Friday, December 23, 2011

Klun Kaighenni 3la l-Bukimun - Clown Sings about Pokémon

Spring 2001. Pokémon was still new and fun. There were only about 150 of them, so you could actually of memorize the names and characteristics of most of them. They'd been big for a couple years in the states, but were only just hitting it big in Morocco via cartoons dubbed into standard Arabic. And like everywhere, marketing was huge - each pull-off top of Danon yogurt had a picture of a Pokémon and could win you a prize. There were shoes, backpacks, t-shirts, everything (though I don't actually recall seeing the video game itself...)

Now I'm as critical of cross-promotional marketing to kids as anyone. As for Pokémon, I recognized it as such but at the same time sort of reveled in it.  I liked the cartoon, and my Japanese side was tickled to see a Japanese cartoon sweeping the US. But I'm totally OK with critiques of the mass invasion of Pokémon products in general, and certainly in Morocco.

What I couldn't accept was the rise of "Pokémon is haram" discourse that was bubbling up in various newspapers around the Muslim world. If it had been merely a shariah-couched critique of mass international capitalist targeting of kids, that would have been one thing. Or a critique of it as a frivolous waste of time and money and diversion from the remembrance of God would have made some sense. But the word going 'round, courtesy of fatwas from Grand Mufti of Egypt Dr. Nasser Farid Wassel and Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi was that the Pokemon phenomenon was actually a Zionist and/or Masonic plot to subliminally undermine and insult Islam and to introduce Darwinian ideas (pikachu "evolves" to raichu after gaining experience in battles - demonstrating his fitness, right?). Among the more spurious assertions were that the names of some of the Pokemon were directly attacked Islam - "I am a Jew" (Pokemon), "God is weak" (Charmander) and "Be Jewish" (Pikachu).

As a Japanese-Ashkenazi-American Muslim, I found it alternately insulting and absurd. If you know English, it's pretty easy to understand the etymological derivation of "Pokémon" (pocket monsters) and animal names like Charizard, Charmander and Charmeleon (all fire-breathing lizard monsters - lizard, salamander, chameleon - duh?). Pikachu and Raichu were, I think, the only ones that retained Japanese-derived names in their English (and dubbed Arabic) versions. Pikachu means something like "sparkle mouse noise" and Raichu means something like "thunder mouse noise".

Nevertheless, fatwas were issued in Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and even in Morocco. Now a fatwa is a legal opinion based on one scholar's interpretation of the shariah, and although some folks accepted the interpretation, others did not. Pokémon certainly remained popular and continued to be broadcast in Morocco.

There were other responses to the Pokemon phenomenon. My fave was this silly cassette it's a basic singalong dkitikat percussion/call-response vocal with a little keyboard-banjo thrown in for good measure. The lead vocal is comedic (I guess that's the clown) and response vocal group sounds like adults trying to sound like kids. Starts out catchy and ends up ridiculous with the substitution of Pokémon into traditional wedding chants. Adding to the pop-culture-meets-trad-singalong-percussion shtick is the inclusion of the theme song to Abdelkhalek Fahid's Miloud comedy sketch TV show (Essururat 3la Miloud) and a song about then-new cell phones (Portable). Silly, yeah, but tailor-made for singalongs at parties by much funkier groups:

1) Ghina' Pokemon / Eddawrat l-Pokemon
2) 3andi ana mushkila / L3ama bgha itzuwwej / Portable
3) Ezzerda / 3regtuha wslebtu 3liya
4) Essururat 3la Miloud / Mut b-jnun / Bghat mwigina

Get it here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Najat Aatabou - Moroccan Modern Soul Sister - 1st album (c.1984)

One of the most individual female voices in Moroccan music, both sonically and artistically. Even when complaining about typical women's problems (sneaky men, jealous women, family estrangement..) from an underdog position, the strength of her voice makes her seem to be the one in charge of the situation.

Snippets of her biography can be found around the web, e.g. here, here and here. Before starting her professional career, she would sing informally at parties in her hometown of Khemmiset. Bootleg tapes of her performances began to appear in local tape shops, and her unapproving family eventually found out she'd been singing. To escape their wrath, she fled to Casablanca, where she began her career in earnest.

