Archiving Amazigh History and Culture with Madghis Madi

Madghis Madi, a reference for many interested in preserving North African patrimony, owns the biggest personal collection of North African artifacts. Madi left Libya when he was fourteen years old and didn’t return until 2011. He was there for a year and a half or so until he settled back in Canada. The question of what made him pursue the projects he does now is a difficult one, for reality seems more elusive than conclusive. He says, “I’m sure there’s something in the background that does affect us in one way or another.”

“I’m not an advocate at all,” Madi says, “I do what I know and what I care about. I never looked at myself as a militant or anything like that at all. The work that I do myself I do it because I really like doing it. It’s not because I feel like it’s a cause, something that I have to do. As far as I’m concerned, I write or do these things because, as you can tell, I love books and I love reading.”

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Corner of Madghis Madi’s downstairs room, a sort of vault for his prized possessions

“I think one of the things that I do a lot is archiving Amazigh history and culture. My older sister always said that since I was a kid I used to collect stamps and coins which were related to world travel. That led me to travel a lot. I’ve been almost everywhere you could imagine in the world, either on foot or taxis or buses. I’m talking about places that people wouldn’t normally go, from Senegal all the way to Kenya.” He also shares that his own daughter collects insects and dries them.

“Collection and collecting things.. do you know what Theory of Maslow is? It’s called the Pyramid of Maslow, the needs of human beings”.

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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Madi explains that the beginning stages cover the need of belonging, which could be the tribe, athletic group, a syndicate for career or academic purposes, by extension a craft or hobby. Madi says it is after this that collecting comes into play. While collecting is a basic human need, he notes that it’s acted upon in the wrong way for a lot of people and gives the example of collecting likes on social media. He talks about his own collection, “Mine got into looking at our world [North Africa]. The governments there don’t really care about Amazigh history for instance, and I always thought it was a waste to find all these records when I go to Algeria or Morocco, and I see them in the jotiya as the Moroccans would say, in the old market, and nobody cares about them and then they collect dust, and some of them I buy for ¢50.”

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Madghis’ DIY teleprompter propped in front of his record collection

“I’ve been collecting for a long time. You start to expand, from old, old records you go to CDs, and then you go to cassettes, it never stops. It wasn’t just for me personally, it was, or it still is, out of love of the culture and wanting to preserve as much as I can out of it because nobody is doing it. Here in the West, you could look for any record done here in Ottawa for like the past 200 years, 150 years, for instance, and you will find it. Again, at the very beginning, I used to collect things. I was curious about the world. It’s not just collecting for the sake of collecting. I really do catalog all these things and try not to have duplicates and contact people and get whatever they have and give them whatever extras that I have and so on and so forth. It expands that way. And then I have collections of manuscripts, a lot of manuscripts in our world that are missing and nobody cares about them. They go to Europe, they go to universities and libraries around the world but people who these things concern, they don’t really have [them]. A central library for Amazigh books, there is no such thing. You go to the biggest library in Morocco, they don’t have Amazigh books. Maybe since 2007 or 2008, they started to collect but they only collect local Moroccan books and that’s it.”

Passion

Madi delves into how intricate one aspect of collecting can be and uses music to paint this picture. “You go and look for musical books, books about certain artists or books about the history of music, or an anthology of DVDs and videos and so on. Music is a culture on its own. And then you have to go and divide it into categories, to understand it in its own way. As I said, most of these things are out of happiness.”

He talks about how organizing hasn’t been as effective, “I’ve seen a lot of people in North Africa in general, they sit down and form groups and they want to do things. We’ll talk about a New Years resolution, we’re going to go and do this and this and that and then at the end of the day, nothing gets done. Because you’re not really passionate about this, to begin with. And what Americans are very good at and I’ve seen it, I’ve been to the Library of Congress, they have worms, they have people who really do love and breathe these things.” Madi explains that we cannot approach an engineer who doesn’t care about music, or doesn’t know anything about it, and incentivize him or her to preserve music by saying it’s a part of our culture. While it is important, Madi points out that others may not be deeply thinking about it and thereby feel concerned by protecting such novelties.  “You get burnt out. The passion is not there. As I said, this is what Americans are good at. They discover the talent and people who do these things out of passion and they can give them all the possibilities to gather.”

