By VICTOR MASSARI
RABAT, Morocco – A tall man clutching a handbag filled with gold fractures of an old brass instrument enters downtown Rabat. His shaggy curls cascade from the back of his baseball cap as he reaches into his bag to pull out metal rings, a voice-looping machine, an iPad, an amplifer, and an endless line of cables. This is Rabat’s own local street performer, Badr “Snoopy” Houtar, 27.
“My mother always said I give life to objects,” said Houtar. “Where some people see just a plastic bag, I see a world of fun.”
Houtar, 27, stopped pursuing a degree in architecture four years ago to enroll in the only circus school in all of Morocco. At the Shemsi Circus School, he connected with a number of international circus companies that allowed him to perform abroad Europe. But he made his way back to the conservative streets of Morocco to inspire creative expression, through a combination of peaceful resistance, talent, and improvisation.
Tourist’s all turned their heads away from their tour-guides in anticipation, and that’s when the park security guard arrived.
“Leave now, I’m calling the police,” said the guard.
After all that preparation, Houtar and his friends packed up their stuff without showing any signs of resentment.
“I’m used to it, they always try to take my stuff,” Houtar said. “They can arrest me, but it’s fine as long as they don’t take my stuff!”
Houtar’s hobby is a difficult one to have in a country with strict police that discourage gatherings in public spaces that aren’t government approved. Houtar is typically limited to his two spots, which are outside the Rabat’s Kasbah, and a small plaza down the street.
Since the Arab Spring, Morocco’s monarchal government has cracked down on all forms of social congregation. According to Freedom House’s 2013 report, Morocco is listed as only “partly free.” Heavy press and Internet censorship are two contributing factors to its low ranking. But Houtar doesn’t let this intimidate him.
“I have no fear of The King,” said Houtar as he inhaled his cigarette. “What I do is revolution.”
Houtar may not have always been a street performer, but he has been taking part in alternative cultures of Morocco for his whole life. He grew up in the Moroccan city of Sale to a family of engineers. When he was a younger, when he wasn’t imitating star wars sound effects in his room, he was out skateboarding, beat-boxing, and singing in punk bands. His father wanted him to go to an architectural university, which he did for two years, but soon realized this wasn’t the life for him.
“I never want for a desk job,” Houtar said. “I don’t care about money, I do what I like to do.”
At circus school, he studied object manipulation, a concentration that consists of skills like juggling, fire breathing and plate spinning. It took him two years of training to make these stunts appear effortless.
In a new location, Houtar set up his street-art. He connected his iPad to his speakers, grabbed a metal ring, and began dancing to the electronic instrumental while twirling a metal ring in front of his body. He rolled the next ring onto the concrete, and that’s when his accomplice Dara Siligato, 35, appeared from the crowd. Siligato, in her exotic flower-child dress, hurled her thin torso through the ring and began dancing fluidly.
“You can really find a different reality in Morocco,” said onlooker Lia Versaci, 29.
It’s hard to ignore to ignore Houtar and his friends when passing through the medina, or the pre-colonial section, of Rabat. Perhaps the thing that attracts onlookers most is the unpredictable nature of each exhibition. All of Houtar’s performances are improvisational.
Continuing his act with Siligato, he grabbed the 17th -century style horn, balanced it on his nose, and stood beside Siligato as she began contorting her body. In the blink of an eye he threw the horn from his nose to his chin, and then from his chin to his mouth, which ended with a large bellow from the instrument. People began to stop on the street and move closer to the performance.
Before the audience could even realize it, Houtar had broken up the brass instrument into three pieces and began juggling it. The energy of the performance continued to intensify. With a now solidified audience, Houtar and Siligato shared a glance at one another. They both smiled, and the spectators – now a group of about 50 – smiled too.
The crowd clapped and smiled as Houtar and Siligato involved them in their act, whether it was stealing someone’s hat, or riding a stranger’s bike. The young, the old, locals, and tourist alike were genuinely enjoying themselves. For the last act, Houtar grabbed a microphone next to his amp and began beat-boxing, moving many to dance.
Houtar claims that what he does is progressive because it inspires kids to occupy public spaces. Without street art, and alternative cultures, Houtar believes people would be less inclined to challenge the status quo. So he keeps on performing.
“I think serious change can happen,” said Houtar. “All I want to do with my time on earth is to make people happy again.”