Najat Aatabou made an immediate impression on the Moroccan scene in the early '80s with a sound and songwriting style that hadn't been heard before. Like Roucha, crossover success by singing Middle Atlas Berber izlan-styled songs in Arabic (rather than Tamazight - though she occasionally records in her native Tamazight too). Her early recordings used a fairly traditional musical texture (though with the Arab oud rather than the typical Berber lotar). But the songs were anything but traditional. Women singing from a woman's perspective was nothing new - but Najat Aatabou's clever wordplay was something new, and she approached the issues not from the ambiguous, seductive position of the shikha, but as a modern soul sister, singing out to her contemporaries.

She remains popular today, though mainly among oldsters from my era. I think the last big hit she had was the great "Mali Ana Ma 3andi Zhar" in around '96. Over the years, she's achieved some international attention with CD releases on Globestyle and Rounder (both out of print). On the latter you can hear "Hadi Kedba Bayna" - the hit of the summer of '92, at least among the folks I was hanging with in Marrakech. This song was later sampled by the Chemical Brothers for "Galvanize".

Najat Aatabou has always maintained strong creative control of image, career. Instrumentation has changed over the years, but tends to be best when she sticks to a simple format where her vocals can shine with a basic Moroccan rhythmic and melodic accompaniment, which she uses most of the time.
(Though her orchestral tape from the late '80s is pretty awesome - I may post that at some point.)

This tape is, I believe, her first album, featuring the hit "J'en ai marre" (I'm sick of it). It's a shame most of her work is unavailable. Hope you enjoy this - I've got plenty more!

1) J'en ai Marre
2) Shahama
3) Ras el Ain
4) Sam7i Liya Lwalida
5) El Mektab
6) Hak Shmata

Get it here.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Charli Elmaghribi and other goodies at the Jewish Morocco blog


Chris over at the Jewish Morocco blog recently uploaded a couple nice tracks from this cassette here. There are some other audio goodies in his stash - mainly vinyl - from Morocco (Koutoubiaphone) and Israel (Koliphone), as well as great info about some overlooked artists. Check it out!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Hamid Zahir - Doin' it to Death, Marrakchi Style

Sorry for the long time between posts these days. It's getting interesting here around Oakland!

Continuing with more Moroccan oud, but in very different style from my last post. Hamid Zahir is far and away my fave Moroccan oud player. This is not the oud of spacious, thoughtful taqasim or subtleties of touch. This is jamming, percussive, rhythmic, driving oud, and nobody does it to death like Hamid Zahir!

Hamid Zahir, as I understand it, got his start playing on the Djemaa el Fna plaza in Marrakech. If you subtract the oud from the mix here, you're left with your basic Marrakchi dkitikat percussion band: darbuka, ta'rija, bendir, and to turn up the heat, some qarqaba-s. Zahir's oud playing fits right in with the non-stop call-response propulsion of this type of music.

Zahir wasn't the first to mix "classical" instruments like oud or qanun with street music. The celebrated Houcine Slaoui (the father of Moroccan chaabi music, IMHO) was doing this in the 1940's. However, Hamid Zahir's recordings kick out the jams a bit more - perhaps because Slaoui was recording on 78rpm discs, while Zahir, who rose to fame in the 1960s, made recordings on 45s and LPs.

When I first visited Morocco, Abdenbi (my late musical interlocutor, Llah irhamu) recommended that I listen to Hamid Zahir to learn Moroccan oud playing. For non-Moroccan musicians trying to "get" the Moroccan groove, Hamid Zahir would be my top recommendation. You can't really play Moroccan if you don't feel the rhythmic underpinning. Hamid Zahir serves it up, bare-bones and non-stop: rhythmically driven tracks, poignantly punctuated with interlocking clapping or with vocal call-response phrases that indicate points of emphasis within the rhythmic cycle; simple sung melodies that sit unambiguously on that loopy rhythm; long passages of the funkiest oud riffing on the planet; and bringing it all home with a climactic full-group cadence (see end of track 4).

It's even better when you can see the Marrakchi outfits and footwork!:

1) Sheftha Ghir b-Nedhra
2) Lil Lil Ya Sidi Aamara
3) Kulshi Msha Ghafel
4) Lawah Asi Lawah

Get it here.

BTW - not much of his stuff in print outside of Morocco. You can still find this excellent CD once in a while. Of course, there's scads of his stuff over at

BTW2 - A former member of Hamid Zahir's troupe is the Gnawi m'allem Abdelkbir Marchane (a.k.a. Abdelkbri Lechheb).