Madi collects old, 6-millimeter movies as well as photographs. “I really do sit down and enjoy watching them. From Morocco, from Libya, Algeria.” He continues, “I have these, they call them stereoscopic images, 3D images. I found a collection by chance in Hamilton, here in Canada, a Russian guy who used to live in France had a collection of 4,000 Algerian photos, 3D photos from the region of Kabylia at the time when Napoleon III visited Algeria. He had a photographic society with him and took pictures of all over Algeria. This guy actually acquired all these photos long, long ago. These photos were taken, we’re talking about 1854. And you see these photos, you feel like you’re inside. With time, it becomes an obsession. I started collecting any photo that had to do with North Africa. I found a lot, some of them are extremely rare. Yesterday I told you I wasn’t here in Ottawa, I actually drove 5 hours at 3 A.M. to arrive at 8 in the morning at somebody’s house. 9 I drove back. I went to a place called Clearview at the very North of Ontario. This gentleman is very, very old, and he used to collect these photos a long time ago and now he moved to a new house and he’s retired and sick and tired of all this. He sold me the entire collection, for nothing really. He just wanted to give it to somebody who was passionate about this, and I went and I bought everything from him. Just yesterday I drove a total of 10 hours just to get them.” Some of them Madi already had, but since there is no government funding for what he does he buys these things cheap and puts them on a website, nicely organized with names and what condition they’re in. He tells people that if they want any of his photos, they have to find a photograph related to North Africa and get it to him. He has a good amount of people who are active in finding other photos that he doesn’t have and they do a trade-off, a method that many collectors partake in. “Why would someone wake up at 3 in the morning just to drive 5 hours there and back if it wasn’t passion?”

Not a militant, but willing to defend

“Identity most likely plays a role in everything we all do,” he says. For Madi, however, identity and language are “illusions”. He explains, “I was born Amazigh, I mean seriously if they gave me the choice I’d probably have chosen to be an American, I don’t know. I’m not saying I wish I was something else, of course not, I’m just saying that language, and culture, these are things we are born into. Unfortunately, people who defend it because they are from that culture end up, not all of them, but a lot of them end up to be racist against others and repeat the same cycle of other racists who are against them and so on so forth. I mean, for me, if I ever had someone confront me, I would be talking about it not because I am Amazigh but because I see it’s a just cause. I would always use examples of other cultures and I always defend other cultures as well. I worked as a spokesperson for the United Nations for five years. To do that job, you have to defend everybody, everybody. I remember with two other friends, we were in Geneva. There were people of the Ahwaz, these are the Arabs of Iran. The three of us are Amazigh, we were the advocates of the Arabs on that day because we think it’s a just cause, because Iranians are oppressing these Arabs. If the Arabs in North Africa had been persecuted in one way or another, we would definitely be siding with them.” In the end, Madghis Madi prefers to pursue his personal passions within the cultural scope, outside the realm of political activism.

Language

“I have a lot of videos about language. Nobody really digs deep to learn the history of what these words come from, and why some of them don’t really seem related at all, but they have the same roots, I mean all that process of language itself, for me it’s a discovery more than it’s a matter of teaching. People find it interesting and they like to follow it.”

Madghis Madi started out with a website in Arabic and has a Youtube channel where his videos are mostly done in Arabic. He explains, “First of all, in Libya, in Gaddafi’s time, almost 42 years, so we’re talking about 4 generations, they weren’t taught anything else except Arabic. English is not allowed, French is not allowed, nothing else, let alone Tamazight, so probably half of that generation never actually got exposed to Tamazight. How can you bring them back? It was very effective because I have heard so many people go and learn Tamazight after looking at these things. They go, okay, this is a language, there is something going on here. Myself, this is how I discovered it. I was at the library in Wisconsin after I finished my exams and at the time my girlfriend was with me. She had exams and I stayed with her in the library just to be with her and I’m like, nothing to do, nothing to do. I went to the section where there were books about North Africa. I found a book in Italian and it was talking about grammar. SubhanAllah [Glory to God], Tamazight has plural and singular. I was very young, I never understood these things. And I’m like okay, this is very peculiar, and then there’s a dictionary at the end of the book. It was a big moment, an epiphany, an ah moment. I was like, you know, there is something here. And then I start looking for other books, other dictionaries. Since then, I didn’t stop.”

Madi reflects on the misconceptions people tend to allow circulate, “A lot of people say nonsense about the language. Just because a word resembles another doesn’t necessarily mean they come from the same thing.”

