Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mahmoud Guinia with Insane Drum Kit (a.k.a. Mahmoud Guinia and Warren Beatty)

M'allem Mahmoud Guinia of Essaouira was for years the most well-known Gnawa musician inside and outside of Morocco. (In recent years, Hamid el-Kasri of Rabat has become the Gnawa musician most often seen on national TV broadcasts in Morocco). He has released scores of cassettes and CDs in Morocco, some featuring the traditional ensemble of guinbri and qraqeb, some incorporating additional instruments and textures into the mix.

For this session, M'allem Mahmoud brings a full Gnawa ensemble with guinbri, qraqeb and spirited choral responses, and adds a funky trap drummer who never, ever stops. Ever. Don't look for subtlety here. This tape hits the ground running and maintains a sprint from start to finish.

Also, don't look here for tunefulness. Other than at the end of track 3 (for the imported Aissawi version of "Lagnawi Baba Mimoun"), the vocals are never in tune with the guinbri. Between this and the in-your-face hi-hat and drum rolls from the anonymous trap drummer, this tape might be a rough ride for some listeners. But Mahmoud's singing (despite the tuning issues) is high-spirited and energetic, as is that of the choral responders. And the drum kit, while punctuating incessantly, is always right in the pocket. It's a blast!

The songs on this tape are drawn mainly from a repertoire the Gnawa call "Soussiya". Soussi is a Moroccan rhythm characterized by alternating duple and triple subdivisions of a 6/8 measure. It's the most popular and ubiquitous rhythm across Morocco. At the end of Gnawa derdeba ceremonies, musicians segue from the trance repertoire to "popular" (i.e., not part of the ritual repertoire) songs in this rhythm, and anybody that is still present and awake (since this usually occurs long after dawn) is welcome to get up and dance. The first couple songs of track 1 belong to the Yellow trance repertoire, and the rest of it is an incessant Soussi jam. Tracks 2 and 4 are also Soussi songs, while track 3 includes trancing songs.

I heard this tape originally in '92. (I believe my traveling companion JH bought it and later gifted it to me.) The j-card reads only "The Gnawi Mahmoud Guinia". The smiling, bespectacled tambourine man, whom we assumed was the drummer on the session, is not identified. JH dubbed him Warren Beatty, and for us this became the Mahmoud Guinia and Warren Beatty album.

Tracks (titles from my transcription, not from j-card):
  1. Lalla Mira - Moulati Fatma - Soussi - Malika - Moulay Abdellah Cherif - Bouya Ribu - Lemwima Hada Mektab - Llahi blik ma blani - Selliw 'ala Nnbi - Llah Llah Nabina
  2. Tijaniya
  3. Jilali Dawi Hali - Lagnawi Baba Mimoun
  4. Salbani 'Awju Koman 'Aliya - Lalla L'arosa - Mulay Abdellah Cherif - Lalla Fatima Zohra - Lahbib Sidi Rasul Allah - Sla u Salam 'alik a ya Taha
Get it here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Nass el Ghiwane - the rare 2nd album (with both Boujemâa and Paco)

 L-R - Omar Sayed, Boujemâa H'gour, Allal Yaala, Abderrahmane "Paco" Kirouche, Larbi Batma

Nass el Ghiwane - what can I say. Like trying to introduce rock and roll in one blog post. They set the world of Maghrebi music on fire in the early '70s. Fierce, driving rhythm. Trenchant resonant lyrics. Fiery group singing, heartbreaking solo singing. Archaic and modern, subversive and traditional. And, to the best of my knowledge, the first time the now ubiquitious Gnawa guinbri (or sintir or hajhouj or whatever name your prefer) was used in a popular music context.

The most long-lived incarnation of the group was from '74 to '95, as a quartet with Larbi Batma (tam-tam & vocal), Omar Sayed (bendir & vocal), Allal Yaala (snitra & vocal) and Abderrahmane "Paco" Kirouche (Gnawa guinbri & vocal). Most of the available classic recordings of the group (like this and this) feature this lineup.

