In Tangier, down a windy street
Where beggars meet
And on old rags do sleep
The women dressed in soiled white sheet
With starving kids by their side.
With staring eyes that never weep,
Old Moroccans with their elephantiasis feet
Who life and death treat so cheap
Happy in their hunger
For they live longer than their fathers.
[Repeat 1st & 2nd verses]
Tangier was written by Donovan’s friend and early road manager David Mills (Gypsy Dave), apparently reflecting upon a recent visit to Morocco. As the song also features a harmonium drone (gaining deep resonance with a cello), it shares a similar tone to Peregrine, though in this case the raga is more centered in North African musical tradition. The ending bars of Tangier, indeed, recreate, with an ever increasing frequency of a tabla beat, the whirling ecstasy of a Sufi dervish. The rather lengthy break is supported with bold accents of plucked guitar played by another of Donovan’s old friends, famed English folk guitarist Bert Jansch. I seem to hear a moment of sitar at the very end of the record.
Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band had visited Morocco in 1966 and come back with his own amalgamation of North African and Great Britain’s song forms and instruments. In 1968, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones had also picked up on Moroccan traditional music in Brian Jones Presents The Pipes Of Pan At Jajouka, recording local musicians during a Pan festival. (The album wasn’t released until 1971.) Though a popular vacation spot for hippies of the U.K., Americans were at the time for the most part unfamiliar with the music of North Africa. Tangier was most probably the earliest recording of this kind of music that most Americans had ever heard, and one of the purest adaptations of music of a non-“Western” culture at the time (with the exception of some of George Harrison’s songs of India).
The lyrics reflect the shock of a tourist at the tremendous poverty in Morocco. I’m sure there are no other songs around (at least I’ve never heard them) that include elephantiasis in the lyric. (We are still waiting for the ode to kwashiorkor.) The lyric reflects that no matter how horrible these sights, the Moroccans are happy to have a longer life than their ancestors. Tangier is one of the very few psychedelic songs that address poverty (Time Is Come Today by the Chambers Brothers being the only other such song that comes to mind.) There’s no mention of the hashish that drew a lot of hippies to the country; it’s interesting to compare this song with Graham Nash’s more light hearted song Marakeesh Express released the following year. Oh, and don’t let the Brit English fool you: the “windy street” is not blowing in the wind but rather what Americans would call a “winding street” with lots of curves.