Madi is currently working on an English-Tamazight dictionary for his kids. His children speak English, Tamazight, and French. He says, “Matter of fact before you guys came we were in the living room doing our Tamazight lesson this morning. It’s a very, very professional dictionary, from A to Z.” It includes words, verbs, conjugations. He continues, “My daughter mixes up ‘r’ and ‘l’. She would write it correctly how she heard it, so ‘r’ and ‘l’ is very expected in her writing, but she would say aghlom instead of aghrom [bread]. We were doing a lesson on ‘g’ and how it comes in so many forms, and I think they couldn’t get the concept of the ‘ga’ in Tamazight and ‘gee’ in English.” Madi also talks about how they have a hard time differentiating the ‘r’ in French and the ‘r’ in English since they perceive it as one letter. They don’t speak Arabic, “but they will learn it. It’s not hard at all. I mean, Arabic is everywhere. You can learn it on TV, speaking to your friends. Essentially, Tamazight is very important. I mean I always tell people if your kids don’t pick it up right away, you just insist and insist and talk to them only in Tamazight. This is how our parents did to us.”

As far as doing lessons in English online, Madghis Madi says he doesn’t see enough of an audience.

History

“I feel like people only know one version or one side of history. History is a very fascinating thing. I stumbled upon a book a long time ago about fiqh [body of Islamic law extracted from sources which are studied in the principles of jurisprudence]. It was a question-and-answer and that’s it. I mean, somebody comes to the imam and says ‘I just acquired thalatha qanatira min al dhahab,’ which is, we’ll say three kilos of gold, ‘How much do I pay zakat [obligatory payment used for charitable and religious purposes]?’. This is a very simple question for all of us. It sounds like [just] a question of fiqh, but think about it, someone who just acquired this much money, it has to be a stable society they live in, there is no crime, the business must be easy and flowing. The time he lives in there is a lot of prosperity and so on and so forth. Do you know how many things we could conclude from just that question? To add to that, somebody asked about the cemetery of Christians, and what they can do, they cannot do, their rights and their obligations. That’s enough information for us to understand that the society was very stable and there was no fighting between Muslims and Christians, there was a lot of peace, as long as you abide by certain rules and laws. There are so many questions like that, so many questions that you would never find in historic books.”

Madi talks about how these books have been solely concerned about rulers and dynasties, who gets overthrown and whose empire is established after. “You never hear about the people,” he says. “Historians were never interested in the economy, in society, in all these little things.”

He goes on, “There was a Christian monk from Tunisia and he wrote a book, I think it’s called, ‘To Defend Christians’ or something like that, ‘of Tunisia’, and his books are also like books of fiqh. He says things like, ‘what the pagans are doing and what the newly converted Christians are doing, and what they shall both do to please God’. Now, it sounds like a normal Christian doctrine, these are the things that God allows and these are the things that God doesn’t allow. By reading what he wrote, I discovered a lot of things. One of the things, for instance, he was talking about theater at that time, and what was allowed in theater and what kind of clothes they wore and what kind of roles they took. We learn so much by reading something not related at all. It would be fascinating, if I have time, to write down the history of the people of North Africa. Obviously, you’re going to talk about the wars and dynasties that change but they shall only take 10% percent of what I talk about, the rest would be the economy, everyday life, what kind of clothes people wore.”

Madi adds, “I was in Venice in 2007, I actually lived in Italy for a while. They have sculptures of merchants of Venice itself wearing turbans. As we wear jeans today and Western clothes, they used to actually wear our clothes and think it’s cool to look like North Africans. I found some documents that say certain textiles Muslims made, they were not allowed to wear. Remember, it wasn’t very sophisticated, they had chemicals, I’m sorry but they used to use urine to actually make certain colors and then to dye certain clothes. Obviously, for Muslims, they cannot wear something that has been made out of urine. All this information would be fascinating to make a documentary about, people’s clothes, people’s journeys. Did people travel like we do today? Did people mix like before? Do tribes go from one place to another? We have all this information, it’s all there, but nobody cares about it. All they care about is what dynasty came first and who is ruling who and who did what and that’s it. Because it’s the easiest and most accessible information that everybody can find since every book is written that way.” Madi wishes to compile all these overlooked details.

