la Musique Marocaine
Produced by the Royaume du Maroc Ministère de la Culture et de la
Communication and Maroc Telecom
Directeur Artistique: Ahmed Aydoun
Chants du Moyen Atlas
||Oulad el Bouazzaoui [63:04]
Chants du Sahara
||Banat Aichata et
Abba Ould Badou [52:14]
Chants des femmes
||M’almat de Meknes
||Wafae al Asri
Chants des Jbala
||Ahl Srif [49:06]
(Rachid Touati) [61:03]
(Mohamed Bouyahaoui) [73:10]
||Hmadsha (Si Allal Belhaj
|| CD 4
||Hmadsha (Si Allal Belhaj
||Jilala (Amira Jeldoun)
|| Daqqa (Abderrahim
(Abdelkader Amlil) [64:24]
|| CD 8
||Aabidat Rma [73:10]
||Chants du Rif
||Chants du Rif
(Sellam Mounes) [53:21]
l’Oriental (Haj Younsi et Chikh Liou) [57:29]
||Chants juifs (Zahra
el Fassia) [74:14]
|| CD 6
“Anthologie de la musique marocaine” is a collection of
Moroccan traditional musics produced by the Moroccan Ministry of Culture and
Communication, with a subsidy from Maroc Telecom. Previous anthologies
issued by the Ministry of Culture include a 73-CD set of Andalusian music, a
3-CD set of malhun (an urban song form in dialectical Arabic), and a
4-CD set of rwayes (Berber professional musicians from the High Atlas
Mountains). The anthology under review here, which comprises thirty CDs in
four volumes, was anticipated as an important initiative taken toward the
official documentation of many of the country’s other musical traditions—an
initiative coupled with music festivals, organized or co-organized by the
same Ministry, which take place in Morocco throughout the summer months.
Recorded between 2001 and 2002, the
anthology was envisaged by Mohamed Achaari, the current Minister of Culture,
who sought to safeguard the rich musical tradition of Morocco. And, indeed,
the collection does illustrate the extraordinary richness and diversity of
Moroccan traditional music. Despite the good intentions of Mr. Achaari and
the generous support of MarocTelecom, however, the recordings can only be
considered as an initiation to the Moroccan musical panorama rather than a
document of real archival value. The reasons for this are numerous.
A first but fundamental problem lies
in the fact that although the genres presented in the anthology are, with
few exceptions, living musical traditions, these recordings were made
neither in the field nor during live stage performances. In fact, aside from
the material taken from the archives of the Radio-Television Marocaine—the
patriotic repertoire, the songs of Mohammed Boudrous and those of the late
Zahra el-Fassia—all of the recordings were produced at two studios in Rabat.
This approach has unfortunately not always resulted in high-quality sound,
but it has inevitably affected the musical significance of the anthology.
Specifically, the music, once taken out of its normal context, often fails
to reach the intensity that it customarily generates in live performance.
The audible absence of a musical development, of a crescendo that
constitutes a central aspect of most of the genres present in the anthology,
may be directly connected with the way in which the recordings were carried
The anthology was compiled under the
artistic direction of Ahmed Aydoun, who supervised the recordings in
consultation with various specialists. Aydoun—a musicologist, composer and,
at the time of these recordings, the head of the music division at the
Ministry of Culture—is well-versed in a wide range of Moroccan musics.
(Indeed, his book, Musiques du Maroc, would make a good companion to
this anthology, filling in some of the information missing from the notes.)
Since, however, the supervision included making decisions concerning the
choice of the repertoire, the manner of performance, and even the texts to
be sung, it is difficult to imagine how the painstaking efforts of Mr.
Aydoun and his collaborators could fail to affect the flow of the music and,
in turn, the outcome of the project (1).
