Mohammed Mrabet in Conversation with Jaap van der Bent and Coen Pranger

Author : Mohammed Mrabet
Publisher : Counter Culture Chronicles
Year : 2019
Language : English
C-90 cassette plus envelope
Recorded at Island Bookstore, Amsterdam, 1982
The cassette comes with an envelope with English liner notes and a Dutch article by Jaap van der Bent
Limited edition of 80
€ 8.00
Postage & packing not included

Moroccan storyteller and visual artist Mohammed Mrabet was invited for the 5th edition of the One World Poetry festival in Amsterdam in November 1982. Away from the festival Mrabet, mainly known in the West for his friendship with Paul and Jane Bowles, was interviewed by Beat scholar Jaap van der Bent and Coen Pranger at the Amsterdam Island International Bookstore, which served as the Dutch import centre for Black Sparrow Press, at the time Mrabet’s publisher. The recording of that interview has now been released by Counter Culture Chronicles on cassette with additional information in English and Dutch included in an envelope.

Mohammed Mrabet was born in the International Zone of Tangier in 1936. Not having learned to read or write, Mrabet worked as a caddy at the Royal Tangier Golf Club and as a fisherman until 1956, when American expats Russ and Anne-Marie Reeves hired him as a barman for their Tangier Inn. Three years later Mrabet joined his employers on their return to the US but couldn’t adjust to life on that side of the Atlantic. Feeling like a ‘wild animal in a village’ he travelled back to Morocco to take up fishing again after just a couple of months in New York. Mrabet, who had been telling stories in the streets and coffee houses of Tangier since the age of twelve, started painting and drawing as well soon after his return to his native town. Several years later, in 1965, he met Jane Bowles at a party in Tangier, where Jane and her husband Paul had settled permanently in 1948. It proved a fateful encounter. Impressed by Mrabet’s gifts as a storyteller, Jane advised her husband to record some of those stories, which were then translated from Moghrebi into Spanish and from Spanish into English and were published first by George Braziller in 1967, City Lights in 1969, and between 1974 and the early 1980s by Black Sparrow Press. Mrabet’s fame as an original, non-Western storyteller spread quickly and nowadays his books have been translated into many other languages.

Deeply rooted in Moroccan tradition and culture, Mrabet does not always hold positive views of the Westerners that he encountered in Tangier. His friendship with Paul Bowles was ambivalent but genuine, but most of the Beats that landed in Tangier in Bowles’s wake were held in low esteem, most of all William Burroughs, whom Mrabet viewed as the leader of a criminal gang. Some of that awkwardness and clash of cultures is also felt on the CCC cassette, not in the least because of Mrabet’s poor command of the English language. But Mrabet’s memories of Paul and Jane Bowles, his explanation of the Moroccan tradition of storytelling and the role of the supernatural in those, his comments on smoking kif, fishing, publishing and making art make this tape a valuable document. The conversation with Jaap van der Bent and Coen Pranger at Henk van der Does’s bookstore is a compelling and multilayered story in itself. “A tongue tells a thousand truths”, Mrabet once said, “but you always only want to hear one”.

Mohammed Mrabet in Conversation with Jaap van der Bent and Coen Pranger