The Musical Alley

The medina in Fes is huge—one of the largest in Morocco—with thousands of streets and alleyways to get lost in; there is something new at every corner. Whether it be a tannery, a woodshop, a restaurant, a simple street vendor, or authentic street music—the opportunity to participate in or watch something new is seemingly endless.

View of the Medina; photo by Alyssa White

My family and I had been cramped in a small car all day, leaving us tired, irritated, and very hungry. As we unpacked our belongings at the riad, the rumbling from everyone’s stomachs could be heard throughout the room. With our first priority being food, my mother and I began to search for somewhere to eat. Soon after deciding where would be a suitable place for our first meal in the old medina, my mom’s boyfriend John exclaimed that he had arranged for a local man to bring us to his family’s restaurant instead.

With his arrival, the local man yelled “yallah” and began a fast-paced walk through the labyrinth of the medina. As we attempted to stay close behind, taking quick turns down side streets and alleys, a faint beating of drums and an indistinct humming began to emerge. With every turn the sound increasingly filled my ears, traveling down to my stomach and momentarily distracting it from its desire for food. The invigorating beat from the drums seemed to sync with the steady rhythm of my heart; I wanted nothing more than to stop and listen.

The alley we stumbled upon was full of restaurants, each offering its own unique music. At one restaurant, three sets of two drums each were placed adjacent to one another—the first drum half the girth of the second, but both the same shade of beige. Despite the monotony of color, the rhythm was the opposite of the drums’ appearance; it was captivating. The unease that had previously controlled my body faded away, leaving me feeling lighter and ready to become one with the beat. I wanted to stay and eat here, but after looking around I realized that the music had not had the same effect on our guide, as I was left standing several hundred feet behind my family. Upon catching up, I realized that any desire I had to turn around and return to the music would be trumped by their hunger.

Soon after our arrival at the guide’s restaurant, I quickly regretted my decision not to eat in the musical alley. The guide’s restaurant had terrible service, and lacked any sounds other than local dialect. After filling my stomach with mediocre food, I was left feeling disappointed. My family and I all wished we had stopped to listen and eat at one of those restaurants. From that experience, I learned not to second-guess myself, to take opportunities when they present themselves—especially when they offer live music with the meal.

—Alyssa White