Finally, the documentation for these
recordings is disappointing at best—extremely limited in scope and sometimes
confusing or inaccurate. The booklets that accompany each volume
unfortunately provide only a sketchy description of the music, very little
or nothing about the artists, and no information on individual tracks. In
addition to this, there are also discrepancies between the titles listed in
the booklets and those on the backs of the CDs, and with the sequence of the
CDs themselves (for example, Hajib is listed as CD 5 of volume I while it is
actually CD 6). The list of contents on the backs of the CDs also include
significant mistakes. The transliterated Arabic titles are often incomplete
and may also include typographical errors. What is more distressing is that
the titles of the tracks do not always correspond to the music actually
performed; in the case of Volume II/CD 2, only the last track (out of seven)
is correctly identified.
In short, a newcomer to Moroccan
music may not get a clear picture of the many styles of music represented
here, their connections to one another, or, still less, the many musical and
social issues that they entail. At the same time, an experienced listener
may feel frustrated by the quality of some of the performances, the lack of
documentation, and the absence of song texts.
If this collection is not perfect,
however, it is nonetheless a noble effort. Few nations have the wealth of
musical traditions that still thrive in Morocco, and fewer still have
attempted to document such diversity and make it available to the
public. The Moroccan government has now issued more than 100 CDs, but there
remain well-established traditions that the Ministry of Culture has yet to
anthologize, from the ahwash of the High Atlas to the innovative
revivalist music of groups like Nass el Ghiwane. If listeners are lucky,
there will be more collections to come. Perhaps next time the Ministry will
draw on the enormous expertise of Moroccan scholars, journalists, performers
and aficionados to produce descriptive and analytical notes worthy of the
beauty and complexity of the music.
One cannot really do justice to the
entire anthology in so little space, but here is a summary of the contents.
Chants du Moyen Atlas. Mohamed Rouicha (CD I),
(CD 2) and Abdelouahed
Hajjaoui (CD 3) are today’s most famous interpreters of the songs of the
Tamazight-speaking Berbers of the Middle Atlas. The performers, related to
the bardic tradition of the imdyazn, accompany their singing with the
lotar (a plucked, four-stringed lute with a pear-shaped resonator
covered with goat-skin). Their repertoire is mostly based on a genre of sung
poetry whose subject ranges from social and political commentaries to
romantic love (izli).
mayt’nit (mp3 file)
performed by Rouicha
track 3 of CD I performed by Rouicha, is a representative performance of
tamedyâtz (songs of the imdyazn). An unaccompanied
instrumental solo (taqsim) on the lotar establishes the mode,
whose ambitus rarely exceeds a fifth (A-B␢-C-Db-E),
after which two bendîrs (large round frame drums) come in playing an
unchanging pattern in binary rhythm. Rouicha’s verses alternate with a
refrain sung in unison by four female vocalists, whose high-pitched voices
and prominent vibrato are characteristic of the singing style of this
Bouazzaoui (CD 4), Khadija Margoum (CD 5), Hajib (CD 6). These CDs present
some of the varieties of this strophic song style practiced along the
Atlantic Plains of Morocco. Traditionally performed by a group a male
instrumentalists and a group of shikhât (professional female
singer-dancers), the instruments of the ‘aita include kamanja
(violin or viola held vertically the knee), ‘ûd (Arab lute),
swisdi (a small three-stringed pear-shaped lute),
darbuka (a single head pottery vase drum) and ta‘rija (small- or
medium -size single-headed clay goblet-drum).
Khadija Margoum is known for her
interpretation of the ‘aita hasbawia (region of Safi), a style that
is generally characterized by a raw sound quality, fast and short rhythmic
cycles, and an emphasis on the percussive character of the music. In
contrast, Hajib, who has reached popular success thanks to his modern
rendition of the different styles of the ‘aita, has instead been able
to cross over into the realm of Moroccan popular music (chaabi).
