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Various Artists
Songs and Rhythms of Morocco

cd cover A rare document of musical traditional expressions recorded entirely in Morocco. This collection focuses primarily on the peasant and pastoral traditions of two groups: the ancient Berber peoples of the Grand and Middle Atlas, and the legendary Moors, also known as the "Blue Men" a name derived from the intense color of their robes, and permanent blue staining of their skin. A wide variety of music including harvest rites, wedding festivities, a Heddaoua "Hashish" song and the erotic Moorish Guedra dance highlight this recording.

Liner Notes from the CD:

AMONG THE COUNTRIES OF NORTH AFRICA, Morocco offers the richest, most vibrant and diversified musical tradition and the most articulated contemporary documentation of the many stylistic cultural roots of so-called White African culture. The character of the music heard today in Morocco is a result of the many complex historical vicissitudes of the country of its ethnic make-up and geographical location.

The majority of Moroccans are Berbers, a large and varied ethnic group whose ancestors once occupied most of northern Africa from the Atlantic coast of Mauritania to the Red Sea, and in Morocco more than anywhere else, still maintain a certain numerical consistency and a specific cultural identity despite integration with other ethnic groups. In various historical epochs the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines and Turks tried to occupy the Berber territories, but only the Arabs managed to conquer their lands and merge with them in the late 600's, imposing profound changes in their customs and introducing them to the Islamic religion.

In order to fully understand the character of the present Berber population in Morocco (and in the Maghreb area generally) it should be remembered that even before the arrival of the Arabs and independently of other colonization and invasions, the Berbers were subjected to the consequences of an enormous natural phenomenon that can, in part, explain several aspects of the present situation. We know, in fact, that at one time a very extended area of what is today desert was once pasture, grazing lands and savanna where certain now-extinct types of African fauna lived. Then, with a speed that we can only assume was quite rapid, the desert began to spread until finally it completely destroyed the previous natural conditions. Even during the time of the Roman Empire there existed - and we have Pliny's written testimony - vast savannas and pasture lands where even elephants roamed. Threatened by the advancing desert sands the Berbers sought refuge in the highlands of the Atlas mountains a settled in the areas today known as Morocco and Algiers, where in fact we can still find them in numerous and culturally compact communities. Presumably it is at the end of this process of the natural transformation of the Sahara that marks the appearance of the nomad camel-drivers that today make up with a possible mixture of Berbers, the population of the Sahara, i.e., the Tuaregh, the Moors, the Teda and the Chaamba. This transformation appears to have taken place between the Second Century B.C. and the Third Century A.D. Where did these camel-drivers come from? Perhaps from southern Arabia, from oasis to oasis, up to the pre-Sahara lowlands of Morocco, to the shores of Rio de Oro and Mauritania. And it is perhaps also during this period, or somewhat later, that the Jews arrived in the Moroccan valleys and contributed, together with the Berbers, to the Judeo-Berber culture which exists to this day.

When the first Arab legions invaded Morocco during the Seventh Century the country already presented a rather compact ethno-cultural morphology, with Berbers, Moors, Jew and probably Sudanese from Black Africa. It was on this ethnic amalgamation, dominated by Berber culture, that Arab influence was superimposed, and the result of many successive invasions that transformed the culture to an Islamic one. Hoards of Bedouins arrived between the 12th and 13th Centuries and in Morocco and Algiers joined together with the Arabs who had been expelled from Spain and the Iberian who had been expelled from Spain and the Iberian Peninsula by the Spanish and Portuguese, bringing with them the wealthy and sophisticated "Andalusian" culture which still remains tin the "culture" music of the Maghreb.

While it may be true that in Morocco one finds a more consistent and compact Berber culture than in any other North African country, today it is quite difficult to detect an actual ethnic difference between Berbers and Arabs. The distinction can be made only in language differences and in the residue of pre-Islamic elements of some cultural aspects. It can be generally observed that the people who speak the Berber tongues live in the Atlas and anti-Atlas mountain areas, while the Arab-speaking groups live in the more fertile lowlands toward the Atlantic and in the cities.

