Now, this is a story all about how my life got flipped-turned upside down and I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there, I’ll tell you how I… ended up at a techno festival in the south of Morocco. Known as the annual gathering electronic music heads do their utmost best to not miss, MOGA, the three-day-long party, now in its fourth edition, has grown into becoming one of the main engines fueling the Moroccan scene. By bringing together international and revered artists to perform, the yearly event provides festival-goers with a high-standard experience on home turf all while putting the Kingdom’s talents at the forefront of the event’s stage.
Welcoming seasoned community members and newcomers alike to a niche that has for far too long been swallowed up by the influence of hip-hop and rap, organizers are establishing the uniqueness of the genre’s sound with a laundry list of artists, inviting Moroccan natives and international names, to perform across three days dedicated to nurturing the country’s electronic music scene and pushing it towards the mainstream spheres of the region’s musical map.
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This year, the Fashion and Arts Moroccan Association (FAMA) sent us to Essaouira, in the south of Morocco, to witness first-hand what one of the continent’s, and region’s, largest electronic music festivals looks like. Since its inception, MOGA has managed to cultivate a proud aura as one of the best parties the North African country has to offer, with this year not tarnishing their preceding reputation either as they, once again, were fully embodying their self-appointed role as ambassadors of the techno movement.
Could you name 100 DJs in five minutes? How about just 10 from Morocco? It’s not that easy, right? Well, that’s exactly what MOGA is trying to challenge. Although it is indeed true that neither Morocco nor Essaouira represent any of the electronic music industry’s epicenters, the country is well on its way to becoming one.
“I’m a DJ myself and I can tell you that there’s talent at every street corner of this country,” said DAOX, who co-founded the festival. “The only issue is that they’re not spotlighted enough, which is something that we’re trying to achieve through the MOGA festival. For us, it’s not just a sonic gathering, it’s a platform for people to meet and exchange. We call party-goers members of the MOGA-tribe as the festival does not belong to us, but instead, it belongs to the people, to the artists, to the companies that support the venture and so on,” the DJ continued.
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“Essaouira is a city with one of the richest cultural backgrounds in Morocco, notably for being one of the capitals of Gnawa music, which makes heavy use of the Gamberi much like techno music does. From that moment, it only felt natural for us to come back to this musical nest, blend in with the city’s spirit and add our touch to the city’s landscape,” he added.
After a two-year-long hiatus induced by the pandemic, MOGA finally made its way back to its nest and its return sent waves all across the blue city. Ahead of its hotly-anticipated comeback, organizers teamed up with a spectrum of local artisans, venues, and show-makers to set up a string of free events all around Essaouira in an effort to build momentum, while also taking non-Moroccan natives on a cultural drive through the city’s main landmarks and history.
Interesting, fun, and providing guests with just the right dose of dopamine to keep them waiting until the main sets actually kicked off, it would be fair to say that the two days spent roaming around were not necessarily needed, although much appreciated when coming across them. Special mention to Othman Chic café, which managed to get their space shaking by blasting some of our parent’s favorite tunes to a young crowd that was more than just vibing with it!
The actual event unfolded at Essaouira’s Sofitel Hotel, tucked away on a secluded patch of rural landscape. Afternoons were rather calm, as guests lounged on sundecks by the pool enjoying bites like pizza or sushi as they waited for the festivities to officially kick off. While more relaxed and easy-going sets were played during the day, artists would patiently wait until the sun went down to unleash their full potential. Party-goers, who by then were ready to dance until the early hours of the morning, would tap toes and move their hips to tunes spun by their favorite talents across five stages. From Habibi Funk, Retro Cassetta, Jimi Jules, Mr ID, and Kawtar Sadik, everyone was there to shell their best sets onto a crowd that’s been patiently waiting for their time to have fun after two-long-years spent quarantining in a country where techno festivals are far from being a common occurrence.
The goal, according to DAOX, is for “people to be actors of this festival. We don’t them to just be spectators of the live performances, we want them to be just as important as the artists of the line-up.”
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Keeping party-goers in mind throughout the entire process, organizers made sure to protect all guests to the best of their abilities, although it must be noted that some areas could be better prepared in the future.
Although what DAOX says is true in spirit, at moments, it felt that the MOGA festival can only be accessible to a certain segment of society. From the price of tickets to the beverages and food made available on location, it feels as if the festival doesn’t want to cater for all, marginalizing the average Moroccan and most Essaouira-natives from the Kingdom’s ephemeral sonic hub. However, given the tragedies that recently took place at L’Boulvard festival in Casablanca,* free ticketing clearly doesn’t represent any kind of alternative option, although it’s certain that a middle ground can be found.
Another focus for next edition should be access to water. Far from being an issue that only concerns MOGA (it concerns party-makers from the region as a whole), in these kind of events, substances will always be a key part of these happenings in spite of security. Whether organizers want to admit to that or not in front of authorities is one thing, but turning a blind eye to it can be very dangerous and almost criminal as it would take one overdose to put the festival, as well as the whole scene, under the government’s spotlight, eventually making it virtually impossible to ever host anything similar in the near future. Pricing a bottle of water at 10 times the price it would cost at your local supermarket is honestly absurd—especially in a culture where water is so scared. We know that people will be under the influence, we know that they need to stay hydrated to stay safe and make it home in one piece, so why try deter people from doing the right thing?
That said. with over 3500 attendees recorded daily, and plans to expand beyond Morocco, MOGA is not only a cool festival but also a promising concept that could be seen readapted and transferred to other cities and regions around the world. Already a household name in Portugal, Morocco, and according to rumors, Senegal soon in the times to come, the MOGA circuit might grow into becoming a self-sufficient organism that could serve as a career accelerator while also bringing established artists over to perform in traditionally less-in-demand places. With a seemingly bright future ahead of them, we can’t wait to see what MOGA has in store for the future, and we only hope for it to get bigger and better in the next few years.
* 2 casualties have been reported so far at L’Boulvard festival as a result of wide-scale fights with many allegations of rape, sexual harassment and assault also being reported following the festival.