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).


  1. merci, tim abdellah! this sounds fantastic - especially the percussive aspect of zahir's playing.

    salut :)

  2. Hi Tim,
    so, would you say Zahir's style is "chaabi"?

    have you heard a similar guy named Mohamed Bergam? I've got a wicked 45 from him but have not been able to find anything else on him...


  3. Thanks Tim for more beautiful music. I hope Occupy Oakland is going well!

  4. well, look at this, wow!
    not the first or the last, i'm sure...