Saturday, May 19, 2012

Najat Aatabou (and the Jordanaires)

Here's another oldie from Najat Aatabou. I was always curious about this tape - All of her other albums from her debut in 1984(-ish) up to the mid-'90s were released on the Editions Hassania label. I'm guessing this tape, on the Nabilophone imprint, is an early one. It features the simple ensemble of her early Hassania cassettes - oud, bendir, darbuka, Najat's voice, and a male backing vocal section. This a great album with some classic tunes. I saw her in concert in 1999, and she included a couple of these in her set: "Halfa 'Alih" and "Sh'hal Suwwelt 'Alih".


I've always found it unusual when a backing vocal group doesn't merely repeat lyrics sung by a lead singer but instead transposes those lines to the third person. I'm thinking of Elvis Presley's "Teddy Bear", where he sings "Oh let ME be...", and the backing vocal group, the Jordanaires, echo with "Oh let HIM be...". I wonder what factors into a composer/arranger's decision to use this technique rather than a straight repeat of the lyrics.

Off the top of my head, I'd think that the technique could be used for any of several reasons, among these:
  • a) dramatic reasons - to highlight the subject position of the lead singer's persona in the song; 
  • b) gender reasons - when the lead singer is of a different gender than that of the choral group (i.e., when it might sound silly for a man to be singing the words just sung by a woman)
  • c) rhythmic reasons - e.g., in "Teddy Bear", Elvis sings "Oh let me be" to 4 straight quarter notes (not including the hiccups) - that is, all syllables are of equal duration. In the Jordanaires' echo, the rhythm changes to a syncopated one - the syllable "let" becomes a short one (an eighth note), followed by a longer "him" (quarter note). It would sound awkward to sing "let me" to this rhythm - "let him" sounds much more natural. (If you want to hear this, the phrase comes at about 0:15 in the clip below.)

Najat has a few songs that use this technique. On this album, the refrain of "Sh'hal Suwwelt 'Alih" features different lyrics when sung by Najat than when it is sung by the male response vocalists:

Najat The Boys
Sh'hal suwwelt 'alih
'Ajbu-ni 'aynih
Jibu-li dak elloun
Jibu-li k'hel laayoun
Ana ken-bghih
Aha ken-mout 'alih
Sh'hal SUWWLAT 'alih
'Ajbu-HA 'aynih
Jibu-L'HA dak elloun
Jibu-L'HA k'hel laayoun
RAHA KET-bghih
RAHA KET-mout 'alih

  For so long I've asked about him 
His eyes please me
Bring me that kind
Bring me the black-eyed one
I want him
I'm crazy about him

  For so long SHE's asked about him 
His eyes please HER
Bring HER that kind
Bring HER the black-eyed one
SHE wants him
SHE's crazy about him

Since none of the changed lyrics come at the end of the line, the rhyme scheme remains intact.

Off the top of my head, I can't think of songs by other Moroccan artists that use this technique. But in Najat's repertoire, you can hear it in "Sh'hal Suwwelt 'Alih" (listen below) and in "Mali Ana Ma 'Andi Zhar".

On another silly tangent, I always liked the outfit Najat is wearing on the right panel of the j-card. I recently found a video from a live performance where she wears it. In fact, I think the photo comes from this performace:

1) Halfa 'Alih
2) Mchite ou Jite
3) Ach Blani Bik, Ach Dani Lik
4) Sh'hal Suwwelt 'Alih

Get it here.


  1. Hahaha! This is hilarious, Tim!

    Thanks for this tape: old indeed; it's one of her earliest works.


  2. The backing singers are effecting the literary role of the Greek Chorus