The original, mythic lineup thru '73 was a 5-piece featuring Larbi, Omar and Allal plus Moulay Abdelaziz Tahiri on guinbri and Boujemâa H'gour on da'du' and vocal. Boujemâa is remembered as the fire and spirit of the group in these early days. The group's first recordings feature this lineup. They are often hard to find, but have recently been reissued as the first 7 tracks of this collection.

After Tahiri's departure in '73 to join Jil Jilala, Paco joined the group, which remained a 5-piece until Boujemâa's untimely death in '74. This lineup is pictured above. Some of the classic songs of the group's repertoire date from this period but can be found only in re-recordings by the later quartet (or, worse, by the group after Paco's departure in '95 and/or Batma's death in '97). I have never once seen a release of the recordings of this quintet on cassette or CD.

Yet several singles and an LP were released by the '73-'74 quintet. I've run across this single a couple of times:

And on one occasion I saw a full LP featuring this line-up. The design of the album cover looked similar to the single shown here. The LP was in a shop in Marrakech in Riad Zitoun. If you've ever looked for vinyl in Morocco, you know that most stores that own vinyl will not sell it to you, but are happy to record it onto cassette for you.

Here's a digital transfer of my cassette copy of the Marrakchi shop owner's vinyl copy of the 2nd Nass el Ghiwane album. All of these songs were re-recorded by the quartet after Boujemâa's death, and some of them were released on an album called "Hommage à Boujemâa". It was particularly moving for me to hear this version of "Ghir Khoudouni", with Boujemâa singing the final verse:

Good luck doesn't die
Love doesn't die
Goodness doesn't die
Justice doesn't die
Peace doesn't die

In later recordings and performances, Omar would sing that verse and add the line "Boujemâa doesn't die".

I'm not convinced that Paco is on all of these tracks.  He's definitely on "Ghir Khoudouni" (both singing and playing. Some tracks feature no guinbri at all, and the guinbri playing (and tuning) on "Youm Malkak" sounds like Moulay Abdelaziz Tahiri.  But Boujemâa's great singing can definitely be heard singing on all tracks. (He's the one that sings the solo portions at the opening of "Lahmami")

1) Al Hessada
2) Ghir Khoudouni
3) Lahmami
4) Mzine Mdihek
5) Youm Malkak (Ah Ya Ouine)
6) Ya Sah

I have no idea why these tracks have never been reissued.  Luckily, you can get them here.
And there's more Paco here and here.

UPDATE 3/24/2013:
I just ran across these images online - someone was selling a vinyl copy of the album in France, and uploaded the following images:

This is not the cover I remember seeing in the Marrakech shop, but perhaps my memory is hazy. Or perhaps this is an alternate cover - I could have sworn the album looked like the Polydor 45 pictured above.

At any rate, it looks like the running order of tracks is as follows:

1 Lahmami
2 Mzine Mdihek
3 Youm Malqak
4 Al Hessada
5 Ghir Khoudouni

Which means "Ya Sah" was a bonus track that the Marrakchi shop owner added to the tape. Indeed, it does sound like it comes from a different slab of vinyl than the other tracks. A non-LP 45 then?

Twinge-of-nostalgia-for-bygone-audio-technology-days note: For those of you who used to copy LPs onto cassettes for friends (or receive such dubs from friends), remember when you'd have a 45 minute side of a tape and the album would only be 37 minutes long and you would search for 2 or 3 perfect bonus songs to fill up the blank space at the end of the tape? Such were the joys...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Noujoum El Haouz - (electric guitar-driven rural Arabic song)

First off, this is NOT the cassette sleeve that originally went with this tape. It is the same artist, though, and the cassette that went with this sleeve went missing years ago, so this is the best I can do.

Listening to Moulay Ahmed Elhassani got me thinking about Moroccan guitars, so I dug out this tape. This is straight-up aita, the most deeply-rooted and beloved rural Arab genre of Morocco. Like the Elhassani tape, this uses an electric guitar in place of a traditional instrument - here, it would normally be a violin (kamanja) - and a drum kit to augment bendir and ta'rija hand drums.

Aita recordings usually feature the name of the lead female singer (shikha) and/or the leader(s) of the musical ensemble (Sheikh so-and-so, or Ouled such-and-such). Noujoum El Haouz ("Stars of the Haouz") gives no names, and features only a picture of the guitar player on the j-card. An unusual configuration.

