Reviews: Joe Lukawski covers F7ALI F7ALEK

From reporter Joe Lukawski’s blog. Photos by Omar Chennafi.

Tangier, MOROCCO – Some stories transcend space and time. From Romeo and Juliet to West Side Story, classic stories of love, loss and reconciliation make up part of the human narrative.

In Tangier, theater director and Fulbright scholar George Bajalia is adapting this narrative, Moroccan style. His original musical “F7ali F7alek” (Like me, like you) inspired by West Side Story brings the Sharks and Jets, and classics like Bernstein’s “Somewhere” from the West Side to contemporary Tangier. Here, Tony (who is “really called Kerim”) and Maria get tangled in a fight for neighborhood dominance between their families, one from Tangier and the other from the provinces.


Read read the full story and watch the English language video shot and edited by Lukawski and Hugo Massa here.

You can find the French language version of Lukawski and Massa’s video here.

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Medi1 Radio Features F7ALI F7ALEK

Yesterday, Medi1 Radio hosted F7ALI F7ALEK director George Bajalia, translator Zakaria Alilech, and actor Soufiane Mazin for a live broadcast feature on their Mozaik program. The entire broadcast is now available online. Check it out to hear a live interview in which Bajalia and Alilech talk about the process of adapting this classic love story for Tangier. The talented Mazin also had the opportunity to sing selections from the show on the air, including “Maria” and “Somewhere.”

Photo by Medi1 Radio

Photo from Medi1 Radio

Photos from Medi1 Radio

Listen to the Medi1 Radio feature here.

You may notice that during the broadcast, the show is at times referred to as “B7ali B7alek” by the DJ’s. To read about the reason for this different pronunciation, check out our blog post, How to Pronounce a 7, which touches on regional variations of darija.

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The View From Fez reviews F7ALI F7ALEK

F7ALI F7ALEK was featured on The View From Fez blog.

The original musical “F7ali F7alek” (Like me, like you) inspired by the West Side Story brings the Sharks and Jets, and classics like Bernstein’s “Somewhere” from the West Side to contemporary Tangier. Here, Tony (who is “really called Kerim”) and Maria get tangled in a fight for neighborhood dominance between their families, one from Tangier and the other from ‘the Dakhl,’ the provinces in local parlance.

Read the whole story and see more photos from the show at The View From Fez.

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Opening Night Review

Here is an excellent review of F7ALI F7ALEK’s debut last night. Reposted from the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies blog.

On our way to see “Like Me, Like You” (West Side Story adapted to Moroccan colloquial Arabic or darija, transliterated as “F7ali/F7alek”) last night, we witnessed a minor street scuffle.  Nothing serious, really just guys clowning around in the narrow streets of the Kasbah.

So we were prepared for the stylized depiction for the Kasbah Museum stage of guys with knives battling it out for turf.  The turnout for this debut performance (the show continues through Saturday evening), despite the sometimes torrential rains, was fantastic – standing room only.

Watching the audience was almost as fun as following what was happening on stage.  There were families (the large cast had lots of family support), and I was particularly charmed by a couple of 5 or 6 year old girls, whose eyes remained riveted to “Maria” and “Tony” throughout.

If West Side Story was originally going to tell the story of doomed love between a Jewish boy and an Irish Catholic girl, then why not transpose this universal story to Morocco, where the cast of young actors from Tangier and Rabat mirrored the rivalry between Jets and Sharks?

Even though some of the expats in the audience could decipher little of the darija dialogue, the West Side Story songs came through very nicely in their original English – among them “Somewhere” and “I Feel Pretty.”  And live Arab-Andalusian music accompanied the action.

Putting this production together on the fly – the script was being translated in parallel with the rehearsals – and with the onset of heavy rains scrapping plans for an open-air venue, the performance was a miracle.  As producer Tom Casserly said “yesterday we had nothing, today there’s been a play.”  He expects even better performances for the next three nights.  Even the accidental breaking of a mirror, rather than bringing bad luck, was fortuitous in its dramatic timing.

So, hats off to the talented people who brought this timeless play to Tangier.  And to the young actors who earned hearty applause, you have much to be proud of.

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Venue change

In response to the rainy weather this week, all shows will take place at the Kasbah Museum at 7 PM / 19 h.

We hope to see everyone at the show this week! Feel free to share this poster with your friends and family!