The Berber dialects (there exist, in fact, strong differences from area to area, to the point of preventing communication between groups) are only spoken, the written language, once extant, having disappeared (1) and in Morocco can be divided into three distinct groups:

  1. The Berber dialect of the Rif mountain region (Tarifi), of Aenatiya origin, is spoken by the Rif mountain tribes, the sedentaries of eastern Morocco, the Middle Atlas region and the Figuig area (near the Algerian borders).

  2. The Berber Braber dialect (or Tamazizt), of Sanhadjiana origin, spoken by the nomads of the Middle Atlas range the upper eastern Atlas, and the valleys of Ziz, Gheris, Todgha Dades and Sargho.

  3. The Berber Chleuhs (or Tachelahe´t) dialect, spoken by the sedentaries of the upper central and eastern Atlas, the Sous of the anti-Atlas area and the oasis of the Bani region.

While the Jews of the pre-Sahara lowlands have now all emigrated to Israel, there are still groups in Morocco consisting of Moors or the so-called "blue men" whose name derived from the long, indigo-colored robes they wear and whose color partially stains their skin. The Moors live in the extreme south of Morocco (along the Dra river) and are nomad camel-drivers. They are completely islamized (with traces of magic-religious elements from pre-Islamic Bedouin tradition), and speak Arab intermixed with various Berber words. About 20,000 nomad Moors live in Morocco and total about half a million dispersed throughout five nations, besides Morocco, in Rio de Oro (Spanish Sahara), Mauritania (c. 320,000) Algerian Sahara and Mali. These "blue men" are closely related to the Tuareghs of the central Sahara.


This recording hardly pretends to document all the forms and modes of Moroccan music. From the voluminous material actually recorded, a careful selection has been made to particularly illustrate the characteristic aspects of peasant and pastoral traditions among the Berbers and the Moors, omitting, for the time being, both the "cultivated" (or so-called "Andalusian music") and folk music of the Arabs. Included in this collection is the music of the peoples of the Atlas mountain regions (Grand and Middle Atlas), the areas of Marrakech and Zagora, as well as that of the nomad Moors of the extreme South.


All the most important instruments used in Moroccan folk music, with particular attention to the Berber and Moorish traditions, are documented in this recording.

  1. aerophones
    nira: is a generic Arab name given to various types of reed flutes, of different lengths, with five, six or seven finger-holes. The most frequently used is a vertical flute with a notched mouthpiece that can be heard on Band 1, Side A. Also frequently used is a flute with two open ends and played in an oblique position which the Berbers call the talawat.

    rhita: is a widely used wooden oboe found throughout Morocco. It has seven finger-holes and one thumbhole. The reed is placed completely in the mouth cavity and the lips rest on an ivory disc. This instrument can be heard on Band 1, a and c, of Side B.

  2. chordophones
    amzhad: is a monochord violin used by the Berber nomads. The resonator is of wood, in a circular for (height 8, 10 cm, diameter c. 50cm), and is covered with goat-skin. The neck is relatively short and the bow (of curved wood) is made of horse-hair. It can be heard accompanying a song on Band 4, Side A. Its Arab nae is rbab el Soussi.

    guimbri: is a tow or three-stringed, plucked long lute and is typically Berber. It resonator is of hollowed wood, pear-shaped, and covered with goat-skin. The neck is thick and rotund. As a solo instrument is can be heard on Band 2 of Side A, and as accompaniment for a song with percussion on Band 1 b of Side B.

    kemenja: is none other, today, than the occidental viola. Like the rebec ( or rbab el Fassi) it is held vertically, on the knee (if the player is seated) or on the hip (If the player is standing). It is a typically Arab instrument, used for urban, artisan music It can be heard on Band 3 of Side B.