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mohammed Fouiteh - Moroccan Modern Song from the 1950s

Here's some old school chanson moderne (musiqa 'asriya) from the 1950's-60s. Mohamed Fouiteh was a singer, composer and oud player who recorded a number of memorable hits and composed for other singers of the era.  It was during this period that Moroccan chanson moderne came into its own. Earlier works often featured Middle Eastern rhythms and dialects in order to fit in with the mainstream of Arabic music coming out of Egypt and Lebanon. (Moroccan rhythms and dialect are disorienting and often unintelligible to Middle Easterners.) In the 50s and especially the 60s, Moroccan rhythms and poetic structures were used more often, blending in interesting ways with the orchestral style coming from the East.  In this collection, songs like "Aw Maloulou", "Nhabbou Bla Khbarou" and "Lahbib Lahbib" are a nice mix of the Moroccan 6/8 chaabi rhythm and lyrics in Moroccan darija with the syrupy strings and long-form structures made popular by the stars of the Eastern Arab world. Other songs make use of Middle Eastern rhythms and melodies.

I got this tape from a seller in the Rabat medina who used to have turntables stacked to the ceiling in his storefront business. He mainly sold cassettes copied from out of print vinyl. This one, however, bears no audio trace of turntables or vinyl surface noise, so I'm guessing it's a mix tape of tunes recorded from the radio. The beginnings of several songs are faded in - i wonder if the person who made the tape edited out the talkover from radio announcers.

1) Nhabbou Bla Khbarou
2) Lahbib Lahbib
3) 'Andek Tensani
4) Talet el Ghiba
5) Machi Lkhatri
6) Aw Maloulou
7) Fi Kul Khatwa Salaama

Get it here.

More streaming tunes and biographical info on Mohammed Fouiteh available at

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Grab Bag o' Izlan & 'Aita from mrsblucher

First off - if you use Firefox, I highly recommend you install the Lazarus add-on - it makes a cache of things you type in forms so that if you spend 2 hours writing and formatting a nice blog post or email and then Blogger eats your draft (or your system crashes), you can recover what you wrote rather than having to start from scratch again. Unfortunately, I learned that a little too late - I'd meant to post these a couple weeks ago, but haven't had time to re-write my post since Blogger ate my draft...

Many thanks to mrsblucher for passing along this cache tape dubs! Some found objects, some heard in long taxi rides, and some obtained for their bitchin' covers. Mrsblucher recently posted a cool rai tape to his new blog, which you should check out. (Lots of other great vinyl goodies over there, including bird song, post-punk, and Boris Karloff reading Aesop's fables...)

On to the goods: 

Cheikh el-Maati el-Marrakchi (Sawt Al Menara, TC, Morocco)

A kicking 'aita offering (sounds like Safi-style to me) with viola and oud, darbuka, bendir and ta'rija, and a trio of unidentified vocalists belting it out. I could listen to this stuff all nite long...

A01) Suwwel ya L-Kubida / 'Ala Qablu Jaya / Ghzali Ghzali / Rja' Ya L-Mkhasmni
B01) Rja' Ya L-Mkhasmni (cont'd)
B02) Hadik Mmwi, Hadik Khti / Haouz Haouz
B03) La Bas

Get it here. 

Salah Asmaali - (Editions Hassania EH1125, 
TC, Morocco, 198-)

Some 'aita song lyrics have verses that flow together into a more or less narrative or structured form. Others are really free flowing, allowing singers pick and choose couplets from a stock repertoire to suit the mood of the audience. In this stripped-down 'aita recording (one viola, one bendir, occasional finger cymbals), the single vocalist delivers a string of short couplets over the course of 2 sides. I could only match one song title definitively (L-Gnawi, at the end of side 2) - the rest of the pieces follow the unidentified singer on a taxi ride through a landscape of stock themes - lost love, persecution, shout-outs to different cities, madness and possession.

I think this style, which features long viola answers to each sung couplet, is called za'riya, but I could be wrong.

A01) Hsab Za'ri - Sherrebuk Elluz
A02) Saleb 'Aqli
B01) Tab Qalbi
B02) Ma Lqit Ahbab - L-Gnawi

Get it here. 

Salah Asmaali - (Editions Hassania EH1127, 
TC, Morocco, 198-)

Another tape from the same violist, but with in different style. It opens up with some more za'riya, but then moves into more structured songs with refrains and a chorus of vocalists and several percussionists. The blatant patriotism of "Sahara Biladi" is balanced by the cool pilgrimage song for Moulay Abdellah.

