From Morocco to Martha’s Vineyard
Are you feeling a little anxious? Haven’t you traveled abroad a lot recently? A visit to Morocco is close at hand on Silver Sahara’s website, silversahara.com, or during a visit to Island Music in Vineyard Haven. These two Martha’s Vineyard companies have teamed up to bring an assortment of alluring and intriguing instruments to the island, all handcrafted in Morocco.
The instruments were crafted in Essaouira, Morocco, a coastal town known for the Gnawa musical genre, which blends classical Islamic Sufism with pre-Islamic African traditions, and whose origins are attributed to once enslaved black Africans who settled down integrated into Moroccan culture.
This whole endeavor has its origins in a yoga retreat Carolina Cooney, a longtime resident and librarian of Oak Bluffs, took a trip to Morocco in 2016. “When I was there, I completely fell in love with the whole country, the arts and crafts,” Cooney says. “It’s just a beautiful, vibrant place, and the people are very warm and friendly; I just love it.
“I am interested in instruments in general, and more particularly in musical instruments from around the world. My dad ran a mail order auction of 78rpm records from around the world called Green River Records. So my house was always filled with world music! When I went to Morocco, I went to music stores to explore some of the instruments.
In Essaouira, Cooney became particularly close to a Moroccan merchant, Mohamed El Fassi. They teamed up and started their business by launching the Silver Sahara website and sold the handmade items by artisans from his shop and hometown. Unfortunately, they had to close the store due to COVID-19.
At the same time, Cooney explains, “I thought it would be really cool for Island Music to wear some of these things and support the Moroccan artisans who make all the instruments. And I have the connections there. I don’t usually sell the instruments on my website, but it’s something I can specially order.
This year, with the pandemic, Cooney has pivoted to work virtually with El Fassi, who has acted as a middleman with the music store in Morocco, from which he and Cooney now shop.
At Island Music, you will see a wide variety of drums, some ceramic with eel skins, as well as others hand painted; large castanets called qarkabeb; Moroccan horns like those used by Moroccan snake charmers; and the exquisite Moroccan outar, a type of guitar.
“Working with Silver Sahara has allowed Island Music to acquire handmade Moroccan instruments,” says Rich Giaimo of Island Music. “We are very happy to be able to offer these uniquely decorated regional instruments that are not commonly found in most music stores in the United States.”
Cooney says, “It’s really exciting to share Morocco’s incredible artistry with the island of Martha’s Vineyard while researching instruments for Island Music. Morocco’s tourism industry has been devastated by COVID-19, and opportunities like this are imperative for the cultural survival of Morocco’s indigenous artisans. “
On the Silver Sahara website, you will find a wide variety of unique handmade items sourced directly from indigenous Tuareg and Berber Amazigh artisans from Morocco and North Africa. As a minority-owned social impact brand, Silver Sahara supports indigenous Moroccan artisans by reinvesting up to 70 percent of profits in Moroccan artisans cooperatives.
Silver Sahara products were also created by the friends and family of El Fassi goldsmiths of Zagora, Morocco, or have been passed down through the generations of their lineage of Berber Amazigh tribes. These deals are complemented by Cooney’s regular trips to Morocco to pick up leather poufs, metal lanterns, ancient Judaica, argan oil, Berber rugs and carpets, and much more. And Cooney emphasizes, “Special requests are always welcome!
“Silver Sahara was created to show deep gratitude to the beautiful country of Morocco and its spirited and talented people,” Cooney said. “We strive to respect a sustainable fair trade model: all sales on Silver Sahara help provide artisans with a decent salary, better working conditions and basic technological training. Our mission is to ensure the continuity and global appreciation of traditional indigenous craft techniques.
Island Music is located at 58 Main Street in Vineyard Haven. On the island, you can visit the Silver Sahara Showroom at 10 Old Courthouse Road in West Tisbury, and online at silversahara.com. For more information, call 530-228-7059.