The present and future

“For me, living the past is not really the most important. The past is just the past. There’s nothing to do with it. I’m actually making a video about scrabble. In North Africa, it’s not like here, we know how to play scrabble, for them they didn’t know so I wanted to do it in Tamazight and Arabic to show them how this game is played. I did a few courses down there and they liked it, they really enjoyed it. If we wanna serve the community, it’s good to think about the future too. Even if you talk about the past, you should take different angles.”

Despite these many projects, Madghis Madi cannot dedicate all his time to this vocation, “I have two kids, I have a job, it’s very difficult to do all this. Whatever spare time you have, you just put it into whatever it is you can do. It’s better to work in large groups, in foundations, something continual. This is how the West actually succeeds, associations and foundations. If I die tomorrow I don’t know where this will all go.”

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Behind Madi’s armchair

“But if you work in a framework of an association or whatever it is, that would be rewarding obviously, better, but who do you work with? I’ve seen them all. I’m not saying nobody is worth working with, obviously, but we still don’t have that mentality of working together, you know? Or when we come into a project, we all want to invest ourselves into it, instead of thinking of the good of the collective. This is not just an Amazigh problem. Like I’ve said, I’ve worked in the United Nations. Nobody wants to work in the collective. It’s very difficult. I’m sure other people have done the same effort that I’m doing right now and they died and everything is gone with them.”

North African artifacts outside of North Africa

“Even governments in North Africa don’t know the rules that UNESCO set in place in certain Western countries to benefit people from our world. It’s good that the Western countries took a lot of our historical heritage and preserved in their museums. Otherwise, they would’ve been destroyed by now. But today, believe it or not, you can go to any museum in the world, and you prove you have an association in your country and say ‘I would like a duplicate of this artifact because it’s educational and it’s good for my community,” they’ll make you one. I made so many things when I was living in France, you wouldn’t believe it. I don’t have them here, most of them are in Morocco. You have to say it came from such and such museum, but you can. You have to pay obviously, they’re not going to give it to you for free. I paid like $700 for an artifact. It’s a lot for an individual. If you do 10 of them that’s $7,000. That’s better in your pocket than it goes to artifacts. But if you’re a company, a country, look at Algeria, Libya, the money is going to the drain. Nobody knows of these things, they have the right to these things. I was just talking to the guide in the Louvre, who’s a very good friend of mine now, and I was telling her, ‘You guys have all these things and our people want to learn about these things, it’s our history,’ and she said, ‘Well you can make a copy out of it.’ I’m like, ‘What are you talking about? ‘and she was explaining to me that ‘there is a law that mandates us to make copies for you, but nobody comes to us and asks us.’ The Chinese are the best at this, and they take everything back to China. But North Africans never do. They never ask for this.”

Culture of intolerance

When asked about the kind of feedback Madghis gets from doing what he does, he says it’s mostly positive, especially from “people who consider themselves militants for the Amazigh cause. The average person would probably think, just go and make money for yourself. And then you have the ones who don’t like Amazigh culture.” Madghis talks about the arbitrary reflections of people who hold strong views about another ethnic group, “I mean that person who is Amazigh and hates Arabs, if he was born by chance in an Arab tribe, he could hate Imazighen. To be militant for a cause just because you were born into it, most likely you will end up to be the same as the other people you militate against. This is my perspective on things. In that part of the world, because there is a lot of intolerance, you start not tolerating people who speak a different language than you, then another group who doesn’t have the same passion as you. This is a culture of intolerance in all of its forms. We have unlimited resources of hate as humans. It just never stops.”

“This culture of intolerance, you don’t like people because they have a different language, a different point of view, a different opinion. This is why nothing works in that part of the world. Because people start organizations and some find that the only way to correct the wrong is to work in politics, others say the economy, others say culture. All of them are correct, actually. They all need to be worked on, but they cannot tolerate each other because each one of them sees a completely different point of view and end up fighting. I’ve lived in Morocco for a while and have seen them. This one is doing politics, the other doing culture, the other economy and they just cannot get together, although they complete each other.”

Social media

“You know what I do with Facebook? I promise you, I’m not joking. I write whatever I write and I leave. My screen time is 45 minutes. In the beginning, sometimes I looked and there was so much negative. Now, there isn’t actually. It’s much better. In the beginning, it just drains you. I’m just going to tell you what I think and whatever you want to do with it, do with it. This is my attitude.”

Madghis Madi uses social media as a tool to share his work but doesn’t get sucked into the virtual world of it all. “I don’t even see myself in videos, I really don’t. I hate looking at myself or listening to my voice. I do the video and I just go. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Unless someone really insists and tells me and calls me, ‘Hey you said something and it’s very peculiar,’ I’ll go back and listen and see if there’s something I missed and correct it in the next video. Otherwise, I really don’t care.”

