there's nowhere in Morocco like the Dejemaa El Fna - no place that so effortlessly involves you and keeps you coming back. By day it's basically a market, with a few snake charmers, storytellers and an occasional troupe of acrobats. In the evening it becomes a whole carnival of musicians, clowns and street entertainers. when you arrive in Marrakesh, and after you've found a room, come out here and you'll soon be immersed in the ritual: wandering round, squatting amid the circles of onlookers, giving a dirham or two as your contribution. If you want a respite, you can move over to the rooftop terraces of the Café de France or the Restaurant Argana to gaze over the square and admire the frame of the koutoubia.
what you are part of is a strange process. Some say that tourism is now vital ti the Djemaa's survival, yet apart from the snake charmers, monkey handlers and water vendors (all of whom live by posing for photographs), there's little that has compromised itself for the west. In many ways it actually seems the opposite . Most of the people gathered into circles round the performers are Moroccans - Berbers from the villages and lots of kids.There is no way that any tourist is going to have a tooth pulled by one of the dentists here, no matter how neat the piles of molars displayed on their square of carpet. Nor are you likely to use the scribes or street barbers or , above all, understand the convoluted tales of the storytellers, round whom are gathered perhaps the most animated, all-male crowds in the square.
Nothing of this, though, matters very much.There is a fascination in the remedies of the herb doctors, with their bizarre concoction spread out before them. There are performers, too, whose appeal is universal. The Jemaa Elfna square's acrobats, itinerants from Tazeroualt, have for years supplied the European circuses - though they are perhaps never so spectacular as here, thrust forward into multiple somersaults and contortions in the late afternoon heat. There are child boxers and sad-looking trained monkeys, clowns and chleuh boy dancers - their routines, to the climactic jarring of cymbals, totally sexual (and traditionally an invitation to clients).
And finally, the Djemaa's enduring sound - the dozens of musicians playing all kinds of instruments. late at night, when only a few people are left in the square, you encounter individual players, plucking away at their ginbris, the skin-covered two-or three-string guitars.Earlier in the evening, there are full groups: the Aissaoua, playing oboe-like ghaitahs next to the snake charmers; the Andalucian-style groups, with their ouds and violins; and the back Gnaoua, trance-healers who beat out hour-long hypnotic rhythms with iron clanging hammers and pound tall drums with long curved sticks.
if you get interested in the music there are two small sections on opposite sides of the square where stall sell recorded cassettes : one is near the entrance to the souks and the other is on the corner with the recently pedestrianized Rue Bab Agnaou. Most of these are by Egyptian or Algerian Rai bands, the pop music that dominates Morocco radio, but if you ask they'll play you Berber music from the Atlas, classic Fassi pieces, or even Gnaoua music - which sounds even stranger on tape, cut off only by the end of the one side and starting off almost identically on the other. These stalls apart, and those of the nut roasters, whose massive braziers line the immediate entrance to the potter's souk, the market activities of the Djemaa are mostly pretty mundane.