  3. membranophones
    bandir: is a single-headed tambourine about 50 cm in diameter and 7,9 cm in height with goat-skin covering on the side, without "jingles". It is held in the left hand (with the help of a thumb-hole cut in the ring) and played with the right. The Berbers call this instrument tagnza (Grand Atlas) or allun (Middle Atlas). Several types are made with two fine gut strings (or snares) under the skin to alter resonance. Bandir groups usually comprise not only instruments of different dimensions but also of different intonation, achieved by modifying the tension of the skins (by placing the instrument near a source of heat). The bandir can be heard on Bands 1 (without snares), 3 (with snares) and 5 (without snares), Side A.

    derbuka: is a generic name given to various types of drums whose bodies are made of terra-cotta in the form of a jug, open at both ends, but covered at one extremity by skin. There are derbuke of small dimensions (held in the fist) and larger ones (held between the knees or under the arm). The smaller types are played with one hand (the other holding the instrument) and the larger with both hands. Depending on the locale or its form the derbudka is called by different names: tarija, agual, etc.

    tbel: is a cylindrical, wooden drum which is hung at the neck and played with two curved sticks and is a typical instrument of the Sudanese Gnaua. The music of the Gnauas can be heard on Band 2, Side B.

    guedra: is the drum of the Moors (or "blue men"). It is played with two sticks or two hands and is in the from of a terra-cotta oil-jug and covered with skin at one extremity. Its name is also given to one of the most typical and best known Moorish dances. It can be heard on Band 7, Side A.

  4. idiophones
    querqbat: are large, double, metal castanets, typical of the Gnaua, and are played together with the tbel. These can be heard on Band 2, Side B.

    maqous: is the name given to any metallic object struck by one or two sticks, and can be substituted by a bottle or a terra-cotta jug. It is heard on Band 1b of Side B.




    This is exclusively a male dance, of military or war-like character, originating in the Valley of Dra, the center of which is the region between Telouet and Ourzazate. The music is played on the nire (reed flute), bandir and derbuke, and is accompanied by the clapping of hands and pounding of the dancer's feet.


    This document is an example of a virtuoso performance, played by a Berber from the Valley of Dra. For characteristics of the instruments see preceding relative notes.


    Together with the Ahouach (Band 5, Side A(, the Ahigous represents the most complex example of the musical and dance traditions of the Atlas mountain Berbers. The Ahidous is a typical dance of the Braber-speaking Berbers of the Middle Atlas regions. It is "performed" with the participation of the entire community, on various occasions during the calendar year, especially in coincidence with harvest rites. It is performed outdoors, and its basic pattern is that of a circle consisting of alternating men and women, with the musicians place in the center of the circle. Melodic instruments are sometime used, particularly flutes, but the usual, traditional instrumental group consists of only bandirs. The percussive group (sometimes made up of from ten to fifteen instruments) consists of bandirs of various sizes with skins more or less taut (tension being obtained by placing the drum near a source of heat) to obtain different timbres. The bandirs found in the area of the Ahidous are almost always equipped with two fine gut strings under the drum head (snares).

    The dance opens with an invocation(tamawouet) intoned by a soloist and the vocal part is then developed by way of an antiphonal pattern. The melody, based on short, strongly-rhythmic and repeated phrases, is chromatic. The basic rhythm, characteristic of the Ahouach, is constructed on a pattern of 3/8 and 3/4 (Ex. n. 1).

    The example included in this recording is the great Ahidous of Oules and Khenifr of the Middle Atlas region.


    The performer recorded herewith both sings and plays and is a Berber nomad from the Zagora region. For characteristics of the instrument see relative notes.


    The Ahouach corresponds to the Ahidous of the Grand and Middle Atlas regions. It takes place inside the kasbah, so typical of South Moroccan architecture. The rites are performed under the open sky but inside and at the foot of the high, earth-red walls and towers that enclose and form the kasbah. Some observers have likened the Ahouach of the Berbers from the Chleu territory to a kind of "opera", a performance which within the apparently elementary traditional canons, is a true, ritual spectacle.

