Castles made of sand

Under a full moon in the hills behind Diabat in Morocco a lilas, a secret spirit-possession ceremony, is taking place to the repetitive rhythms of gnawa music. As the possessed whirl and writhe in an ecstatic trance a jinn materialises in their midst.

This is a very special jinn who in a previous existence wove his own intricate rhythms and spoke of castles made of sand that eventually fall into the sea. Darkness is the natural habitat of the spirits, but as dawn comes the jinn rematerialises at the ruined fort of Bordj El Berod.

The spirit knows this castle made of sand is celebrated as the inspiration for a track on the classic rock album Axis: Bold As Love. But this very special jinn chuckles because he also knows Castles Made of Sand was written in 1967, two years before its writer made his one and only visit to Morocco.

As the African sun banishes darkness the spirit moves to the ruined summer palace inland from Bordj El Berod and looks across to Diabat. 1960s Folklore places this Berber village at the centre of a commune frequented by Cat Stevens, Bob Marley, Jefferson Airplane, Frank Zappa and other legendary figures. But the jinn laughs again because he knows who really stayed at the luxurious Hôtel des Iles in nearby Essaouira for just a few nights in July 1969.

But legends are legends. So the jinn joins others on the pilgrimage to the rock star caravanserai in Diabat.

It is the spirit that counts, even if the date on the wall celebrating the great guitarist is a year out. But why let the facts spoil a great picture? And anyway the jinn is delighted to find that another American player is now being celebrated where once hippies blissed out to the sound of guitars.

Our jinn plays with a Fender Stratocaster rather than golf clubs. So the championship quality course built by professional golf's finest holds little challenge for him. And with an average income of $1310 in Morocco he knows there is little hope of the locals experiencing its challenges either. But forget about the handicap, spirits can flow through chain link. So it easy to check out the view the Berber villagers have of the golf course...

... and the view the players have of the village, which at first the jinn mistakes for a CIA interrogation centre.

That mention of the Star Spangled Banner sends the the jinn in search of the spirit of Woodstock. And yes, it lives on in Diabat. The scent of kif still lingers where the hippies once smoked their dreams, drifting from these shacks for workers building the nearby five star golf resort - perfect for jinn and tonics.

Legends mix uneasily with reality under the harsh Moroccan sun. But a jinn is a creatures of darkness and eventually the sun became too strong. Jimi Hendrix returned to America from Morocco early in August 1969. Two weeks later he closed the Woodstock Festival. He played his last concert on September 6, 1970 in Germany and died twelve days later in London aged 27.
'And so castles made of sand, fall into the sea, eventually'
- from Jimi Hendrix's album Axis: Bold As Love

Read about and listen to the music of Morocco here. Listen to a webcast of a gnawa spirit-possession ceremony recorded in the Medina at Marrakech, Morocco this weekend.

All photos taken in Diabat and Essaouira, Morocco and (c) On an Overgrown Path 2010. Charles R. Ross' 'definitive' biography of Jimi Hendrix Room Full of Mirrors has surprisingly little information on the musician's visit to Morocco in 1969, so a range of other sources including Hendrix fanzine Univibes were used. Paul Bowles' novel The Spider's House and Hamid Qabbal's The Spirit of a City say more than this path can. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Pliable said…
Castles made of sand? -
Gary Player is South African,by the way
Golf...largest waste of green space on the planet
Pliable said…
TWD, you are of course right and my wording is not clear. I've changed it to read 'professional golf's finest'.
Pliable said…
Golf is also an environmental hazard -

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