The Ouled Bouazzaoui are
representative of the ‘aita marsawia (from the region of Casablanca),
considered to be a more sophisticated style with slow, long and complex
rhythmic cycles, elaborated melodies and an overall rich sound.
performed by the Ouled Bouazzaoui
In “Kharbousha,” track 5 of
CD 4, the performance of the Ouled Bouazzaoui follows the characteristic
structure of the ‘aita. After an unaccompanied solo played by the
kamanja and the ‘ûd in the mode bayâtî (D-E␢-F-G-A-Bb-C-D)
the first section, consecrated to singing, begins to unfold over a 19-beat
rhythmic cycle. The end of a series of verses is marked by a vocal
transition accompanied by the kamanja and the ‘ûd, after which
the singing continues punctuated by a different cycle each time. The last
section, consecrated to dancing, is marked by a fast 6/8 rhythm that, after
a crescendo, ends with an abrupt halt.
Chants du Sahara.
The Banat Aichata (CD 7 and 8) and Batoul Marouani (CD 9)
are the interpreters of what is known as hassani song, a genre found
in the Moroccan region of the Sahara with similarities to the music of
Northern Mauritania. These mostly female groups, composed of four to five
women who sing while accompanying themselves with hand clapping and a camel
or sheep skin large floor drum, also include a male performing on the
electric guitar and/or tidinit (four-string
plucked lute with a resonator covered with cow-hide).
Hassani song is characterized by pentatonic melodies, ensemble
singing often in call-and-response, and a syncopated rhythm produced by the
pattern of the floor drum played against that of the hand clapping
over 6/8 or 12/8 meters.
Chants des Femmes. M’almat de Meknes (CD 1),
Wafae al Asri (CD2) and Houariyyat de Marrakech (CD 3). These recordings are
consecrated to the musical traditions of all-female ensembles that animate
women’s parties during weddings and other family celebrations.
The recordings of the M’almat of
Meknes present a repertoire that is mostly based on songs in praise of
Muslim saints. Accompanied by a variety of percussion instruments such as
bendîr, ta’rija, agwal (a long, slim single-headed goblet-shaped
drum) and tbila (a pair of pottery kettle drums beaten with two
sticks), the songs are built around a verse-refrain structure. The
repertoire of the m’almat is distinguished by an unchanging rhythmic pattern
in 5/8. Track 1 of CD 1 —erroneously listed as “chrif al hasbia”
and probably titled “mayat Chick al-Kamal,” listed instead as track
7— represents an example of the repertoire in which the m’almat sing the
praises of Sheikh al-Kamal, Sidi Mohammed ben Aissa, the patron saint of
Meknes and progenitor of the Aissaoua religious association (more fully
represented in Volume III).
Wafae al Asri is the leader of
“al-Ikhlâs,” a renowned all-female orchestra from Tetouan that performs
excerpts from the Andalusian music tradition. These female
ensembles—originally established to replace groups of blind male musicians
who entertained wealthy female patrons—are found in the cities of Tangier,
Tetouan and Oujda, and represent an exception to the usual percussive styles
of women’s music. The orchestra directed by Wafae al Asri, the lead
vocalist and ‘ûd player, consists of 5 performers who sing and play
kamanja, ta’rija, târ (a small tambourine with a deep
frame), darbuka, bendîr, and an electric keyboard. “Ma nansa
habibi,” track7 of CD 2, is a representative performance of the
Andalusian repertoire performed by this all-female orchestra.
“Houariyyat” is a generic term used
to designate the highly entertaining all-women ensembles who perform in the
region of Marrakech and Taroudant. Their name is derived from the Houara,
an Arab tribe in the Sus Valley of Southern Morocco. The repertoire of these
groups consists of sacred, folk and chaabi music accompanied by a
variety of percussion instruments such as the târ, ta‘rija, bendir,
darbuka, nâqûs (a bell made from an automobile brake drum and beaten
with two metal sticks), agwal and a metal plate beaten with a set of
nwiqsât (metal finger cymbals).
The music of the houariyyat
is distinguished by its percussive character, its intense polyrhythm, the
alternation of 7/8 and 5/4 rhythms in the same composition, the
superimposition of binary and ternary rhythmic cells, a melody based on the
pentatonic scale and a call-and-response structure (Baldassarre 1999). “Moul
zaouia,” track 1 CD 3, provides a good example of their repertoire.