Though a bit of an oddity, the tape has a great feel to it. The alternating female lead vocals are great, and I love the way that fills on the drum kit punctuate the ends of phrases. Also, it's great to hear the violin riffing of the aita transposed to an electric guitar! Gives it a different rhythmic impulse. I'll try and get some trad aita up here in the near future.

BTW - this is a digital transfer of a tape that I dubbed from a well-loved tape that was lying around someone's house in Marrakech in '92. Side 1 sounds better than side 2. But you get a nice verité at the beginning of track 3 where someone in the house pressed record instead of play and recorded over part of the track. I wonder why Moroccan commercial cassettes were never sold with the tabs punched out to prevent recording over them.

BTW2 - notice again here extra frets added to the guitar for the quarter-tone intervals.

Get it here.

Moulay Ahmed Elhassani - Middle Atlas Amazigh song with slinky electric guitar

Glad y'all enjoyed the Rouicha cassette. I had some requests for more from this genre. I've got some more good Rouicha, but thought I'd offer this one up first. Same genre (Middle Atlas izlan), same bluesy groove. Moulay Ahmed Elhassani does it using a slinky, phased-out electric guitar instead of the lotar, and drum programming (or a really tight rhythm section of a single bendir, darbuka and drum kit) instead of the bendir section.

Does it still jam? Oh yes! Unlike many Moroccan genres where increases in tempo are typical over the course of a song, izlan tend to set a groove and tempo right at the beginning of the song, and stick to it all the way through. So the drum programming (if that's what it is) works pretty well. And the guitar sounds great - psychedelic, but using almost the same phrasings you'd expect from the lotar. Though if you pay attention, you'll hear the occasional string-bending (e.g., the fade-out of track 2) that you can only get on a guitar.

BTW1 - On the cassette cover, I'm pretty sure I can spot an extra fret bar on his guitar (at the far right of the photo), which lets him hit the quarter-tone pitches when he needs them.

BTW2 - No song titles are listed here. The j-card says only "various amazigh songs"

This tape dates from around 1997. The early tapes of his that I heard were all in Tamazight. Apparently he records and performs in Arabic as well, as in this TV performance (which features an odd looking instrument - appears to be a 6-string guitar converted to use 4 thick strings - like the lotar):

Get it here.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Mohammed Rouicha - 'Afak al-hwa hda 'liya, Nari 'ala zzin hlakni bil nakhwa

This is my fave, most jamming Rouicha tape. The Middle Atlas izlan genre is the bluesiest of Berber genres to my ear, and Rouicha makes the lotar talk like no other. By recording in both his native Tamazight and in Moroccan Arabic (as in this tape from the 1980s), Rouicha popularized this groove across the Moroccan population.

Rouicha is so cool that, like with James Brown's record labels, he gets his picture not only on the cassette sleeve, but on the shell too.

Active since the 1970s, Rouicha continues to pump out the tapes/CDs/VCDs. There are dozens. Last time I visited the Comptoir Marocain de Distribution de Disques, which is also the Tichkaphone records headquarters, I was told there were still 30 albums in the can, ready to be released. They never stray far from the formula - deep, round lotar tones contrast with the insistent rattling buzz of bendir frame drums, and Rouicha's earthy baritone voice alternates with the piercing responses of the female backup singers. Why mess with a good thing?

There's loads of good Rouicha on YouTube, but not much of his music has been released outside of Morocco.

Get some here.

Thanks for the comments and notes

Thanks everyone for your interest in the blog! Some of you have written me, and I apologize for not getting back to you all yet. This month is particularly busy, but I promise to get back to y'all as soon as I can. Wishing you a great summer!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Bnate Houara

Marrakchi old-school women's party music - rollicking call-and-response singing with funky stratified rhythms on a variety of buzzy drums plus a brake drum or tea tray for some metal clang. This sort of group typically has some songs that roll from start to finish in the typical Moroccan 6/8. They have another type that begins in 7/8 and moves to 5/4, with the same melody stretched to fit into the new meter! Here's a whole tape of those, c.1990.

Get it here.