Modern Moroccan music combines a staggering array of musical styles from the Sufi gnawa tradition brought from West Africa by the slaves of Sultans to the rhythms of the desert; from the Judeo-Arabian style of Andalucia to international influences from across the oceans. Here is a short playlist of Moroccan artists to accompany your own (real or virtual) trip through the Kingdom.
Modern Moroccan Music: Ahmed Soultan
Ahmed Soultan hails from Taroudant in the Souss region of southern Morocco. He calls his musical style, in which he blends Arabic, French, Tamazight (Berber) and English languages, ‘Afrobian Soul’. His first single, Ya Salam (‘Wonderful’), was a big hit across North Africa. For a glimpse of the stunning scenery of argan forests, Atlantic beaches and Berber villages of his native Souss, check out the video to Ana O Rassi (Lit: ‘Me and my head’). To listen to some of his music, just press play:
Modern Moroccan Music: Hindi Zahra
Born in Morocco but largely based in France, singer-songwriter Hindi Zahra is another artist who manages to take traditional influences, mix them with other genres and overlay a multi-lingual lyric to fantastic effect and great acclaim. Her latest album, Homeland (2015), draws on styles as diverse as rock, tango, folk and jazz as well as her North African heritage with lyrics principally in Tamazight and English. From her first album, Handmade (2010), the tracks Beautiful Tango and Imik Si Mik (‘Little by Little’) typify the strength yet fragility of her voice and the diversity of her talents:
Modern Moroccan Music: Saad Lamjarred
Summer 2015’s massive hit was Lm3allem (‘The Master’), by Saad Lamjarred. Channelling the Bollywood beats that Moroccan youth seemingly can’t get enough of, the video resembles a Maghrebi Fied Bollywood chorus line designed by Morocco’s pop artist extraordinaire, Hassan Hajjaj. The lyrics talk of a m3allem, or master – “you’re the boss and in your presence we shut up and listen.” Saad Lamjarred’s personal life has taken a turn for the worse recently, but in terms of turning out a perfectly catchy pop tune, he’s the ma3allem! Check out his album Ghaltana here:
Modern Moroccan Music: Mohamed Rouicha
Mohamed Rouicha sadly passed away in 2012, but his particular style of Amazigh folk music, featuring his voice accompanied on loutar (a 3-stringed instrument related to the gnawa guembri) and by a female chorus, remains very popular throughout Morocco. Although many of his listeners don’t understand Tamazight, his songs have a power which transcends the lyrics. His most popular track is Inas Inass (‘Tell him, tell him’). Sit back and enjoy:
Modern Moroccan Music: Oum
Oum is a Moroccan singer-songwriter heavily influenced by the Saharan cultures of Morocco as well as traditional forms of Moroccan cultural expression such as the Hassani poetry of the desert and the Sufi movement of the Gnawa. Both her 4th album, Soul of Morocco (2013) and her 5th, Zarabi (2015, meaning ‘carpets’ in Moroccan Arabic) are dedicated to the desert town of M’Hamid el Ghizlaine, home to the annual Taragalte Festival. The latter is infused throughout with the sounds of the krakeb (metal castanets) and guembri (a 3-stringed bass lute), the traditional instruments of the gnawa, as well as the popular djembe drum of West Africa. Get to know Oum’s style through her single, Taragalte from the Soul of Morocco album:
Modern Moroccan Music: Hamid el Kasri
Finishing our playlist firmly in the gnawa tradition, Hamid el Kasri has achieved crossover popularity through his ability to update popular gnawa rhythms without losing their authenticity. He has collaborated with world music artists from the four corners of the globe and bears a great responsibility for the spread of gnawa music outside his native Morocco. A regular at Essaouira’s Gnawa Festival, his set is full of energy and passion. Seek out Lalla Aicha or Moulay Ahmed (both dedicated to Sufi saints) and hear the kraqeb castanets, said to represent the chains of the slaves who brought this music to Morocco from West Africa.