He explains why he’s not as responsive online, “When you interact, you get into the personal, and I really don’t like it. I once said at the beginning of the Amazigh New Year, ‘Whatever we did last year let’s talk about it’. All the questions I got were, ‘What do you do for a living? Where do you live? Are you married?’ These kinds of questions, what does that got to do with what I do? On my webpage, I’ve actually never posted what I ate. People probably think I’m the most boring person in the world who only does Tamazight, which is probably right, but I’m actually passionate about rock-climbing. I do bungee-jumping. I go cross-country skiing. I do these things, but I never actually posted about them because what benefit is it for others?”

Madi’s talks about his personal tastes when it comes to putting things up for the public to see, “I always think about the people in our countries. You go cross-country skiing and people can’t even find food. I remember once during the war in Libya, I was with Sana Mansoori, a Libyan journalist, and we were going to Tunisia to interview certain people for a TV channel and come back. Something happened to my shoes. I went to go buy new sneakers. When I came out of the store, I took them out of the box, put the box in the garbage and started scratching them on the floor on the side of the sidewalk. Sana was like ‘Are you crazy? What are you doing?’ I said ‘I’m going to Libya and people don’t even have basic stuff and I’m going with new sneakers. I’m just going to make them look very old. I went there and saw someone with a fedora, wearing a jacket, very expensive things,” Madi continues light-heartedly, “Oh, my shoes. I just lost new shoes.”

“What I’m saying is, this is the way I think about it. I would never show off these things because, as I said, it’s like, why? If you want to show something, show something that would benefit others.”

Collection Chronicles

Madghis Madi doesn’t really see what he calls “hiccups” as challenges. “As you see, it’s expensive to have all these things, to do these things. I mean, it’s really, really expensive. It’s just persistence and time. You see this table here, how much do you think it costs? You’ve seen old pictures with old Emir Abdel al-Qadir al-Djazairi sitting at a table like this. How much would you think this costs? I was given $4,000-$5,000. I didn’t want to buy it. Do you know how much I paid for it? $400. It was just a fluke.”

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Desk with traditional Algerian oud instrument hung above

“You see that guy there on the horse? Morocco was going through a terrible time, economically, I think four years ago. Someone had an antique shop and wanted to sell whatever he had. I saw that and asked him how much he needed for it. He offered me 1,500 euros. I didn’t want to buy it, he sold it to me for 400. I’m pretty sure it’s bronze, it’s a really heavy thing.”

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Man on horse artifact from Morocco, marble dusthead and Royal Doulton figurine

“Everything you see here is not really, really expensive. Persistence is all it takes. You see that guy there on the corner made out of marble dust? That white thing there?” Madghis got this from a Turkish collector, made by a German sculptor. “I went to a store here in Ottawa and I saw it. I’m like, I’m going to buy it. I think he had $550 on it. I offered $300. He said, ‘No. I’m not going to sell it for $300. $550 to $300, it’s impossible.’ In the end, we ended up with 4 hundred something dollars. I went to a garage sale, there was this British woman who had Royal Doulton figurines. The figure reading the book is Royal Doulton. Royal Doulton is a company from England that does small figurines. This lady wanted to sell them.” Madghis Madi bought a figurine from her for $2. “I said ‘Ha, $2, here, give it to me’. Because I know that one is actually worth $300, $400, but she was just selling it for $2 because she considered it extra stuff in her house that she wanted to get rid of. I went to the same store and I know he collects figurines from Royal Doulton. I gave it to him and he gave me that sculpture with a $45 difference to me. For $450, he gave me $45 and that sculpture. These kinds of stories do happen.”

“I mean look at this one here, I cried when I did it. This is a Kabyle woman carrying water. You could tell by her dress and it’s actually written underneath it.” Madghis saw this in Morocco about four years ago.

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Kabyle woman artifact

“This is a very unique piece by the way. I asked, ‘How much do you need for it’, he said ‘250 euros’. For a piece like that, it’s a lot, although it’s a historic piece. I came two years later and he still had it. I told him, ‘Economically, think about it. It’s just collecting dust. This is just like having money in your bank and it’s not appreciating.’ He really was convinced with my argument and he gave it to me for a very, very cheap price after two years.”

