Diving in the Traditional Moroccan Music

The Traditional Moroccan Music is one of the richest music all over the world due to its verity. It is characterized by its great diversity from one region to another, as well as to different ethnic and social groups.  When you travel from the north to the south and from the west to the east, you will be astonished by the different accents and piercing folklore; people’s stories are sung warmly.

Moroccan people use music to immortalize their history, to preserve their culture, and to transmit their beliefs to the youngsters. It is a cultural heritage from the ancestors.

The influence, caused by other musical styles such as Amazigh, Andalusi, Arab, Mediterranean, Saharan, West African, and others, has enriched and improved the quality of the Moroccan music.

There is another feature that characterizes its styles; which is geography. Andalusi and Malhun  are related to urban centers in the north, Chaabi and Aita are common in the Atlantic coastal plains, Reggada is associated with the northeast region, Gnawa is found in Essaouira and Marrakesh, Ahidus is associated with the Middle Atlas, Ahwash is related to the Souss region, and Guedra in the Sahara. 

1. Amazigh Folk Music

History has proved that Amazigh people were the first inhabitants of Morocco. Their mother tongue was Tamazight language with various accents and eloquent vocabulary.  Regarding our topic, there are many types of Amazigh Music, such as:

1.1 Ahidus

It is a form of collective dancing and singing of the Amazigh tribes in Middle and Eastern High Atlas.  This branch is impacted by the outstanding scenic beauty of the surroundings: lakes, water sources, waterfalls, green fields, snow-covered mountains, high summits, and large forests. The songs’ themes are derived from the tribe’s daily life, nature, harvest … The dancers form a circle and start singing, and clapping their palms accompanied on the beat of Bandir (a small drum made of goat’s leather).

Middle Atlas music is strongly related to Loutar (cords).  Loutar is also the name of the main instrument similar to the Oud.  This music is touching and provoking; it calls for buried memories

1.2 Ahwash

It means singing in the Tamazight language. It is a collective musical form associated with Amazigh communities in southern Morocco, particularly around Ouarzazate, the Draa Valley, and Souss. It involves dancing, singing, poetry, and percussion. Ahwash Dance is collective and includes both men and single women. The dancers’ movements are simultaneous and similar; however they differ in terms of rhythms according to occasions and regions.  It generally expresses joy and happiness.

1.3 Rif

There is also a special and remarkable style associated with the Eastern Rif in the north of Morocco.  Regarding its lyrics and rhythms, it is absolutely profound. Most modern singers from Rif regions use the guitar as the main instrument while performing.

“Gar Gar Ya Zoubida” is a famous song sung for centuries in the countryside in honor of the legendary Queen of the Countryside. It’s even been translated into 9 different languages. Its rhythm is taken from Reggada folklore.

2. Chaabi Folk Music

(means popular). It is a music style essentially sung in the Moroccan colloquial speech and frequently found in weddings, celebrations, and festivals.  The most famous Chaabi singers are:

Aita(means the call or the cry) It was born in the countryside of Morocco, especially in the Atlantic plains, in areas such as Doukkala-Abda, Chaouia-Ouardigha, and Rehamna.  It is an ancient art that appeared since the ages of the Sultans.  It was strongly crystallized during the colonization as a form of resistance against the invaders.  It was based on poems bearing coded meanings that only locals could understand against the enemy.

3. Reggada

It’s a traditional music and dance genre that originated in the rural mountains of the north east regions of Morocco. In the 90s, this dance was officially called Reggada.  This name is related to a small town called Ain Rakada, in Berkane Province and it is popular in Oujda, Taourirt, etc. This folklore is considered as an ancient war dance of Amazigh fighters. In fact, the warriors danced triumphantly and waved the guns.   The dance is performed by many men under the direction of a leader (Sheikh). They dance with shoulder movements, or shotguns (or sticks), and kick the feet on the floor following the rhythm of music. Kicking on the floor take an important place in this folklore and symbolizes the belongingness to the earth. The dance is interspersed with several special instruments, such as the binder, the flute, etc.                                                                                                                                                  

4. Hassani music

It is an artistic musical style associated with people in the eastern Moroccan Sahara. It is a mixture of the African and Arabic music. The major characteristic of this style is precisely the use of Hassani poetry accompanied with specific African-like rhythm.  