Chants des Jbala.
repertoire of the Jbala musicians, from the northwest of Morocco, is based
on two genres: an indoor repertoire called taqtuqa jabalia, played by a
string ensemble, and an outdoor repertoire that is mostly performed on the
t’bel (a double-headed side drum) and the ghaita (double-reed aerophone).
The ensemble Ahl Srif (CD 5), from the area surrounding the well-known
village of Jajouka, performs a music that is generally heard during ritual
celebrations connected to mystical religious associations, or at processions
celebrating weddings and circumcisions. Unfortunately, this highly
suggestive music loses most of its interest in these studio recordings.
Ahmed Guerfti (CD 4) is one
of the most renowned interpreters of the taqtuqa jabalia, a genre
often classified as another style of the ‘aita, but possibly
also influenced by Andalusian music. It is performed by an all-male
ensemble on kamanja, ‘ûd, bendîr, swisdi, târ
and darbuka. “Salli ‘la Mohamed,” track 2 of CD 4, is a typical
taqtuqa. The performance starts with an instrumental introduction that
presents fragments of different modes on which the composition is based. The
ensemble unison singing, over an unchanging rhythmic pattern in 5/8, signals
the beginning of the first section. A shift into a fast 6/8 rhythm
accompanies the last section consecrated to dancing.
performed by Ahmed
Ahbab Chikh Salah (CD 6) and al-Mawciliyya (CD 7).
Gharnati is a version of the Andalusian musical style, thought to have
originated in Granada, Spain, and developed after 1492 in Algeria. Unlike
the more typical Moroccan style of Andalusian music, gharnati uses a
small ensemble and emphasizes solo singing. The style, specific to the
cities of Rabat and Oujda, was brought to Morocco by Algerians from Tlemcen
and Algiers, fleeing French colonial rule.
The repertoire of gharnati is
organized in suite form, a series of vocal and instrumental pieces that
follow one another according to a specific order (nûba). A complete
nûba consists of a measured orchestral overture (tushia) that
establishes the mode; an instrumental interlude with a lively rhythm
performed at the beginning of each vocal piece (kûrsi); a
first vocal piece performed by a soloist in a slow 2/4 or 4/4 rhythm (msaddar);
an unmeasured instrumental and vocal solo performance (istikhbar); a
second vocal piece employing the same 2/4 or 4/4 rhythm (btayhi); a
third vocal performance in a faster version of the same rhythm (darj);
a fourth vocal piece in a 10/8 or 5/8 rhythm (insirâf); and a final
vocal performance sang in unison by the ensemble over a fast 6/8 rhythm (makhlas).
The ensemble Ahbab Chikh Salah
present two incomplete nûbat on the modes mazmoum (F) and
mawwal (C), while the ensemble al-Mawciliyya presents the complete
nûba ghrib (D- E(b)-F(#)
Sufisme populaire. Ahl Touat (CD 1), Aissaoua
(CD 2), Hmadcha (CD 3 and 4), Jilala (CD 5). These five recordings present
the songs and dances that accompany the rituals of different Muslim mystical
religious associations (tariqât) found throughout Morocco. Aside from
their weekly meetings, the tariqât get together for other events such
as marriages, a member’s death, or pilgrimages to the tomb of their patron
Their ceremony (hadra) begins
with the recitation of a litany (dhikr) and the singing of poems in
honor of Allah, the Prophet and the saints. Later on the instruments come in
to accompany the dance that may lead to possession by a saint or spirit. The
tbel and the ghaita are the principal instruments that
accompany the songs and dances of the Aissaoua. To this ensemble the
Hmadcha add the harrâzî (large single-skin clay goblet-drum
held on one shoulder), while the Jilala accompany their ceremonies with the
bendîr and the qasba (a long end-blown flute) (Schuyler
Rythmes basiques. Daqqa (CD 6) and Gnawa (CD 7
and 8). ‘Âshurâ, the tenth day of the Muslim New Year, was traditionally
the principal (and sometimes only) occasion for daqqa, a
highly percussive music performed by large groups of men playing the
ta‘rija, qaraqeb (large metal castanets), târa (large round frame
drum with cymbals set into frame), interspersed with elaborate patterns of
hand-clapping. Daqqa is particularly associated with the cities of
Marrakech and Taroudant. In the weeks leading up to ‘Âshurâ, children and
young men rehearse the lighter, faster rhythms, but the full performance,
running continuously for as long as twelve hours or more, took place only on
the night of the holiday itself.