    Normally the Ahouach is danced only by women who are dressed in multicolored costumes decorated with their silver ornaments. This is also a circle dance with the musicians and their bandirs in the center and the other men on the outside. Like the Ahidous the dance commences with the recitation of well-wishing, augural expressions, followed by the song which develops antiphonally between the men and women, mostly in the form of a diatonic melody. The basic rhythm pattern is in 2/4 time, but the rhythmic play of the various bandir, the clapping of hands and the song itself create a rather complex polyrhythmic situation. (Ex. n.2).

    The example documented in this recording in this recording is a typical Ahouach of the Upper Atlas, in its classic form, from Kelaa des M'Ngouna, a village in the Dades Valley, where can be found the large kasbahs of the pre-Sahara area.


    The Heddaoua are "storytellers" of an errant religious sect who perform in the squares and market places of small Moroccan towns and villages, reciting poems, maxims and proverb in a strange, allusive and magical language and with a particular style of rhythmic diction. The ultimate scope of their "message" is an invitation to give one's self up to hashish, as source of freedom and an aid to meditation. The Heddaoua appear with their lit narghilels, crouched on a rug, having set up before themselves rows of empty bottles and vases of artificial flowers symbolizing a blossomed, magical garden, and are surrounded by live doves that often rest on the shoulders and heads of the performers. They work in couples and their form of recitation consists of questions and answers. In the document contained in this recording the two Heddaoua are citing antonyms which refer to "male" and "female" objects; the recurrent theme, however, is an invitation to "smoke":

    "Light your pipe
    Smoke your pipe:
    The Almighty will give you peace
    Smoke and drink small sips of tea
    The Almighty will free you
    from your tribulations
    Smoke and breath deeply
    He who is jealous will know misery


    This is one of the most characteristic and best-known of the Moorish dances, its name deriving from the jug-shaped drum used as its accompaniment. It is a female dance with particularly erotic and oriental connotations. The female dance soloist, who performs in the middle of a circle of both men and women, moves with alternating slow and rapid body contortions and with hand and finger figurations, first on her feet then on her knees. This recorded document illustrates both tempo variations of the Guedra. The rhythmic scansion of the guedra drum is supported by the clapping of hands and by antiphonal singing between the men and women, with polyvocal patterns in the female parts (intervals of a third, fourth and fifth) (Ex. n.3. Ex. n.4).



    The three documents contained here illustrate three different parts of a wedding celebration in the home of a poor peasant family at the oasis of Tinherir. Weddings are of particular importance in Morocco and especially among the Berbers, are usually comprised of long rituals and ceremonies of considerable portent. For several nights relatives and friends of the family gather in the house of the wedding couple and spend the entire evening singing, smoking, eating, playing and drinking mint tea. Normally the men and women are segregated from one another. These three documents were recorded during the male festivities, the first and third in the room of the elders and the second in the room where the youths were gathered. The elders are gathered around the two parents and the youths around the bride-groom (who in this particular case was about sixteen years old!). The women, in the meantime, remain in a room next to that of the men, and without being seen, observe what is happening through a grated aperture in the wall (while commenting with shrill, trilled shouts). The rhita player heard here in 1.a and c. is the eleven-year-old brother of the bride-groom. The rhythm is produced by the clapping of hands and various-sized derbuke, and the melodic instrument in 1.b is a guimbri played by the bride-groom (who also leads the song). This last example is also accompanied by a derbuka and a bottle played with a stick.

  2. GNAUA

    The Gnaua are Sudanese negros who perform as musicians and acrobatic dancers in the market places of southern Morocco. They use percussive instruments only and precisely a drum called the tbel and metal castanets called querqbat.


    This is Arab music performed by two violas (kemenja) and several derbuke. It is typical of the Marrakech region and is of urban character, used particularly to accompany professional "belly dancers."

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