Few places can match the Djemaa el Fna in Marrakech for spectacle. As the shadows lengthen and dusk approaches, the square seethes with snake charmers, charlatans, showmen and chancers, all shrouded in charcoal smoke from dozens of makeshift food stalls. It feels like a glimpse into a different world in a different age.
One part of that different age, however, is dying out. A handful of storytellers still make their living by captivating audiences with tales and stories of love and death, trickery and justice. Richard Hamilton came across the storytellers while working in Morocco for the BBC, and realised that the tradition was on the brink of extinction. He travelled back to the Djemaa el Fna again and again, tracking down the last of these remarkable men, before advancing years and the age of the television killed Moroccan storytelling once and for all.
The Last Storytellers: Tales from the Heart of Morocco (I. B. Taurus, 2011) is the result of those visits. Richard talks about the roots of storytelling, the storytellers themselves, and the stories that they built their livelihoods around. He then treats us to a generous selection of the tales. I’m glad we had time in the interview to touch on some of them. It would be even better to hear some of the tales from the storytellers themselves, mesmerizing their audience in the Djemaa el Fna itself. But even if – as we fear – storytelling itself passes into history, thanks to Richard it will not be completely lost.
This podcast has been republished from New Books in African Studies.