The daqqa performance on
Track 1 of CD 6 begins with the unison singing of a repetitive chant (‘ait)
that unfolds over an unchanging slow rhythm. About twenty minutes into the
performance, the switch to a slightly faster rhythm in 4/4 signals the
beginning of a middle section, whose rhythmic crescendo and antiphonal
singing will lead to the last part of the daqqa (afous )
performed over a fast 6/8 rhythm.
The music of the gnawa—characterized
by the low percussive sound of the guinbri or hajhûi (large
three-stringed plucked lute with a rectangular-shape resonator) and the
qaraqeb—has evident connections with Sub-Sahara Africa, most notably in
the call-and-response pattern of singing, pentatonic melodies and
interlocking rhythmic patterns, and the sliding leather tuning rings and
metal sound modifier of the guinbri. Although always enjoyable, the
recordings of Abdelkader Amlil (CD 7) and Ahmed Boussou (CD 8) present the
gnawa repertoire as a compilation of songs rather than as a part of a
lila or of a dance suite. Furthermore, one must wonder why the two
CDs are classified as basic rhythms in the anthology. Although the Gnawa
belief system is heavily influenced by Sub-Saharan religious practice, the
musicians and devotees are all practicing Muslims and their songs contain
many invocations to recognized Muslim saints. In that respect, they are
really an extension of the first three CDs (“Soufisme Populaire”) of this
Chants des Juifs (CD 5). Zahra el Fassia is
regarded as one of the best interpreters of nationalist and modern popular
songs, as we as traditional genres such as gharnati, ‘aita,
and melhun (an urban strophic song style with long texts in a rich,
witty, and sometimes obscure dialectical Arabic). Born in Fez in 1905 to a
Jewish family of modest means, el Fassia was already popular in the 1930s
and the leader of her own orchestra in the 1940s. Thanks to the radio, el
Fassia’s voice entered many Moroccan households and crossed over into
Algeria where she became a star. After emigrating to Israel in 1962, el
Fassia continued to perform for the mostly Moroccan Jewish community until
her death in 1995. Her exceptional voice and unique ability to interpret
different genres can be heard in the light song “Ya warda”.
(CD 6). A series of patriotic songs taken from the archives of Moroccan
Radio and Television concludes the anthology. These grandiose compositions,
performed by large Egyptian-style orchestras, include the Moroccan national
anthem (track 18) and Ahmed el Bidaoui’s “Ya sahiba sawlati” (track
16). The latter provides an early example of musiqa asria (modern
music), a genre that, after years of imitations in the Egyptian style (1930s
– early 1950s), eventually took on its own Moroccan identity.
City University of New York
Ahmed. 1995. Musiques du Maroc. Casablanca: Éditions Eddif.
Baldassarre, Antonio. 1999.
“With the Daughters of the Houara (Morocco): From Fieldwork to World Music.”
Music and Anthropology 4.
Alexis. 1939. Tableau de la musique marocaine. Paris: Paul Geuthner.
Catherine and Christian Rault. 1999. Instruments de musique du Maroc et
d’al-Andalus. Paris: Fondation Royaumont/CERIMM.
Philip. 2001. “Morocco.” In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and
Musicians. Vol. 17: 135-145.