A01) Wash Ja Idir / Moulay Abdellah ben Imghar
A02) Hada Hali Ya L-Mwima
B01) Sahara Biladi / Erribta Ezzughbiya

Get it here.

Unknown Artist - Middle Atlas Amazigh Guitar (Voix Bassatine) (found tape, Morocco)

And rounding out the cache is a swell find - more of that great slinky electric-guitar-driven izlan from the Middle Atlas. Wish I knew who the artists were! Unlike the tape shared in my previous post on this style, the ensemble here adds a viola and synth bass to the mix.

5 rocking tunes here.

And don't forget to visit mrsblucher's blog to complete the cache with a groovy rai compilation tape.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Solidarity with Palestine, 1992-style - Nass el Ghiwane "Intifada"

In honor of the pending vote at the UN regarding Palestinian statehood, here's a Nass el Ghiwane tape from around 1992 featuring the song "Intifada", commemorating the then current intifada. This was not the first time Nass el Ghiwane had sung about the situation in Palestine. Their more well-known song on the subject is "Majzara" (popularly known as "Sabra & Shatila") was released 10 years earlier, following the terrible massacres there.

It's unusual for NG to be so explicit when dealing with social and political issues. It's easier for them to do so when they are singing about situations outside of Morocco. When singing about issues within the kingdom, they danced a fine line, using metaphor and oblique references to let their audience know what they were talking about while avoiding running into trouble with the authorities.

This approach was certainly necessary during the reign of Hassan II. Nass el Ghiwane were past their prime of popularity by '92, but there were really no other outlets (to my knowledge) for music with social commentary in those days.  Hassan's successor Mohammed VI has made some progressive changes since ascending the throne in 1999, and some avenues for music addressing social themes seem to have opened up for Moroccan hip-hop and fusion artists. However, artists can only go so far in what they say for, like his father, the present king does not tolerate direct criticism of his policies from journalists or musicians.

1) Intifada
2) Mardouma
3) Dallal
4) Limadha ya Karama

Get it here.

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.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Fatna Bent el Houcine and Ouled Ben Aguida: Deep 'Aita - Moroccan Arab Country Music

The shikhat. Morocco's singing and dancing bards (bard-esses?). Recognized as carriers of a deep folk poetic-musical tradition, but also derided as women of ill repute. Loved and despised.

The aita (lit., "the cry" or "the call"). Rural Arab Moroccan sung folk poetic tradition. One of the main sources for Moroccan mainstream popular (urban) chaabi music. Aita is to chaabi as rural white southern US folk music ("old-time") is to Nashville-produced country music. Ergo: this is the real deal!

The late Fatna Bent el Houcine. Probably the most well-known shikha within Morocco. As the out-of-print CD on Buda calls her, "La Grande Voix d'el Aita". From the coastal city of Safi, one of the hot-spots for this type of music.

For your enjoyment, 2 cassettes from the 1990s featuring Fatna Bent el Houcine with the instrumental ensemble that backed her for years, Ouled ben Aguida, and her group of shikhat, including Shikha Hafida (pictured withe the band on the cassette cover), who has continued to work with the band since Fatna's passing.

One thing I love about the aita is when the shihat take turns singing verses within a song - you get to hear each singer in succession. There's some nice footage of this here, including both Fatna and Hafida, as well as some dancing (the climactic part of 'aita performances) which you won't get on the audio cassette!

For those of you who love odd rhythmic cycles, dig the final track on EN203, "Aita Bidawiya (Kharboucha)", which begins in a 40-beat cycle then progresses to 19- and10-beat cycles before ending up in a final, ecstatic 6/8. Epic, dramatic, sublime, rocking, beautiful stuff.

1) Allah Injah Loulad
2) track 2
3) K'hal al-Shousha
4) Ya L-Ghayeb Suwwel
5) 'Aita Jbaliya
6) Sh'aibiya

Get it here.

EN203 (sorry, don't have the j-card for this, but it looked just like the other one anyway...)
1) Habibi Ma Jash
2) 'Ada 'Ada Ya L-Khayl
3) Za'ri
4) 'Aita Bidawiya (Kharboucha)

Get it here.

BTW - I don't mean to diss Moroccan chaabi or Nashville country - both have their joys! I'll share some chaabi down the road a bit...

