Saturday, February 3, 2024

People Doing Whatever and Calling It Gnawa, Part One

When "Gnawa" is on the package, you never know what you'll find inside.

I recently obtained this 45 rpm 7" record. It likely dates from the early 1970s. Sure, it looks like it would contain a recording of a Gnawa group from a performance at the storied Festival des Arts Populaires (commonly known as the Folklore festival). Gnawa groups perform regularly at this Marrakech festival, including the Ismkhan - Amazigh-speaking Gnawa groups, always clad in white foqia robes, like the group pictured on the sleeve of this record.

Like these guys:

Sure, that would be logical. But who is this, and why is he on the back of the sleeve?

Saddik Jaghalef? Who is this man? Why is he pictured in dapper fashion with cuff links, bow tie, and cigarette? One assumes he's not part of the Gnawa troupe. Is he on the flip side of the record? Gnawa on side A and Saddik on side B? Why does the front list catalog number MB 797 while the back lists MB 798? Maybe the labels on the record will clarify?

Side A reads  اڭناوة - أهازيج مغربية which translates as Gnawa - Moroccan Songs. Side B reads just أڭناوة Gnaoua. And both sides show catalog number MB 797, so maybe this is simply the Gnawa folkloric troupe from the festival and this Saddik Jaghalef is on another disc MB 798. Let's take a listen...

The opening announcement says Istouanat Boussiphone, Jghalef Sddik - that's the name of the record label, Edition Boussiphone, and the vocalist's name, Jghalef Saddik. A group of people shout out something unintelligible, and what follows is possibly the worst excuse for a Gnawa record I've ever heard. 

There's one qarqaba player and one person playing a tbel barrel drum. And there's a call and response vocal between Saddik and a mixed-gender group of vocalists. Saddik sings all the lyrics on the same pitch, and the group responds on the same pitch, when they even sing in pitch. When the "singing" stops and the drums keep going, the vocalists become audience members cheering on the action. At some moments the qarqaba and drum accent a note, then rest for a couple of beats as if they were responding to the movements of Gnawa dancers.

This is a fake Gnawa record. That is, it is a recording of people pretending to be Gnawa musicians pretending to perform in front of an audience at the Folklore Festival in Marrakech. The "song" features a couple of lyrics that can be found in Gnawa songs: Lalla takul lhayma/Sidi yakul chhayma comes from "Khali Mbara Meskin", and the choral reply "a bam bam bara" comes from the song "Sudani Minitara"

Sudani Minitara might be the perfect song for a fake Gnawa record - it features arguably the most exotic aspect of Gnawa lyrics - the fact that some words are the remnants of non-Arabic languages spoken by the sub-Saharan forbears of the Gnawa. Jghalef Saddik doesn't sing the main lyrics one typically hears in Sudani Minitara, but it doesn't matter much, since most people who hear the song receive its lyrics as nonsense. "A Bam Bam Bara" does make an easy singalong for crowd participation:

By the second song of this 4-track EP, all Gnawa pretenses have been dropped, and we are simply listening to a novelty record. "Dyal Ba" sounds like something a Marrakchi tkitikate group might sing if they only had one tbel, one pair of qarqabas, and nobody knew any real songs so they just started saying the googly things that adult humans say to babies. And by side B we've moved on to pseudo-Latin Dance singalongs Baila La Bamba and Cha Cha Cha Malika. The group is singing actual pitched notes now, but it doesn't really improve the vibe. Saddik does throw a "Sudani" or "Gnawi" into the lyric here and there, but it's still just nonsense. By the end of side B he is singing a romantic melody in Arabic, French and English: Ya Habibi, Mon Amour, Ya Habibi, I Love You...

This was still early days in the endeavor of recording sounds onto physical media and calling them Gnawa, and apparently you could get away with releasing something like this and calling it Gnawa. What was Boussiphone thinking when they put this out? What was the intended audience for the record, and would this have satisfied their expectations? A clue may be the fact that it is marketed as a recording from the Folklore "Fistival". I don't know the exact date of this record's release, but I would place it sometime in the early-to-mid-1970s. According to the website of the Festival des Arts Populaires, Gnawa groups only began performing at the Festival in 1974. So perhaps this record is trying to capitalize on that recent addition.