“If I pay only 2 dollars for 4,000 records, just 2 dollars, which is impossible, but let’s say I only pay 2 dollars for 4,000 records. That’s $8,000. Who really has the passion to put down $8,000 for records, for things that no one cares about? But again, it’s just a passion.”

“Some people really do donate their stuff, and artists when I meet them and they know what I do they give me their own instruments or even clothing articles from their loved ones. There’s the Algerian artist Noura, I have her favorite dress from whenever she sang. The first guitar Idir ever played, he gave it to me. But I made him a sculpture though. I mean, it’s a very big trade-off. When I made him that, he knew that I was serious about what I do. He said, ‘You’re probably the only one who could keep my instrument. Somebody else would go on and sell it but you would never do it.'”

From basement archive labyrinth to museum

Madghis Madi plans for all his things to go into a museum one day. “Maybe there is no stability in North Africa, it’s very hard, but I spoke to an organization in Quebec, which is one of the most successful Kabyle organizations in Montreal and they’re trying to do “Maison de Kabyle,” and I’m like if you’re really serious about it and I see in one year or two that you’re still together and everything is going well, I’ll definitely donate everything to you. I wouldn’t mind. In the end, it stays for others. Why is it collecting dust here? By the way, this is nothing, if I open other doors you’ll see. It’s in boxes, they’re not all on display like this.”

Out of all North African countries, Morocco may be where Madi has collected the most things considering he lived there the longest. Because Morocco and Tunisia are tourist countries, they are more promising hubs for collectors. He says, “Tourists are looking for antiques so they got used to the idea of selling them, but Libya and Algeria, none. Zero. I’ve lived in Algeria so many times and visited Algeria so many times. People recycle things, they don’t sell them as antiques. There are very few antique shops and they sell them for very expensive. They think things have more value than they do. He’ll give you a minuscule and say ‘I need 30,000 for it’. I’m like ‘What are you talking about, 30,000? You go to Paris, you buy the most expensive antique and it’s not 30,000’. But they don’t have that concept. Also, you won’t find an old carpet [on sale]. They’ll step on it until it’s no longer usable and throw it. There is no such a concept of an old thing you could sell and other people use it. I haven’t seen it in Algeria. Maybe there are some elite, but I haven’t seen it.”

“In Libya, I just saw somebody wanting to sell me a manuscript that’s written probably in the 60s, nothing really old, except the older one doesn’t exist anymore so he copied it before the other one vanished. He said he needed 7,000 for it. I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’ I just bought a Quran, which is the most beautiful writing in Tunisia, just recently for 200, 300 dinars. Look how beautiful this is.”

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Quran from Tunisia

“This is probably from 500 or 600 years ago. This is different writing as well. I bought this for $40 here in Canada, an entire manuscript. Someone brought it all the way to Canada and then died and then someone got a hold of it.”

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Quran from Mali

Madghis Madi owns around 1,700 manuscripts. He had us imagine again if each manuscript were to cost $2 and calculate how much he must have spent. “You still have to travel, you still have to go out for dinner, you still have to go see movies. Where does that [money] come from?”

Living in a personal museum

Within his vast collection, Madi doesn’t have a favorite. “Things fade with time,” he says. But he does revisit certain items. “I actually wake up early in the morning, I sit down every Saturday and listen to music. I have a ritual. It’s fun, it really is. You discover words that you never heard.”

“The oldest record I have is from 1892. You see that thing next to the microphone? These are the oldest records you have in the world. I’ll ask you a question, about something you probably never think of. If you listen to songs in the 80s, 90s, or 70s, whatever, they have songs that don’t exceed 3 minutes. Why are songs not long? Traditional songs are really long. The reason is that we are constrained by technology. The very first method of recording cannot exceed 3 minutes which is this.” Madghis gets a hold of a cylinder shaped object, “This is the first method of recording ever invented. You see these grooves in between?” Madghis explains there’s a needle that goes through the device similar to the flat disk we are used to seeing, and music is played. “These are made out of wax. You could actually erase it and redo it again. This is the oldest thing ever recorded in Tamazight they found in Fort-National in Algeria, which is in the Tizi Ouzou area. This is a religious song sung by a lady, the French liked it and recorded her while she was singing. The needle has a small leather thing that moves when your sound makes air. It’s a very mechanical thing. I have very old records from 1907, the very first wave of Algerian immigrants to France. Obviously, record companies don’t really care what language you sing in. The most important thing for them is the benefit if there is an audience. Coffee shops and bars in Europe used to be very popular places for people to gather. Employees, they came from a very hard day of labor, and they sat down and either drank coffee and listened to a musician live or saw dancers. These record companies recognized North Africans really do have a passion for music and this is what their past-time in the evening was. They recorded these records for them. It started like that. I have one song which I listen to all the time, it’s about al ghorba [alienation/foreignness], and then I followed the story of the guy and how the song was created. It’s really fascinating. It’s not a song anymore. You’re listening to it and you’re living the moment. You can imagine the workers coming out of the factory, very tired, very low paid because they work in mines, they work in factories, you can listen to his words coming from his heart, that singer.”

