Diaspo #141 : Mostapha Bahja, the Moroccan artist who almost became a soldier

For twenty years, Moroccan-born Mostapha Bahja indulged in the world of theater and performing in Spain. He is one of the first Moroccan artists to make himself a name in the Spanish scene after several attempts in Morocco and the Netherlands.

Mostapha Bahja. / DR
Estimated read time: 3'

Mostapha Bahja was born in 1974 in Dhar El Mahraz, a military base in Fez. Growing up, the Fez-native was encouraged to follow the path of his father and become a soldier. But he had others dreams. The young man wanted to become a military airman but soon he changed that for arts and philosophy.

«I never had a political party or student organization card, but I actively participated in the cultural events of these structures, which were very powerful in Fez in the 1980s, especially the National Union of Moroccan Students (UNEM) and other student organizations», Mostapha Bahja recalled. «Most of my childhood friends have become university teachers, language or philosophy teachers», he proudly told Yabiladi.

Since childhood, Mostapha Bahja was drawn to school theater workshops more than math and other classes. «I was not a bad student. Coming from a working class background, it was even a matter of pride for my family. That being said, I remember that it was a math teacher from elementary school, who encouraged me to go for a literary baccalaureate. It went hand in hand with my love for poetry, philosophy and drama», the artist said.

Indeed, Mostapha Bahja used to take part to every theater troop in Fez, in particular under the supervision of Mohamed Kaghat. «This is probably what drove me away from the path set by my father and the aviation Military Academy in Meknes, since I made my choice quite early», he joked.

«I liked to tease my late father, remembering that often on a mission to the Sahara, he was responsible for training young people on how to beat fighter planes, while he dreamed of his son joining the air force! It should still be noted that he wanted to spare me the difficulties faced by the infantry soldiers, many of whom were dying back in his time».

Mostapha Bahja

A journey between philosophy and political science

While convincing his family to accept him steering away from the military school was a difficult mission, securing the greenlight from them to get into philosophy and political science was even harder. It was then that the artist returned to his first vocation, encouraged by one of his friends to try his luck and opt for the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts and Cultural Animation (ISADAC) in Rabat. He then rubbed shoulders with Jamal Boudouma and Abdessamad Miftah El Kheir, with whom he became friends.

During his journey, Mostapha Bahja was inspired by his mother. «As my father was taken by the army, it was her who raised us : she managed the household savings, our education, our manners... She taught us how to be autonomous and to master cooking», he recognized. «We held this discipline from my father too, who despite having climbed the ranks, continued to live exactly as he had always been», he said.

After graduating from ISADAC in 1998, Mostapha Bahja wanted to get some hands-on experience. He eventually left for the Netherlands for a year and got into the Higher School of the Arts in Utrecht.

«I worked in very good conditions and being from the regions of Azrou and Ifrane, I imagined that adapting to the climate would not be a problem for me. But I was scarred by the cold, which made me leave the country at the end of my research!»

Mostapha Bahja

A new life in Spain

Planning on returning to Morocco to pursue his research, Mostapha Bahja was introduced to Spanish producers and directors who were on the hunt for Moroccan actors. This opportunity opened doors for him in Spain.

In Seville, he worked with director Juan Dolores Caballero as an actor and settled down in the city. Mostapha Bahja was then offered the post of assistant director with the Spanish artist for the production of musical theater shows.

The two acolytes quickly launched a new version of the Teatro del Velador theatrical company. The Moroccan played several roles, but also co-wrote and helped direct plays for tours, consisting of classical, contemporary theater, and contemporary dance performances.

The artist did not feel overwhelmed by this intense work, counting on his talents as a choreographer, but also as a music composer and percussionist. These tours took the theatrical company to the Spanish National Theater, in addition to the most prestigious stages in all of Europe. He also worked as a coach with film actors. Not losing ties with Morocco, he collaborated with Laïla Marrakchi, for her film Rock the Casbah, released in 2013.

But for the past three years, Mostapha Bahja has devoted more time to reading, research, and writing. «After more than twenty years of unrestrained work, it's time for a first assessment, or a break to consider a new start», the artist explained.

«Being now the father of two young children and keen on artistic experimentation, I chose a moment of withdrawal, first to refocus on my family life, but also to better document myself, enrich my intellectual background and reorganize things a bit on the artistic level, so as not to find myself caught up in reproducing the same processes, weakening the creative process», he concludes.

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