Saturday, September 10, 2011

Bouchaib el Bidaoui - Mellifluous-Voiced Cross-Dressing Singer of Aita Marsawiya

Continuing with another aita post, and vintage stuff too. This tape is another vinyl-to-cassette dub, purchased from a vendor in Rabat in the mid-'90s.

My translation of a short article on Bouchaib el Bidaoui:
He is regarded by many experts as the renovator and modernizer of the art of Aïta. "Before Bouchaïb the Aïta was limited to being a traditional country song, tribal and pastoral. He succeeded in urbanizing the art by maintaining the lyrics while developing more sophisticated musical arrangements, says Hassan Bahraoui, author of "The Art of the Aïta in Morocco".
Bouchaïb formed, with violinist Marshal Kibbou and Bent Chikha Louqid the star-troupe of the 50s and 60s. At first, nothing predisposed this colonial French lawyer's accountant and native of Derb Dalia (in the old medina of Casablanca) to become the darling of the Moroccan pop music. It was at a chance meeting in the 1940's with two bourgeois fans of chikhate, Benjdiya and Ben M'sik... that he attended performances of the stars at the time, Hajja Rouida and Arjouniya, at moussem-s and weddings. "It was from there that Bouchaïb choose his vocation as a chikh," says Mr. Bahraoui.
With independence [1956], festivity gains the four corners of the kingdom to celebrate the return of Mohammed V and regained freedom. The artist increased his appearances and made his first recordings for Boudraouaphone and Baïdaphone. "He did fantastic work on the repertoire. He excelled in Marsawi aita-s and made the songs of Abda available to the general public. Finally, Bouchaïb would improvise his own successful aita-s that are still performed today, such as "Dabayji", "Milouda bent Driss" and "Alkass a Abbas," the professor emphasized...
Bouchaïb died in 1964 at the age of 35.
Although the quote states that Bouchaib el Bidaoui chose the profession of shikh, it would be more accurate to say that he chose the profession of shikha - he sang women's songs in a woman's vocal range, and performed wearing women's clothing. He was not the first Moroccan performer to do this, but was the first to reach national stardom in this role, in the age of mechanical reproduction.

The style of aita represented here is different from that of my previous aita posts. If my memory is correct, this style, aita marsawiya, is associated with the coastal region around Casablanca and El Jadida. In addition to the viola, oud, and bendir, the darbuka is used here.

I don't see any Bouchaib el Bidaoui video footage on the web (though I could swear I've seen some before, perhaps on Moroccan TV.) However, if you close your eyes and listen to Khalid from the Ouled Bouazzaoui group, you could swear you're hearing Bouchaib el-Bidaoui - he's a dead ringer. But don't close your eyes - Khalid's a great performer and plays the viola as well as sings (though he doesn't wear women's clothes).

Here are a couple of websites with a bunch of streaming audio of Bouchaib el Bidaoui:
Some songs on my tape can be found in the above links - some in different recorded versions, some duplicates of what are here. Some have less surface noise than my versions, though bitrate is not always so good. A few of the songs on my tape I couldn't find anywhere else on the web, including the famous "Daba Iji". Can't find my original cassette j-card for this, so track titles are best guesses or cribbed from elsewhere:
  1. Daba Iji
  2. Ma Cheftou Leghzal
  3. Ma Cheftou Leghzal pt. 2
  4. Kharboucha
  5. Kharboucha pt. 2
  6. Track 06
  7. Al-Ma'bud Allah
  8. Rkoub el Kheil (Mal Hbibi)
  9. Rkoub el Kheil pt 2
  10. Lli Bgha Habibou
  11. Lli Bgha Habibou pt 2
  12. Chiaa Alik
  13. Nghadrou Kissane
  14. Aalach Taadini
  15. Taarida 
Get it here.

BTW - More quintuple meter featured here in this tape ("Lli Bgha Habibou").

BTW2 - The marsawi version of "Kharboucha" (heard on this tape and in the video clip) opens with a 42-beat rhythmic cycle. This differs from the hasbawi version of "Kharboucha" performed by Fatna bent el-Houcine here, which opens with a 40-beat cycle.


  1. Tim, is all aita from the atlantic coast originally?

  2. @Owl - glad you dug it!
    @Anonymous - There are several regional genres called aita. I don't know if they're all historically connected. The Hasbawi and Marsawiya styles seem to be connected (they both feature versions of the song "Kharboucha", for example), and these both originate in Atlantic coastal areas. Other varieties originate in different areas and sound much different - the Hawziya is from around Marrakech, there are styles associated with Beni Mellal and Khouribga, even further inland, and the Aita Jbaliya comes from the mountainous region in the north of Morocco. There are other varieties, which I can't recall, but I don't think they come from much further east than those areas. So - I'd venture that aita is not exactly coastal, but is certainly from the Western side of Morocco.

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