Sunday, February 16, 2014

Tamazight Twofer - Middle Atlas Violas


We love dem scratchy violas here at Moroccan Tape Stash! Usually, we like 'em served them up with some shikhat in old-school âita fashion. But great fiddlin' exists in Berber traditions as well. Here are two tapes of viola-driven ensembles, picked up in Beni Mellal 20 years apart.

Prelude spiel and questions about the viola in Moroccan ensembles: The European viola seems to have existed in North Africa for many many years. A couple of centuries, I'd guess. I don't know if it replaced indigenous bowed instruments in folk performance, or if it carved out its own place. Two Moroccan "art music" traditions - Arab-Andalusian âla and Soussi Berber amarg (music/song of the rwayes) - feature indigenous bowed instruments, both called rrbab, but completely different in construction and sound. The lone rebab in Arab Andalusian orchestras was joined (some would say overwhelmed) years ago by an entire section of violas. (I personally like the sound of the string section in that music.) The Soussi rrbab, on the other hand, seems to have retained its place as the sole bowed instrument in Tachelhit music traditions - even modern synth pop like this.

I don't know of any indigenous fiddles out of the Middle Atlas Berber (Tamazight) areas. If they did exist, they seem to have been completely replaced by the European viola. The iconic indigenous stringed instrument for the area is the plucked lotar, most famously played by Rouicha. The rhythmic instrument of choice in the region is the bendir, heard in everything from communal ahaidous song/dance performances to izlan sung poetry to the latest synth-pop. Yet violas do abound...

Our first tape is from Mohamed Alqat (or Mohamed Qat), on the label Edition al Khair out of Beni Mellal (j-card picture above). I picked this up in Beni Mellal in 1992. The ensemble sounds like viola, oud, and a pair of bendir-s.

The use of the oud, that most Arab of instruments, seems representative of the relative fluidity between Middle Atlas Arab and Berber musical styles and traditions. Many performers in the region double in Arab and Berber music. Rouicha and Najat Aatabou both became national starts through recordings in Arabic. Even Hadda Ouakki, perhaps the most famous "traditional" Tamazight singer in Morocco, grew up performing both Berber song and Arabic âita.

This tape has a very country feel to it, and is not too far removed from âita zaêriya of the neighboring regions.

The one videoclip I found of Mohamed Qat features an ensemble with both viola and lotar:


 
Alqat Muhammad wal Majmuâa (Édition al Khair 55)
Track 1 (excerpt) of 4
Get it all here.

Today's second tape is from Abdelâziz Ahouzar. Yala's biography page says he's from the area of Khenifra and has been active since the 1980's. I picked up this tape in Beni Mellal in 2012.

Both tapes feature Tamazight song with men and women alternating sung verses/refrains, violas leading the ensembles, and prominent bendir. The similarity ends there, however.

Ahouzar's music has a very urban, chaâbi feel to it. Indeed, Ahouzar's catalogue, lots of which you can hear over at Yala, contains Arabic chaâbi albums in addition to offerings in Tamazight. Ahouzar's viola riffs and instrumental bridges are right out of the chaâbi playbook.

Although the bendir-s are prominently featured in the mix, Ahouzar's rhythm section features a drum kit and/or darbuka as well, adding some chaâbi propulsion. And the keyboard bass and comping give this tape a very chaâbi texture.

Some differences between the two tapes stem from the 20-year difference between them. The faux-live-audience heard at the beginning of tracks 1-4 is something that started appearing in chaâbi recordings about 10 years ago - I first remember hearing these in Daoudi's recordings. And of course, the auto-tuned voices throughout the tape give this a contemporary flavor too. I like the way it sounds on this album - the high-pitched women's auto-tuned quarter tone pitches on track 2 are fantastic!

Discographic note: This album of Ahouzar, as well as most of those featured at Yala, are released on a label called Ahouzar Phone, out of Azrou. Is this Abdelâziz' own label? Why is there a picture of a lion's face in the company logo? I don't know, but would love to find out.

Here's Abdelaziz Ahouzar at the gynormous Mawazine festival in Rabat, 2010. Like the clip of Mohamed Qat above, the ensemble here features a lotar:



Amazon has an mp3 album of Ahouzar - a steal at $2.99. Plus there's loads of his stuff over at Yala.

Ahouzar Phone présente Abdelâziz Ahouzar (Ahouzar Phone 38/11)
01 Ibeddel Wawaal
02 Isouri Yâdil Ughrib
03 Ilinou Ilinou (excerpt below)

04 Merched Ihdi Moulana
05 Haidous

Get it all here.

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