[Aside - it blows me away that Gnawa groups were not featured in the Folklore Fest before 1974. By that year, Nass el Ghiwane and Jil Jilala had raised awareness about the cultural value of Gnawa music by incorporating the sintir and Gnawa melodies into their highly popular music. I wonder whether Gnawa's entry into the Folklore Festival was a response to this popular reevaluation!]

I could find no mention of Jaghalef Saddik anywhere online, outside of these 2 EPs on Boussiphone. According to what has been catalogued at Discogs, two discs were released with the same sleeve: MB 797 and MB 798. So if you seek more from this recording session, there's more to be had. Also, there is an alternate sleeve shown on Discogs - it looks like Saddik wearing some sort of Gnawi headgear, yet also sporting a turtleneck sweater.

By the way, the photo of the Gnawa group on the sleeve appears to be from the 1940s, according to the Maison de la Photographie de Marrakech.

This blogpost is Part One - I have at least one other example to share of a recording that purports to be of Gnawa but which is also a fake recording. I'll get around to it eventually. Don't worry, there's more actual good music coming too.


Saddik Jaghalef
Gnaouas ڭناوا
Fistival De Marrakech - Folklore Marocain

Boussiphone MB 797
45 RPM, 7"

Side A label reads:
أهازيج مغربية

Side B label reads:

From listening, here is my breakdown of tracks:

announcement : "Istouanate Boussiphone,  Jghalef Sdik"
A1) Bam Bam Bara
A2) Dyal Ba

announcement: "La Bamba!"
B1) Baila La Bamba
B2) Cha Cha Cha Malika

FLAC | 320

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

2003 Pop Culture Snapshot in Dqiqi From - Dakka El Marrakechia Nou Nou - Youm Wara Youm

I've extolled the virtues of dqiqiya (a.k.a. tkitikate) men's percussion and vocal groups in these pages before, most comprehensively in the post Tkitikate! Tkitikate! Party Time! Excellent!. I went as far as to posit the genre as "an active repository of Moroccan musical memory... like a jukebox". 

To be clear, I meant to say that A GOOD, LIVE DQIQIYA GROUP functions like that. 

Clown Sings About Pokémon cassette j-cardOn the other hand, there is a variety of commercial cassette that while exhibiting some sonic similarities to dqiqiya is primarily a cash-in on whatever is floating around in pop culture at the moment. This type of cassette does have the potential to be awesome, depending on how you feel about global pop hits, novelty tunes, and theme songs to TV programs. A prime example of this is the unforgettable Clown Sings About Pokémon cassette I shared here many moons ago.

However, this sort of cassette should not be taken as representative of the genre of dqiqiya. And it CERTAINLY should not be taken as representing the genre of Daqqa Marrakchia. (For my explication of the confusion between Daqqa Marrakchia and Dqiqiyya, see my post Ashura in Marrakech - Daqqa Marrakchiya.)

All of this is a preface to talking about today's offering a 2003 cassette credited to a group called Dakka El Marrakechia Nou Nou. It is not a recording of the folkloric genre of Daqqa Marrakchiya, and it is not a recording of a standard dqiqiya group. It is a studio creation with some of the sonic trappings of dqiqiya, presenting itself with the name Daqqa Marrakchiya, and trying to have some fun (and cash in) on the latest pop culture trends.

For full disclosure, I had to shed a lot of baggage before writing about this novelty cassette because it pushed so many of my musical and musicological buttons. Here's what I scribbled down while I was listening to the tape:

  • I know I should get over it, but it bugs me that men's percussion and vocal ensembles, more properly known as tkitikate or dqiqiya, are typically sold under the name of Dakka Marrakchiya.
  • Real tkitikate keep the groove going and the crowd interested by using actual songs with actual lyrics, not by inserting singalong soccer-type chant melodies with no lyrics - that just seems lazy to me. . [egad, the blogger as arbiter of tkitikate authenticity 🤦🏻‍♂️]
  • God, who thought that a synth bass and a little keyboard flute would be a good thing with this music. It's already defanged from having much bite by the boring drum machine replacing real drums. [note: the blogger identifies as a bass player and is particularly allergic to synth basses and drum machines from actual gigging]
  • The backup vocals are too smooth. I mean, I really need to shut up. What do I expect from commercial chaabi from Casablanca trying to brand itself as dakka marrakchia.
  • Why the f--- would you do this sort of music with a drum machine and not with real drums. Again, I am a f---ing hypocrite, 'cos I DO LIKE drum machines if they're AS IN YOUR FACE AS ACTUAL DRUMS. I mean this sounds like the beats you'd put to some of that smooth casablanca chaabi, which sort of works when your lead instrument is a scratchy viola. BUT WHEN YOUR MAIN INSTRUMENT IS THE DRUMS, WHY NOT MAKE THE DRUMS DRIVE THE GROOVE INSTEAD OF REMAINING EXACTLY THE SAME THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE TRACK.

