Chance music from the souk system

Music is performed everywhere in Morocco - in concerts and cafes, at private homes, at circumcision ceremonies, marriages, funerals and religious processions, and also as an accompaniment to dancing and storytelling. For Moroccans music is more than entertainment; it is part of an important performance tradition that protects free expression in a country that has not always enjoyed the freedoms we take for granted in the West.

On Sunday April 4 I am presenting a programme on Future Radio of Moroccan music from CDs brought back from my recent visits. It starts with music from the Berbers. They are the indigenous people of North Africa and today comprise 85% of Morocco’s population. Berber music is closely linked both to poetry and to dance, and it uses the voice accompanied by either a flute or single-stringed fiddle called a rehab. These carry the melody while percussion supplies the rhythm; however today, as in my opening track, modern instruments may be used to reinforce the sound.

After the music of the Berbers comes the famous Moroccan band Jil Jilala which was founded by Hamid Zoughi a performing arts student from Casablanca in 1973. Jil Jilala took their name from the Jilala sufi brotherhood and the band became so popular in the 1970s that they were dubbed the Beatles of Morocco. At the time Jil Jilala’s use of a female vocalist was controversial in Morroco's strictly Muslim society where even today almost 60% of women are illiterate. Jil Jilala's music mixes traditional verse with lyrics about contemporary events, and their song about the liberation of the Moroccan Sahara has become an activist anthem.

Morocco's take on 1970s protest movement is followed by some of the country’s classical music. This has its roots in Al Andalus, the golden age of Moorish Spain which lasted from the tenth to fifteenth centuries. In its traditional form Moroccan Andalusian music uses North African instruments to accompany the voices, but the popular forms today have also incorporated Western instruments, as in the track I am playing by Adnan Sefiani and the orchestra of Salé

From Moroccan Andalusian music the programme moves to contemporary music, but it is modern music which retains its links with classical forms. Driss El Maloumi is one of the world’s leading players of the Eastern lute, the oud. He was born in the southern Morocco city of Agadir and as well as being an acclaimed solo performer he has worked with many leading musicians including Jordi Savall. The programme features two tracks from the suite composed by Driss El Maloumi titled Morocco: The Dancing Soul which pays tribute to the different traditions that have influenced the music of Morocco.

Gnawa is one of the most celebrated forms of Moroccan traditional music. It is a mix of sub-Saharan African, Berber and Arabic religious songs and rhythms which has its roots in the trance rituals of religious brotherhoods. Voices are supplemented by a three stringed lute called the guembri and by iron castanets, and all those ingredients feature in a track performed by the band Tyour Gnaoua with Abdessalam Allikane

The simple and hypnotic rhythms of gnawa have been incorporated into many fusion projects. One of the most successful exponents of this genre is the Algerian band Gnawa Diffusion who are hugely popular in Morocco. Gnawa Diffusion is an eight piece band that mixes vocals and traditional instruments with guitar and bass in a blend of Gnoua, reggae and roots. Their lead singer is called Amazigh Kateb. In the Berber dialect Amazigh means ‘Free Man’ and Kateb is the son of the great Algerian writer Kateb Yacine.

Poverty and corruption are among the issues covered in Gnawa Diffusion's lyrics. They also criticise global military actions and imperialism, although this did not stop the band releasing their best selling 2003 album Souk System through the French arm of American corporate record label Warner Music. But it is the music that matters, and my final track is Gnawa Diffusion's topical Head to head with Baghdad from their Souk System album, which also provides my header image.

* Listen to the podcast of the programme here. Chance Music from Morocco was broadcast and webcast at 3.00pm UK time on Sunday April 4, with a repeat at 1.00 am in the morning of April 5 for transatlantic listeners. With thanks to Tim Wilds for production assistance.

* The background track for my links come from La clef de Grenade by the Moroccan oud player Said Chraibi.

* Thanks go to the fortuitously named Bob Music in the souk in Essaouira where I found many of the CDs used in the programme. In the photo below I am selecting music for the programme with the owner of Bob Music Abderrahim Oubella in his store in Essaouira. It is a tough life being a music blogger.

Now I'm at the pudding shop.
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