Acclaimed British trumpeter Guy Barker and producer Nick Luscombe visited Casablanca and Rick's Café May 27-30 to record a program for BBC World Service, "Guy Barker's World of Music." Casablanca was the last stop on a hemisphere-busting itinerary that covered Cuba, Jamaica, Capetown, South Africa and Casablanca. Guy played with a traditional wedding/party band, a young fusion group, a 16-year-old Moroccan saxophonist, all the usual jammers at a Sunday night jam session, several takes, and re-takes of "As Time Goes By" with Issam and the highlight: a visit to the house of a Gnawa master and recording some riffs with him.
Guy and Nick sat down with us for an interview between recording sessions.
Q: Guy Barker, what did you imagine Casablanca to be like and how did it meet your expectations?
Guy Barker: This was my first trip to Casablanca and I really didn't know what to expect. I'd been to Marrakech before but it was oriented around tourism - I knew Casablanca would be different but I didn't know how. Honestly, we'd had a very long and tiring trip, and when I first arrived nothing really made sense. I suppose I was expecting something between what's here and Marrakech, but I was surprised it was so built up.
Q: So you were surprised somehow, but you liked it.
Guy: Well even though we arrived tired, it was really important for us to go to Rick's. I have to tell you, when we arrived outside and I saw the door and the entrance, I suppose it was also because I was so tired, but I felt very emotional, very nostalgic.I had a lump in my throat, it was overwhelming. I know I was too tired. Then we walked through the door into this incredible oasis. You made us feel so welcome. I was dazed and had a feeling I wanted to stay for days and not leave!
Q: How did you have the idea to come to Casablanca?
Guy: I did two series for BBC called "Guy Barker's World Café" where I'd position myself at different clubs in London with my own band of 7 musicians and international musicians in the country would come and jam with us. So the production company I'd worked with proposed a third series where I would go around the world with my trumpet and jam with musicians and it would be called "Guy Barker's World of Music." Cuba was a natural choice, and I'd studied it and played in London with some musicians, so that was simple. Then it was logical to add Jamaica, being only 50 miles away, with reggae and the Jamaican influence so popular in the U.K. And with Jazz, we had to go to Africa. Capetown has a wealth of music and musicians. So we needed one more place and the producers suggested Lagos - there was lots of interesting music there. I said ok, but then was told I'd have to be accompanied the entire time by a bodyguard. When BBC said I'd have to take a "Hostile Environment" course.I said, how about Morocco! Someone said Casablanca, knowing how much I liked old films - so this was real appealing to kill two birds with one stone.
Q: Nick, didn't someone ask you to do a search for the jazz scene in Casablanca?
Nick Luscombe: Yeah, we had music set up everywhere else. I remembered thinking it might be hard to come up with something. I googled Casablanca and Jazz and after passing by several French articles I found your website. It was fantastic. I called down to the pub and said I'd found Rick's.
Guy: Yes, this was great. We'd joked that I'd finish the series by playing "As Time Goes By" in Rick's Café, with the prevailing understanding that Rick's didn't exist. Then when Nick came on the phone and said he'd found Rick's, that it had recently opened and they had jam sessions.well that was just amazing.
Q: And Nick, what were your first impressions of Casablanca?
Nick: I remember that taxi ride from the airport. At first it seemed relatively normal, and then got more and more chaotic as we got closer to the city. But even though this has been a short trip, I feel just after these few days more involved in the rhythm of the city. And when you took us to see the Master today, just that area, the neighborhood around the mosque I could see how real, warm and soulful this place was.that's my impression of Casablanca.
Guy: I remember when we got out of the cab in the Master's neighborhood I thought, "this is it - this is the real Casablanca - and it was a totally different feeling than in the other places we'd been.
Q: And Guy, what do you think of the project?
Guy: Well it's been great. Our job was to experience all the places in a compressed amount of time. Some of the work was more straightforward. For instance I had to record Cuban music one time, so I'd studied it. So it was easy for me to play, still a thrill to be there. In Jamaica I'd played with the jazz guitarist, and we all know reggae, so I knew it. And Capetown there were just these wonderful guys - a wide array as we already knew. But Casablanca turned out to be the perfect place to end. It started out as a mystery, because we had no contacts, and then we discovered Rick's and were intrigued by it, and the mystery got more pronounced as we got closer. I have to say, again, the visit to the Master and that area by the mosque I really had a lump in my throat.I felt like I was in another world. And playing with him, it was like nothing else. A musician gets accustomed to playing certain scales, and you can usually sense with the flow, but as we were playing together I hit one note, and thought - "that's not right" - and he looked at me, smiled and we went on. For me that was the most formidable moment.the Master and his wonderful attitude and presence. I asked him about 2 well known Gnawa musicians. His response was so right - he said "these people are younger than me, so therefore I cannot credit them. I can only credit those who have passed before me and passed along their knowledge." And without Rick's Café this would never have happened. Who directed the film Casablanca? Michael Curtiz, well here's to you for getting all this started.
Q: Nick, would you like to come back and spend more time in Casablanca?
Nick: Well first I also think all our experiences here have been great, but it couldn't have happened without Rick's and all you've done to help us. I'd love to come back, maybe even to film. I kept thinking when we were recording, the visuals. That wedding band for one thing - there was such warmth. I hope it will come across on radio, I know it will - but with a TV crew, that would definitely add another dimension.
Guy: I'm excited about the radio format - I think that that preserves some of the mystery, and the sounds of the city, the people and the music. I have so many friends I'd like to come back with.
KK: It's been great to have you come to Casablanca and for Rick's to be the base for the program. You've really helped legitimize what we're trying to do with jazz and the diversity and talents here in Casablanca. You've confirmed we're onto something here and inspired us to take our ideas to the next level.