The farthest point of Morocco‘s western region of Meṛṛakec-Asfi is the Atlantic coast and in this region is a town named Essaouira founded as far back as the 18th century by Mohammed III, sultan of Morocco between 1757 and 1790.
Essaouira might have been built as a regal pet project however, since the 1970s, the people of this town have found another king in the Black American rock n’ roll hall of fame James Marshall Hendrix, better known as Jimi Hendrix. The rockstar made a detour through the beach town in 1969 but ever since the occasion has been permanently etched into Essaouira folklore.
The town attracts many tourists these days. A tourist to Essaouira would most likely be shown Café Hendrix, not far from the beach. There would be so many others who have stories to tell about Hendrix too as there are murals with his face splattered across the town. But it has been known for quite some time that many of the stories Essauoira preserves about Hendrix are most likely myths that aim to celebrate the affinity between a relatively unknown town and a musical demigod.
“He visited friends who were staying in the village. It was the last time that we saw him. They say he is dead but only God knows,” a man in his 60s told Euronews last year. Holding on to the memory of a man who visited 50 years ago, there is very little wonder that some in Essaouira continue to be skeptical about the death of Hendrix.
The musician who released hits such as Castles Made of Sand and Hey Joe was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. It was a tough life as he did not come from much and also found himself in a country that did not cherish his kind. After a failed military career that he later confessed to hating, music provided both the financial and mental escapism a young Black man in the 1960s sought.
When he had gone to Essaouira, Hendrix was only 27 but was already world-famous. That is what could happen to instrument-playing virtuosos and generational voices. Essaouira would have provided the distraction a Black artist needed from the United States in that time as shown by how James Baldwin and Nina Simone themselves found another life outside the country of their birth. Hendrix was not a vocal supporter of the civil rights movement but that is not to say he was not bothered by what the movement had to fight.
The people of Essaouira would not care very much about Hendrix’s challenges back in his home. And they should be forgiven. It is not every day that global superstars stroll in from wherever. Those who did see him in Essaouira are in their 60s and older now but the torch of reverence burns brightly in younger hands. Essaouira continues to be marketed as the town Jimi Hendrix once visited.
The musician himself may have not held on to the memories of going to Essaouira. He battled his own demons with drugs and alcohol and died from what was reportedly a pill overdose in 1970.