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.


  1. ain't nuthin' like the real thing, bay-bee.... ain't nuthin' lie the real thing... (roots/real deal = kool!!!)

  2. amazing blog you have!! I play oud, and i love this stuff.

    i live in israel, here we have koliphone records. have you heard of them? they've released hundreds and even thousands of cassettes and vinyls of different types of middle eastern music, brought to israel by jewish immigrants from different countries. there are a lot of morroccans here, and koliphone have the collection to show for it!

    there is even a place near where i live where you can go on thursday nights and see the regular crowd for the last fifty years drinking and having a good time listening to live chaabi, djiri and stuff like that.

    i really liked those rhythm changes, but i couldn't count the rhtyhmic cycle - do you know how it is built? do you have more information about these kind of rhythms?

    take care, ma` assalama

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