I used years before Madonna!) adds a striking effect. Themes of cross-cultural communication, women's universal condition and the social impact of war combine with lots of situational humor. Hearing that singing on one's back is especially hard, I put that in, too, and wrote myself an 85-minute-long tour de force.

The piece is mostly about me and the choices I made. I had to write and perform my "Notes." As a child I'd longed to see the world and always planned to live "abroad" – but had no chance to see more than Western Europe until I was in my twenties. Of course I helped those who asked according to my ability. A year after a bad case of hepatitis had forced me to leave Morocco, I performed a first short piece on the subject at Fashion Moda in the East Bronx, and then another iteration.

Performing NOTES FROM THE MOROCCAN JOURNALS has always been a kind of sacred ritual for me: ideally in small black box theaters, at the audience's level, looking into their eyes. Not only did the piece allow me to have my say about my experience, but it was also a way to talk with others about inter-cultural contact. A Jewish acquaintance found commonalities from having married his Canadian Orthodox Jewish girlfriend to help her remain in New York.

The themes in NOTES FROM THE MOROCCAN JOURNALS remain relevant. Conservatives everywhere hate it and progressives love it. My most treasured performance was in the Eid el-Fitr celebration for the Association des Travailleurs maroccains en France, where my assistant reported seeing an elderly man wipe away tears.

My experience in Morocco made me want to meet Moroccan artists and intellectuals, which was easier by living and performing in Paris – and eventually also in French translation.

My first performance of Notes des cahiers maroccains was at Centre Georges Pompidou – with huge help on the translation from my brother-in-law Jim Hightower and my dear friend Guy Khaznadar. Over several years – performing at l'Institut du Monde Arabe, La Maison du Maroc and elsewhere, the French text evolved, especially with attention from my friend Martine Rossi. Long after I'd débuted the piece, a bilingual version of NOTES FROM THE MOROCCAN JOURNALS/NOTES DES CAHIERS MAROCCAINS and the English and French texts of ART NEW YORK was published by Eds. l'Harmattan of Paris. I have performed this piece in many countries over many years in all kinds of contexts: theaters, festivals, universities, libraries, bookstores, private homes, on radio... 

I wrote NOTES FROM THE MOROCCAN JOURNALS at a particular moment. But life goes on: Following my tips, Bachir Attar got to New York without us having to marry and developed an international career. Over the years, we met on a few occasions and performed, at intervals of several years, at the same venues, including l'IMA in Paris and the Soeterijn Teater in Amsterdam. A perennial concern of mine and a main motivation to agree to marry is that all artists and workers receive proper credit and compensation.

To read excerpts and order the book:

Eds. L'Harmattan order page

I still have a few copies: Just get in touch.