BTW2 - There's more aita, of a different regional sort, here.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hassan el-Dariouki & al-Makhloufia - Raw Scratch-and-Buzz Aita from Marrakech

A scratchy viola, a few buzzy hand drums, and some lady vocalists (or men emulating them) who milk 3 or 4 piercing pitches all night long. It's aita haouzia - rural Arabic song from the region of Marrakech. This is some deep, raw country music. No darbuka-s here - just the down-home buzz of the little clay ta'rija and the bendir frame drum.

The vocalist is the late Shikha Makhloufia. I believe she's the main vocalist featured in this clip:

The viola player is Shikh Hassan el Dariouki (I've also seen it written "Darouki"). His troupe Oulad El Haouz is regularly featured at national festivals and on state-run TV to represent this style of music. (On good days I also used to find them on the Djemaa el Fna in Marrakech.) Oulad El Haouz is an all-male group, but the men have no trouble singing the same 3 or 4 piercing high pitches that the women sing:

For you lovers of quintuple meter, you'll find a couple of pieces in 5/4 (or 10/8 or whatever) on this tape (tracks 2 & 3).

1) Suwweli f-Riyadu
2) L-Khadem
3) Mul Shi'ba
4) Rouidia

BTW - Track 2 stretched across the break between sides A and B of the cassette. I did my best to merge them into a single track, though the fadeout was a challenge.

Get it here.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Mahmoud Guinia - "First Album" - Live Lila Recording

The cassette seller in Essaouira from whom I purchased this tape told me this was the first commercial recording released by the Gnawi maalem Mahmoud Guinia. I'm guessing that puts it in the late '70s or early '80s.

As I wrote previously, Maalem Mahmoud has released scores of recordings over the years. This one is quite different from all other recordings I've heard by him. It appears to have been recorded at a lila ceremony, and it's a great lila recording. I've had the pleasure of attending a couple of lila-s where Maalem Mahmoud worked, and I thought his playing at the ceremonies was very deep - more interesting than what he does in studio recordings. This tape gets to that place.

No studio production values to be found here - sounds like someone just set up a couple of mics and let them catch the action as it unfolds. The mics are well placed - a strong, punchy guinbri sound, and, importantly, strong qarqaba sound as well. Sometimes in Gnawa recordings the qraqeb get mixed too far down - i prefer it where both are really driving each other to deeper grooving, and that's definitely in effect here.

You get the beginning of the trance portion of the ceremony: the relentless crescendo of the Ftih ar-Rahba, all of the White suite (Salihin), and the beginning of the Multicolored (Bu Derbala)

1) Ftih ar Rahba
2) Hammadi
3) Sala Nabina (Salihin)
4) Jilala
5) Jilali Bualam / Jilali Dawi Hali / Mulay Abdelqader
6) Allah ya Bu Derbala

Get it here

BTW - track titles are mine, not what's written on the j-card.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Arab-Andalusian-style Qur'an recitation and Nashid at the Oriental Traditional Music blog

Several fantastic posts this month over at the Oriental Traditional Music from LPs and Cassettes blog. 2 cassettes of the rarely heard Moroccan style of Qur'an recitation that follows the melodic structures of Arab-Andalusian music. I'm told that this reciter, Al-Haj Abd er-Rahman ben Moussa, used to be featured prominently on Moroccan state media years ago. These days, the Qur'an recitation on the Moroccan channels tends to follow a more Middle Eastern model.

Also available, some lovely a capella amdah and inshad (religious poetry), also in Arab-Andalusian style, from the munshid Al-Haj Muhammad al-Barraq.

Many thanks to Tawfiq for making these available for Ramadan enjoyment!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Paco Abderrahmane - Monde Spirituelle Gnaoui

Another tape from Paco, the fiery guinbri-playing dynamo from Nass el Ghiwane. (My earlier musings on Paco can be found here.) I believe this is his first solo cassette, though I don't know for sure - at least this is the oldest one I ever found. I'm guessing it's from the 1980s.