We also are excited to announce that F7ALI F7ALEK is working with famed traditional Andalusian band Abnae Et Banat Ziryab to bring you this story!

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The World’s Most Tragic Love Story: A Lecture at the American Legation

Published in the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies blog on November 2, 2012. Click here to see the original post.

On October 30th, our director George Bajalia and producer Tom Casserly teamed up with English Language Fellow April Perkins for a lecture at the American Legation, entitled The World’s Most Tragic Love Story. Members of the F7ALI F7ALEK cast, Tangier-based artists, and interested Tanjawis came together to participate in a discussion about common themes within Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, and Morocco’s own Amazight legend of Isli and Tislit. As the audience and panel explored these stories’ unifying theme of the desire to connect across socially constructed divisions, we attempted to answer the question of what makes this story so timeless.

April Perkins began with an introduction to Romeo and Juliet. When asked whether anyone had either seen a production, a film, or read Shakespeare’s most famous work, almost every hand in the room shot up. While a few audience members translated for French speakers, Perkins pointed out that Shakespeare never specified the reason for the “ancient grudge” between the Capulets and Montagues, suggesting this was a conscious choice on the part of the bard. For Perkins, Shakespeare’s ambiguity underscores a certain arbitrariness of the kinds of social divisions that prohibit the connection that Romeo and Juliet so desperately reached towards.

Perkins’s presentation sparked a lively discussion between audience members and the panel alike about present day social divisions and the about tension between acknowledging differences and finding a way to live with our differences.

New York City producer Tom Casserly introduced West Side Story with a clip from the end of the 1961 Jerome Robbins film, in which Maria picks up the gun that kills her beloved Tony and delivers a passionate monologue. “You all killed him!” she screams. “Not with bullets or guns, with hate. Well now I can kill too, because now I have hate.” Pointing out the parallels between Tony and Maria’s story and that of Romeo and Juliet, Casserly argued that Tony’s tragic fate offers something transformative, that we get to see on stage. Shakespeare tells us of Romeo and Juliet “with their death, bury their parents’ strife,” but we do not see the fruits of this sacrifice on stage. In the clip Casserly showed, the Sharks come to aid the Jets in carrying away Tony’s body, a symbol of the community built upon their collective mourning.

Moving from the streets of 1950’s Upper-West Side New York to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, Casserly introduced the Amazight legend of Isli and Tislit. The story is of two lovers from neighboring villages whose marriage was refused. Tislit and Isli, meaning bride and groom respectively in Amazight, both began to cry until their tears became lakes in which they each drowned.

The audience received a preview of an unreleased feature documentary entitled IMILCHIL: A Failed Attempt to Define Love. Former Fulbright Morocco researcher James Sweetbaum contributed camera work to this film directed by Hakim Belabbes and edited by Paula Salhany. In the clips, the filmmakers search for the two lakes that bear the legendary lovers’ names. The film also highlights the Imilchil Betrothal Festival, a festival born from the story of Isli and Tislit, in which young people from different villages search for marriage partners. Casserly considered this very festival to be an instance in which this same tragic love story had a tangible transformative impact; where young people in the region could once not travel to marry outside their village, the Betrothal Festival now provides an opportunity to marry beyond one’s village.

Fulbright researcher and Chicago-based director George Bajalia wrapped up the discussion in both English and Moroccan Arabic by explaining his vision for adapting this timeless story for modern-day Tangier with F7ALI F7ALEK. Acknowledging that a musical cannot change the world, he championed the theater and storytelling as having the power to change at least one person’s mind. In a world in which people continue to construct social divisions that are used to justify hate, Bajalia asserted his belief that this story of people attempting to connect across those divisions always has relevance.

The night ended with a performance of a scene between F7ALI F7ALEK’s own ill-fated lovers, played by Soufiane Mazin and Mouna Rmiki. F7ALI F7ALEK will run next week, November 7 – 10th at 8 PM in the Jardin de la Mendoubia. Admission is free.

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Photo Update: Rehearsals

The F7ALI F7ALEK team has been hard at work rehearsing for opening night next week – Wednesday, November 7th. Check out our new teaser graphic created by the talented New York designer Zachary Baer.

Here are some snapshots of rehearsals this past week from our very own Ikram Ibin El Yazyd.


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