Wow, so much vitriol for a harmless novelty cassette. Once I calmed down, I was able to enjoy it on its own flawed terms as a fun chaabi-rhythm time capsule of pop culture items that were "viral" in 2003 (before we were using the term viral). Here's some of what you get:

The album is named Youm Wara Youm, a reference to the SMASH 2002 HIT of the same name by Samira Said with Cheb Mami. 

I still ADORE that song:

The Dakka el Marrakchia Nou Nou song is nothing close to being a cover version of Youm Wara Youm. It does retain the lyrics

Youm wara youm
Habibi ma gani noum
Habibi wa dini git

But it's not sung in anything similar to the melody of the original.

Track 2 appears to be based on the theme song to a Moroccan TV program from 2002, Dar Mwi Hniya (Mwi Hniya's House)

There are some entertaining verses where the singer is hurling curses at his cell phone for dropping the signal while he's talking to his sweetheart. And there's a silly solfege singalong.

And the final track seems to be based on the Egyptian novelty song from 2002 "Baba Fein", here called by the recurring lyric "Âmmu Âmmu"

If you're in the mood for it, it's sort of entertaining in the way that the original was, that is, it's cute to hear kids delivering clever rhyming couplets making excuses to the Uncle (Âmmu) about why their father isn't at home.

Si Mohamed Aguir (right) wearing a taguia
One thing I can't figure out, though, is the cover art for the album. What are the cone-shaped things superimposed on top of these ladies' heads? Are they supposed to resemble the taguia hats worn by actual tqitikate groups? Nobody I showed this to has any idea what is going on. The general consensus is that it's tkharbiqa (great Moroccan term meaning something like "nonsense", "junk" or "whatever")

Best Wishes to all for a better 2024. Ceasefire Now.

Dakka El Marrakechia Nou Nou الدقة المراكشية نو نو
Youm Wara Youm يعم ورا يوم

Edition Safi cassette SD 2003 انتاج الصافي

A1 Youm Wara Youm يعم ورا يوم
   and the best current songs وأروع الأغاني الحالية

B1 Mwi Hniya مي هنية
B2 Âmmu Âmmu عمو عمو

320 | FLAC

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Fatima Tamrrakchit

Fatima Tamrrakchit cassette j-card

This tape comes to us from... well, down the street in El Cerrito, California, where I found and purchased it! This is a swell album from singer Fatima Tamrrakchit. The texture on every song is a bit different - there's always some combination of the typical Soussi amarg ensemble (rrbab fiddle, lotar lute or banjo) with additional instruments (electric guitar, a violin, maybe that was a sythn banjo, and some sort of bass instrument - it's a bit deep in the mix (which is fine), it could be a keyboard, or it might be a big Gnawa guinbri). The percussionists keep things lively and at times wild.

I found very little information about Fatima Tamrrakchit online. From what I gather from YouTube and TikTok comment, she died at a young age in April 1998.

There is another singer with the same name who is currently active but who should not be confused with the first Fatima Tamrrakchit.

Digital Mastering Note: I used the new "Mastering Assistant" that was released in the latest update of Logic Pro X. Part of the tool is an AI-driven analysis that can produce a custom EQ for whatever you're working on. Sort of freaks me out, but it's also kind of amazing. I used it here, and I think it sounds pretty good. You can find all of these tracks on YouTube, if you don't like this. (The YouTube clips are probably from a better source than my tape here anyway, but y'all come here for a bit of that analog patina, right?)

Hope you and your loved ones are well. Praying for a just peace.

Fatima Tamrrakchit فاطمة تمراكشيت

Production Disco cassette PD47

A1 Takat Ah Igh Trgha Dora
A2 Dounit Ra Tzri
B1 Or Sarn Orrigh Lhob

B2 Awino Samhiyi Samhaghak
B3 Lhem Ortn Sol Nra

FLAC | 320