When They Called Me, “Rasta”


Last week, Shelley Segal posted a video from her new album. The song is “Morocco”, and the video was shot in a market. I’m pretty sure I smelled the food when I watched it.

I have a weakness for footage of Mediterranean bazaars. The food, the clothing, the music from happier pieces of my childhood and adolescence without the dust, the din of voices, the crowds that I have a harder time handling now.

Then there was Shelley and the song. I particularly like Shelley as a live performer, and this song captures her energy better than I think her older recordings do. It’s always nice to see the face of someone you’ve gotten to talk to and like too. It made her more of a proxy for me in the Moroccan market, a sense added to by the fact that I would stand out there in some of the same ways she did, though not necessarily the ways featured in the lyrics.

The song itself has come in for some criticism from Moroccans, and Shelley has been attacked, for the fact that the lyrics deal with drug use, poverty, and sexual harassment. In part, I get it. I sympathize. When something is titled “U.S.A.” and covers materialist consumption, contempt for the poor, and bible thumpers, I know it’s giving a skewed version of the reality of my country. Those things are there, but they aren’t everything.

On the other hand, I also know that what someone sees of a country they visit depends on who they are. I’ve received a discount on my lodging, had servers and shopkeepers bring up local art and music events, and had conversations about politics and history when I’ve traveled because I’m not “one of those Americans”. What kind I am, I’m not sure, but people obviously make judgments about what I’ll be interested in based on how I look and carry myself. Sometimes, they’re even right. When they’re wrong, it can make an interesting story.

So when I hear Shelley’s song, I don’t hear someone saying this is what defines Morocco. I hear someone saying, “I went to Morocco with dreadlocks, a guitar, and a lip piercing. Here is what they said when they called me, ‘Rasta’.” That isn’t just not the whole of Morocco. It’s a slice of Morocco that very few people visiting would get to see.

“Morocco” isn’t so much a picture of how one tourist viewed a country as it is a story of how one country viewed a tourist. As a fellow tourist and a person who loves story, that makes the song worthwhile to me, even as I understand that people in that country may object.

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