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.