In the opening track "Ma Fik Khayr Ya Denya", Paco takes an approach similar to what he did in some Nass el Ghiwane songs - using melodies from the Gnawa repertoire and adding new lyrics of his own composition. With Nass el Ghiwane, Paco used this approach for songs like "Sadma" (based on the Gnawa song "Negsha" - see vid clip below), and "Lebtana" (based on the Gnawa song "Marhaba"). The Gnawa songs being riffed on here are "Mbirkiriya" and "Fofo Denba". These adaptations were enjoyed by traditional Gnawa musicians, and I have heard Gnawa singers insert some of Paco's lyrics into ritual performances of the original songs.  (Specifically, the refrain "O Ya denya, hara u marra" from this song, and the line "L-guelb majruh, la bad ineen" from "Sadma")

Tracks 2 and 4 are pretty straight-forward renditions of Gnawa songs (with some extra percussion added to the guinbri-qarqaba-vocal texture). Track 3 sounds like it could be a Soussiya song from the end of the lila repertoire, but I've never heard it before. Track 4 is an epic, side-long version of "La ilaha illa Llah" from the Gnawa repertoire, with a dramatic spoken intro à la Nass el Ghiwane.

1) Ma Fik Khayr Ya Denya
2) Sandi
3) Wadi As-Sahat
4) Ar-Rahil (=La ilaha illa Llah)

Get it here.

BTW - track titles on the cassette sleeve are out of order from what's on the tape. Tracks 1 and 2 are identified from the lyrics, but 3 and 4 are guesses. I'm guessing Ar-Rahil ("the departure") is the long track equivalent to "La ilaha illa Llah", since the lyrics are sort of about a journey, but I could be wrong.

BTW2 - Oops - I linked to the other Paco tape by mistake. Link is now fixed - sorry for the confusion.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Latifa Raafat - Ash-shouk

A lovely album from my fave singer of chanson moderne (or musiqa 'asriya). This genre represents the Moroccan version of 20th century Arab art song, based on the model of great Egyptial musical artists such as Umm Kulthum and Muhammad Abdel Wahab. Big orchestras, lush arrangements, large-scale song forms, thoughtful poetry.

More recent works in this style tend to feature percussion and dance beats more prominently than in the past (e.g. this recent album from Latifa).

The cassette featured here was pretty new when I got it in '92 and has that old-school-modern feel to it.  Enjoy!

1. Ash-shouk
2. Nasyak
3. Harou f-'Amri
4. Nasyak (instrumental)

Get it here.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bnate Errma - Women's drum (machine) circle and party singing

OK, this is one of the more obnoxious cassettes in my stash. You may love it, hate it, or both! Abdenbi (Llah irhamuh) used to flee the room if this came on the tape player back in '92. Not only does it feature the sort of songs that the ladies sing when they get together and sit around drumming and hanging out (and talking crap about the men). But it replaces the cool stratified drumming of Moroccan women's percussion ensembles with a drum machine. Doubly annoying!

Or doubly awesome! You get rocking, spirited, call-response singing, typical themes of unrequited love (track 2), exile (track 3), betrayal (track 6) and trance (track 7), a live derbuka plus electro-drum fills, plenty of zgharit-s (ululations), a guy who adds rhythmic vocal inserts here and there and sounds like a cow (track 6, 1:05), and the epic White Album intro to track 3 ("Airplane, bring me back to my homeland").

Totally saturated sound increases the annoyance/awesomeness factor. Enjoy and/or use it to empty the room of humans.

BTW1 - No idea if the woman pictured on the j-card is part of the ensemble. If I had to guess, I would say probably not.

BTW2 - The group's name Bnate Errma (girls of the rma) suggests some association with the fantastic rural (male) genre 'abidat errma, but I don't know enough about 'abidat errma to know if this group is pulling any special influence from that source.

Get it here.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

M'allem Ali el Mansoum Vol. 2 - Old-school Marrakchi Gnawa

This is Volume 2 (I think) of one of the earliest Gnawa commercial cassettes with nationwide distribution in Morocco, dating from the 1980s. The artist is M'allem Ali el-Mansoum of Marrakech. Mr. Tear over at Snap, Crackle & Pop shared Volume 1 of this series a few weeks ago. My offering is what I believe to be Volume 2 - I think there are only 2 volumes, and this would be the second. I've lost the original j-card to this, if in fact I ever had it.  (The scan is from Volume 1, with the "1" edited out.)

