Diabat, Morocco: And the wind cries, Jimi

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Jimi Hendrix: Castles Made of Sand
Diabat, Morocco: And the wind cries, Jimi

A few kilometres south of the busy and breezy port town of Essaouira on Morocco's Atlantic coast is the dusty village of Diabat, famous for one thing. In mid 1969, Jimi Hendrix didn't go there.

Not that the owner of the local cafe would admit to that. Quite the opposite in fact.

The cafe – which played an endless loop tape of Bob Marley while we had coffee and cake on a warm morning – is daubed with extremely poor likenesses of Hendrix's distinctive features and slogans about his visit to the area.

Inside, the walls of two tiny rooms are covered with equally bad Jimi images and slightly water-damaged photos of Hendrix. Just across the mostly deserted road where donkeys amble listlessly, and beyond the dunes and low shrubbery are the remains of an old fort known as Bordj El Berod.

Despite what many believe, Hendrix didn't write his song Castles Made of Sand about it. Hendrix had recorded it some 18 months previous.

Yes, there's a lot of enjoyable Hendrix myth and misinformation in the dry air at Diabat.

jimi1On the day we visited – a 30 diram taxi ride from Essaouira, about $4.50 – some local kids kicked a football on the empty road and a few workman, perhaps from the site of the golf course and Sofitel being built just beyond the Jimi Hendrix Hotel, dropped by to sit in the cool of the cafe. A couple of senior Germans, curious like us, also amused themselves by taking photos of the run-down if colourful cafe between sips of sweet mint tea.

Stories about Hendrix in Essaouira and Diabat abound and it seems there were once enough gullible hippies who romantically traipsed down here following his imagined footsteps in search of . . . whatever it was hippies were in search of.

jimi_1The facts about Hendrix in Morocco are more prosaic. He did briefly stay in nearby Essaouira according to the most reliable sources (not in the hotel which claims he did) but he didn't make any music there, nor father children as legend would have it. He seemed to have had a pretty quiet time in fact, then flew back to the States and got a band together for the Woodstock festival in August.

As Deering Howe, who accompanied Hendrix on his brief visit to Morocco, told Hendrix researcher and biographer Caesar Glebbeck, "The people of Morocco have never recovered from Jimi’s visit and the tales are remarkable. Like George Washington, he slept in everyone’s house around the Moroccan countryside!"

jimi2Hendrix never went to tiny Diabat – which must have been even more remote and small 45 years ago – let alone have coffee in the cafe and write a song about the ruin.

No matter, the Hendrix cafe is there and from the tiny kitchen – the oven not much longer than a guitar case – the owner prepares meals and excellent coffee. He's used to cameras being pulled out too. Quite likes the attention, of course.

Later – because after coffee and photos there's nothing else to do – we walked to the beach past landfill, stray donkeys and goats, a putrid river and abandoned building sites.

It was hot by the time we got to the broad white sand strip and so we sat and watched kite surfers, and men with camels trying to inveigle the few tourists to take rides. It was a lovely and rather different day out in coastal Morocco and over coffee we had made a list of others who, like Jimi Hendrix, hadn't been to arid little Diabat.

No Beatles or Rolling Stones, none of the Borgias, not Nero, a Pope or a US president, not Hitler, Stalin, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen . . .

When you think about it, dusty little Diabat has a whole lot more it could trade off when selling the idea of who hasn't been there.

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Ray Holden - Mar 2, 2013

Back in 1969 Diabat might not have seemed remote from Essaouira. It was walking distance. I guess it was 1972 when I first went to stay there, and by then it was fairly well known for its sizable colony of European and North American hippies. In 1973 UK's Oz mag featured a map of the world with only two places marked on it, Diabat and Goa.
I went back maybe one or two years later and it was empty; the kids had been driven out by the security forces - or at least that is what I was told by a Californian sculptor who was living in Essouira - there had been an increasing number of young Moroccans moving into Diabat and as you you can imagine that wasn't something their families or the Authorities wanted. I never heard any stories of Jim Hendrix when I was there, tho' the Moroccan who ran Cafe Hippy had the hairstyle - and LedZep was always on the record player. GRAHAM REPLIES: Thanks for that update/backdate. I think the Hendrix story was the old "print the legend" attitude.

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