Thursday, May 4, 2006

Pirate Songs & Shanties: My Own Secret Shame

"Fifteen men on a dead man's chest
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum ..."

Well, not exactly.

When I arrived in Morocco, I had to abandon several things: all hopes of enjoying a gin & tonic on an outdoor public terrace, a laisser-faire attitude about my gastro-intestinal system, and any scruples I once had about acquiring and using illegal merchandise. Mr. Cat in Rabat worked in the music industry for many, many years, and there were some things that just weren't done in the Cat in Rabat Household; namely, the downloading of music-sharing tunes or the purchasing of bootlegs (an otherwise unavailable audio or video recording distributed without the artist's consent) or worse yet, pirated copies (an unauthorised duplicate of material already commercially available, sold illegally for significantly less than the standard retail price). In spite of the fact that he married me, he has some standards.

Truth be told, it's easy to retain your scruples when you not only have viable (i.e., legal) options, but you're totally clueless as how to acquire pirated merchandise in the first place. But drop Miss High & Mighty into the Land of Virtually No Licenced Reproductions (approximately 75% of the total CD's available here are pirated) and wham! - off to the medina she goes on a treasure hunt for music, movies, and television programmes.

Cat in Rabat hangs her head in shame (but is secretly thrilled that she picked up the complete 2nd season of Six Feet Under for a a few dirhams a disc).

According to recent figures, piracy and counterfeit that affect the sectors of software, cinema and music cost the Moroccan economy about MAD two billion. Nearly MAD 200 million are lost because of CD and audio tape piracy. According to the symposium's organisers, some “powerful organised crime groups” are behind 70% of the total fraudulent deeds. These groups act by continuously changing their corporate name, and have a production capacity of 400,000 audio tapes and 600,000 CD's per week.

Barbary pirates are still plying the seas (or souqs) of Morocco with relative with impunity.

While you can find in the local piracy market all kinds of software, programmes, Hollywood or Bollywood movies you may think of, there is absolutely no sign of Moroccan productions ... although no one would admit it, there are some unspoken rules in the market of piracy. Those who transgressed these rules and dared to sell pirated CD's of Moroccan movies have seen their shops confiscated and heavy fines and imprisonment imposed on them.

*Sigh* What to do? These pirates aren't bandana-wearing, gold-hooped, peg-legged, hook-handed, cutlass-brandishing, eye-patched, sporting a parrot-on-the-shoulder scruffy types who growl arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrh – for the most part, they're unemployed university graduates. They no longer capture Christian slaves from Western Europe but make abysmal (captured with a handheld video camera) to decent copies of film & music. Annoyingly, they often fail to copy the movie extras on dvds; infuriatingly, they sometimes mix up movie and jacket (my F. Scott Fitzgerald film turned out to be one of the worst Canadian films ever made – and the bar is set pretty high on that score). But in a country where unemployment is rife and the jobless periodically set fire to themselves, making a few hundred copies of Season 3 of The A Team seems rather benign (and puzzling, franky). Perhaps we should think of them more as privateers rather than pirates. Has a more respectable resonance, no?

Just a street away from my apartment is a junkatorium of crap, a deceivingly large store with a tiny innocuous storefront, packed to the rafters with a wide selection of cheap goods (dvds, cds, clothes, jewellry, make-up, lingerie, clocks and bric-a-brac). If its choice in merchandise defies logic, it's because it sells whatever has fallen into its lap (or rather off the back of a truck) that day. It is our own Agdal Grey Market. Many of its cds are homemade compilations, repackaged for the local market. Neither musical taste nor spelling is a prerequisite in cranking out these little gems. On the same cd, you can enjoy an offering from Dolly Parton and the Scorpions. Only it'll be Doly Patron and the Scorpios. Or Henny Rogers and the Eggles. Or my favourite, Whitey Huston.

Much to my delight (because at heart I am a vain but impoverished girlie-girl), The Agdal Grey Market carries a decent selection of western cosmetics and skin care products at humungusly reduced prices. In some cases, these items are discontinued or produced exclusively for the East Borneo market. A case in point is the Olay Exfoliating Gel I recently purchased. Bought it, brought it home, tried it: no problems. Then I looked closer at the box and saw that my gel is multi-talented:

Wow! Won't my husband – who's presently 5,000 kilometers away – be greatly relieved? Sure as hell beats a chastity belt.

Now, off I go to watch Season 1 of Law & Order (head still hung in shame) ...


p.s. September 19th is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Mark your calendars now!

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