Friday night was the opening night of Mawazine, a week-long free music festival held in Rabat. It attracts several big name stars, and opening night featured a concert by American R&B star Chris Brown. When we expressed an interest in going, the staff at AMIDEAST were a little sceptical. They insisted we remain at the back of the concert and keep an eye on our exits at all times.
I didn’t really understand their apprehension: this was a cultural event that attracted thousands of Moroccans, how dangerous could it really be? The afternoon of the performance, we had a special session with Doha, the Student Life Coordinator at AMIDEAST about dealing with harassment. We were told that though this training was applicable in our everyday lives while in Morocco, it could be a significant issue at Mawazine.
When it came time to tell our host family that we were going out tonight, they were worried and wanted us to go early, so as to find the best spots near the police, and to make sure that there were men with us. A little confused, we assured them that we would be safe. Though on a different continent in a different culture, we were all pretty well-versed in concert behaviour and what to expect.
We ended up having to take multiple cabs to get there, and trying to meet back up was a bit of a nightmare – at one point Barkave and I had to walk through the crowd to get to the other side of the stage, and found ourselves in the exact position AMIDEAST had warned us about: the middle of this huge mass of yelling people, with the both of us too short to see more than a few steps ahead of us. Extracting ourselves from that situation, we eventually found Lily, Kelly, Mahisha, and Shewit right before Chris Brown came on stage. We found a good spot close to the exit but in view of both the stage and a screen that projected a close-up of the action, and proceeded to, as Western millennials are known to do, Snapchat the majority of the concert. We were able to dance, laugh, and get hyped about what song would get played next. Overall it was one of the most fun nights I’ve had in Morocco.
Until it wasn’t fun anymore. Shewit had told us that 20 people had died at the 2010 Mawazine due to a stampede of people trying to exit the venue after the show ended. When Chris Brown left the stage to take a water break, we were worried that the show was over, and people started heading towards the exit – but then he returned to the stage to start his next set. We started grooving to the next song, until we felt the crowd start to move and heard some screaming from behind us.
Moroccans have the propensity to smoke anywhere, and the concert was definitely smoky, so when we turned around, it was almost impossible to see what was going on. All we knew was that people were running from one direction towards the other. Our AMIDEAST training kicked in, and we immediately held hands and tried to get away as well. Call it mob mentality or call it common sense, there was no way we were staying there. As more and more people got caught up in the rush, the more speed the crowd generated – we had to run in order to not get trampled.
Immediately my mind went to what people could be running from: was it just people trying to leave, was it a fight, was it someone with a gun or a bomb? I thought of the possibility of imminent death, and the pain it would cause my family. It was the most frightening experience of my life, while simultaneously being laughable, because here I am, terrified for my life with the Chris Brown song I listened to in middle school as the soundtrack. It was utterly absurd.
Our group of six had arrived at a choke-point, where the barricades narrowed. People were pushing us from behind, and eventually the barricade in front of us toppled over pulling a family down with it. It truly was like the wildebeest stampede scene from The Lion King, where the people behind us had no idea that there were people that they were running over, they were just trying to get away. All I could think to myself as my friends were trying to help these people up onto their feet was that this is how people die. We managed to get ourselves and the family away from the crazyness and take stock, making sure that we were all there with no major injuries. During the madness we had all been pushed fairly hard, and at one point, I got separated from the others and Barkave had to yank me back to the group. She said I basically got punched in the face during this, but I think my adrenaline was pumping so hard that I brushed it off, though my jaw does seem to be a little sore.
We all eventually made it back home. We later talked to our host brother, who was also at the concert, about our experience. He brushed it off and said it was a normal part of Mawazine, though the event had seen a decline in quality over the past couple of years according to him. He assured us that there would be a lot of better concerts to come, and that it’ll be a fun week seeing all these people. While I have no wish to relive the terror I felt, the lure of free concerts from internationally renowned artists is pretty strong. We will have to see how the week unfolds, and maybe we will give Mawazine a second chance.