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Marrakech International Storytelling Festival
Photograph: Marrakech International Storytelling Festival

Marrakech’s International Storytelling Festival broke a world record this year

Moroccan youth took centre stage at this year’s festival, proving storytelling is ‘not a lost art’ among the new generation

Written by
Katherine Patterson

Before the roar of motorised vehicles became the soundtrack to Marrakech’s Medina, there was a time you’d walk through the souks and hear something quite different: the sound of people telling tales. 

Known in Morocco as ‘hikayat’, storytelling was traditionally a major past-time in the country, dating back almost a thousand years. Though it has since declined in popularity, the Marrakech International Storytelling Festival, now in its second year, is on a mission to revive the lost art of storytelling among Moroccan youth. 

Part of the plan to bolster the tradition is by providing financial incentives. At this year’s festival, which was themed around ‘Ancestral Voices’, all Moroccan storytellers were paid by Marrakech’s World Storytelling Cafe. Zouhair Khaznaoui, the festival’s director and co-founder, told Time Out that the aim is ‘to create jobs and financial support’ for young Moroccan storytellers. International storytellers funded their journey to Marrakech themselves, and were hosted in local riads.

The festival received backing from Morocco’s king, Mohammed VI, a week before it began. And halfway through the week, storytellers broke a world record. 

The international group of storytellers began a marathon ‘Hikayathon’ in Marrakech’s famous Jemma Al Fnaa square at 18:47 on Wednesday evening. Telling continuously through two days and nights, the marathon came to a close on Friday at 20:47. This 50-hour session smashed the previous record for continuous storytelling, achieved by a festival in Spain, at 42 hours. Zouhair Khaznaoui told five hours of the 50. 

‘Marrakech is the spiritual home of storytelling, and we’re honoured to hold an event of such global significance in our city,’ Zouhair Khaznaoui told Time Out. 

Marrakech International Storytelling Festival takes place in Marrakech place every February, though you can get a taste of ‘hikayat’ year-round at the city’s intimate World Storytelling Cafe.

Time Out was a guest at the Marrakech International Storytelling Festival. 

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