The Gnawa repertoire has its origins in the unwritten past, and it tends to be conservative - new songs are not often added to the repertoire. (An exception is the introduction of the Hamdushiya suite sometime in the last 40 years.)  Changes inevitably occur, though. There's a different "swing" to Mansoum's 6/8 (and the 6/8 I've heard on other recordings of older Marrakchi players) than what one generally hears in Marrakech these days. And Mansoum's singing style was distinctive (whether due to personal style or generational differences) and was recalled fondly among younger Gnawa in Marrakech.
  1. L'Afu Rijal Allah
  2. Hammadi
  3. Sallaw 'Alik ya Rasul Allah
  4. Jilali Dawi Hali - Mulay Abdelqader
  5. Marhaba - Lagnawi Baba Mimoun
  6. Sidi Musa Ba Kinba - Bala Ba Kinba - La ilaha illa Llah Musa
  7. Bori ya Bori - Baniya - Hammouda
Get it here.

Rouicha at African Music Treasures

Haven't had to time to get any more Rouicha together for ya. In the meantime, though, I did stumble across this post from a couple years ago that has a nice article and selected cuts from Rouicha. Enjoy!

African Music Treasures - Rockin' Rouicha

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.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Dawn Call to Prayer in Marrakech

This one isn't mine, but it's a wonderful one. If you've ever spent a night in Marrakech and were awake before dawn, you've heard the symphony of callers to prayer launching haunting recitations into the sky from louspeakers across town, culminating in the call to prayer. My own recording of this from out my window is trapped in a format I can't play at the moment, but The Exploratory Music Service has shared a lovely recording of this on the web. Highly recommended!

The Exploratory Music Service

Paco Abderrahmane - Thayyer A Mul al-Hal

Paco was the fire behind Nass el Ghiwane from 'til '95, when he left the group.  It was during his tenure in the band that they made their most driving music, drawing heavily on his phat guinbri lines.  (Compare recordings from the pre- and post-Paco period with those featuring him - although there has always been a guinbri player in the group, none but Paco were steeped in the Gnawa traditional repertoire or could bring the hal (the funky groove condition) like him.

This cassette, which I believe is Paco's second solo cassette, dates from about 1993, when he was still with Nass el Ghiwane.  His earlier cassette (which I will post here soon), featured Gnawi melodies with some reworked lyrics (à la Nass el Ghiwane).  This one features strictly Gnawi lyrics.  But musically, there are a few stylistic elements that set it apart from typical Gnawa recordings. The normally clattering qraqeb of Gnawa music are here quite controlled, but just as driving as in the best Gnawa recordings. Paco adds a triangle or other chime, and what sounds like a tbel barrel drum, richening the texture and giving the session a mildly Ghiwane-y feeling.  Adding to the Ghiwane-y mood are the long sections of singing - the duration of each song is much longer than would be typical for a normal Gnawa version of each song.  Paco brings the intensity of his Nass el Ghiwane vocal performances to these tracks. The result is a very enjoyable set of Gnawa songs which unfolds a little differently than a typical set and adds some stylistic ingredients that don't detract from the main attractions: passionate singing and thumping guinbri.

1) Damman Lebled (=Chalaba Titara)
2) L'atfa Lillah (L'afu Rijal Allah)
3) Essuba'i
4) Alyaburi (=Sala Nabina Musawi)

Get it here.

L-Gnawi Mustapha (Sam Essghir)

Mustapha was the first Gnawi I met in Marrakech. He's a fantastic, unsung guinbri player. He's nicknamed "Sam Essghir" (Little Sam) after the great Maalem Sam of Casablanca, as a tribute to his skill on the guinbri. As far as I know, this is Mustapha's only commercial recording. If what I'm told is correct, the session featured Mustapha on guinbri and most of the lead vocals, with Abdenbi Binizi and Ahmed Baska accompanying with clapping, qarqaba and chorus, and it was recorded on a couple of microphones to a cassette deck in the living room at Dar Nomades sometime in the late '80s or early '90s. The saturated lo-fi guinbri sound is a far cry from Night Spirit Masters, but, it has a helluva MOOD to it! And the tape includes one of the better renditions of the Hamdushiya suite that I've heard. One of my all-time fave Gnawa cassettes.

The running order of the cassette was kind of a mess - some songs were split onto 2 sides of the tape... I edited them back together and sequenced them in a way that seemed logical and that follows to some extent the titles listed on the sleeve.

1) Sala Nabina Mulay Muhammad
2) Baniya - Basha Hammou - Hammouda
3) Dutiwa - Ghumami
4) A Hiya Jat Lalla Aicha
5) Hamdushiya
6) Hadiya
7) Moulay Abdellah ben L-Houcine - Moulay Brahim

Get it here.