5. The Jewish music

Morocco is famous for its ethnic diversity. Among its ethnic communities, there are the Jews.   They played a crucial role in preserving the Moroccan music. It is very common to find some and old well-know songs performed by Jewish singers. They were performing all Moroccan music styles, especially the Gharnati genre. This one is based on the mixture of the Arabic music and The Andalusi Music.  It is characterized by a sad rhythm due to the historic background; when Jews and Muslims were forced to leave Granada towards the north of Africa. The songs were about the sorrows caused by leaving their homes and loved ones.  There is an annual festival organized in Essaouira in which Jews share Almatrouz music (the combination between Gharnati and Jewish music genres) along with Muslim singers. 

6. Andalusi classical music    

Andalusi classical music is a major genre of Arabic music found in different local subtypes across the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya in the form of the Ma’luf style). It was originally developed in Al-Andalus by the native Muslim population of Andalusia and the Moors between the 9th and 15th centuries. In the 13th century, ethnic Andalusian communities had migrated earlier to North Africa, which helped this elite music to take root and spread among wider audiences. Today, each of the modern nations of North Africa has at least one style of Andalusian music. In Morocco, the instrumental version is called Al-Āla, while the religious style is called al-samāʿ wa-l-madih.

7. Gharnati music

 The name was derived from the Arabic name of the Spanish city of Granada. Gharnati was preserved, enriched and developed in Tlemcen in Algeria.  It was brought to Rabat and Oujda in Morocco by Algerian families who moved and settled there.

8. Malhun

 Malhun, meaning “the melodic poem”, is a form of music that originated in Morocco. It is a mixture of the folk art of the Aita and AL-Andalusi Music. It uses the Moroccan dialect as its tool, and the contents of poetry and prose in the classical Arabic language. Classical Malhun is a kind of warm music associated with urban centers. It has been played around in the streets of Morocco for over a thousand years.

The Hassani music also includes dancing; there are a lot of dances such as: Guedera; in which men form a circle around a female dancer.  Men enthusiastically sing and clap their hands while the dancer moves her body and fingers in a symbolic way.  The dancer should cover her face with her Mlahfa (similar to a cloak).  There is also Guera; this dance is performed by two men.

9. Classical Sufi music

The Moroccan music is also known for possessing a particular type related to the spiritual side. It is spiritual because of the belief that the heart should be repaired and turned towards only God.  It gathers its themes from the absolute love of The Creator and Allah’s praising.  Every year, Spiritual Music Festival is organized in Fez.

9.1 Issawa

It is a religious Islamic mystical brotherhood. It was founded in Meknes, Morocco, by Sheikh al-Kamil Mohamed al-Hadi ben Issa (or Aissa) in1465–1526. They are known for their spiritual music, which generally comprises songs of religious topics, characterized by the use of the oboe (called Ghita). They organize some private ceremonies and use symbolic dances to bring the participants to an ecstatic trance: the participants are in a temporary mental condition in which they are not completely conscious.  They are not in control of their actions and of what is happening around them.  

9.2 Gnawa music  

Gnawa refers to a set of musical performances. It is Sufi brotherhood music combined with a generally religious content and the call of ancestors’ support. It has its roots back to West African origins; it was initially brought to Morocco by Sub-Saharan Africans and gradually became part of the Moroccan musical tradition and identity. The main instrument is a lute-drum with three cords (‘called the “guenbri”),  in addition to large drums ( called “tbel” or “qanqa”) and metal double castanets( called “garageb”) accompanied by the chanting. The Gnawa musicians organize a night ceremony known as “derdeba or Lila” in which followers devote themselves to fall into a deep trance.  Followers believe that Gnawa music is therapeutic. Gnawa Festival is an annual event organized in Essaouira City, in which famous Gnawa masters (called Maalems) are gathered.  People who play it are very spiritual.

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