Cultural advancement

“Just knowing the history of things, glasses, jackets, jeans, why are jeans blue? Seriously. There’s really an amazing history behind these things. Life is beautiful in every aspect. Kursi [chair], tqashr [socks], kol chi, everything! Everything is fascinating in life. You will have a higher level of enjoyment of everything if you know what it is. It’s curiosity. I do think and question things all the time. And this is what we lack, the passion for things. People do the same exact thing over and over, even if it doesn’t work. What North America teaches you is, there must be a better way to do things. Why stick to the same old ways? If you see how houses were constructed in the 50s and today, there’s a huge difference. But if you go to Algeria, the same exact method the French brought with them, never changed. Nobody thinks of insolation in Algeria. They still live in brick houses that are very cold inside in the winter and very hot in the summer. Libya is the same, by the way. Although some of the inventors who come to France and North America, they are actually from there. There is a very big, big, big architect from Egypt. He’s the one who invented isolation and all these things in new, modern houses. They celebrate him and they have big statues for him in California. But in his own country, nobody cares. It takes someone who thinks outside the box, that’s it. This is what I try to instill in my kids. What you can do for your kids is teaching them to be curious about the world. These things are learned. I’m not born with these things. There’s nothing extraordinary about anyone who knows better than you. There’s nothing. Absolutely nothing. Starting from Einstein all the way to the person in your class. The only difference is the way they have been raised, the way they have been exposed to certain things, and their own passion.”

Madi talks about the social conditioning of being indifferent to the world, “Somebody feeds you something, the government knows best, you don’t participate in decisions. The entire society is against you because you think outside the box. I mean, if it becomes a habit, you would take it to everything else.” Madghis doesn’t blame the people, “They just never learned to think differently, that’s all. I’m very careful when I collect this old stuff, I don’t want them to live in the past only. You want to think about also the future. You have to question things, that’s all. And not question just metaphysical things, because this is the first thing people jump to, but think about your own life.”

Curiosity saved the cat

“You’ve seen on Youtube a lot of these things called Life Hacks, nobody does it in our world, but people think about it because it’s a problem. That doesn’t come from nothing, it comes out of curiosity. I actually told someone three weeks ago who’s a geologist and he dismissed my conversation, I was like, ‘You’re a geologist, we live here. We see these colors in the mountains, nobody ever told us why they have these colors, why don’t you teach people? He said to me, ‘People want to know how to make wudhu [ablution], this is the extent of their questions and their life quest, which is true, he has a point there. But you have to create that question in their mind. In North Africa, this is how it is. Nobody questions. This curiosity is something certain cultures instill or don’t. My kids never have a dull moment. They ask questions.”

Madghis Madi keeps a list of questions his children ask. He reads off of it, “How do people die? Why do bad people do what they do? Why do horses run? Why do pigs make oink sounds? How is the TV made? How is light made? How does 3D TV work? Who made God? Do unicorns exist? What’s the difference between boys and girls? Where does the seed come from? How does an octopus communicate? Are bears in the dog family? What are teeth made of? What are molecules made of? How many snowflakes are there in a square millimeter? What’s the biggest swimming dinosaur?”

“Every week we sit down and answer these questions. All you have to do is make them think about the things in the world around them.”

Despite his children being very young, 7 and 5 years old respectively, they do understand what their father does. “My son came when he woke up in the morning and I was showing him how I catalog things and what they mean and why. My daughter, for instance, knows everything about antiques. She would say, ‘This is something you would like’. But they’re still young. It’s good to have your kids around these things, involve them. It’s either they will hate them the most because they took their time away from their dad, or they will be passionate themselves. That’s up to you to divide your time.”

 

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