Saturday, April 28, 2012

L'Hajja L'Hamdawya - 'Nuff Said!

I was thrilled to see the return of the fantastic diva L'Hajja L'Hamdawya to prominence in Morocco over the last decade. Through the '90s and early 2000s (when I spent a lot of time in Morocco), she seemed like nothing but a sepiatone memory. A well-loved celebrity from the '50s &'60s who, it was said, had fallen on hard times, been too generous (or foolhardy) with her money, and was now living in obscurity somewhere in Casablanca. Over the last 10 years, she's proved to be not only alive and well, but in fantastic voice, now into her '80s.

She began her career singing aita marsawiya and was one of the first artists to sing it on television (when it was still considered provocative music of ill-repute). Notably, she also performed and recorded with large orchestras of the chanson moderne style favored by Moroccan television and radio in the 50's-'60s. Such orchestras were usually reserved for artists working in the Arab-Art-Music of long-form compositions rather than the folkloric aita and popular chaâbi song forms. According to a Moroccan scholar I spoke with years ago, the sight of a woman holding the iconic bendir or ta'rija of the aita in front of one of these large orchestras was something unheard of, back in the day.

(video and audio are out of sync, but here's a rare vintage TV appearance of Hajja Hamdaouia)

This cassette features a more stripped-down ensemble - not a full orchestra, but just a couple of violas, a flute, a harpsichordey keyboard, and an electric guitar (in addition to the percussion). I'm guessing this recording is from the 1960s or early 1970s. I own an LP with this same photo on it (as well as a couple other cassettes with the same photo), so I'm guessing this is a cassette reissue of an earlier LP release.

1) Ach Ja Idir?

2) Al Asmar I'jebni
3) Ayamna Ayamna
4) Allah Ya'tik B-Sber
5) Wlida Wlida - Dawr Biha

Get it here.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Chaâbi viola as Jilala flute - Saïd Senhaji

About 10-12 years ago, there seemed to be an explosion of pop hits in Morocco making reference to trance of one flavor or another. I don't mean pop versions of Gnawa or Jilala songs. Rather, I mean NEW songs with lyrics referring to the spirits or to the experience of trance. What struck me as odd was that most of these songs made no musical reference to trance music of the Gnawa, Jilala or other groups. Rather, they fit the basic mold of chaâbi songs, ready to slip into the repertoire of a wedding band with a viola player and a nicely dressed lead singer. You don't typically want to hire a trance music group for a wedding but, as Deborah Kapchan has noted, the aesthetics of nashat (lively, energetic, loose party feeling) often come close to those of jadba (possession trance), and sometimes bump up against each other (1).

I tend to like my trance uncut, so these songs never did much for me. Some of the tunes were pretty catchy and popular, though. You can hear a few of these on a great early-2000s chaâbi compilation Maroc by Night (tracks 6, 17 and 19). Hamri's "Samaoui" in particular was massive in the spring-summer of 2001.

One track that I do rather like is "Aicha el Mejdouba" by Orchestre Senhaji. What got under my skin was the weird sound processing on the violin. The first time I heard this, I had no idea what instrument was playing. To my ears now, the strange throb seems to hearken to the unique timbre of the gasba flutes in Jilala trance music. The lyrics of the song also refer to the Jilala. Here's a lip-sync/playback clip of Saïd Senhaji performing this tune:

"Aicha el Mejdouba", track 5 on today's offering, is the only tune on the album to feature the tweaked viola sound. The rest of the album is some darn fine straight-up Casablanca chaâbi music, vintage Y2K, served up by the singer Saïd Senhaji and his orchestre. Heavy on the rhythm (drum kit in effect), swell riffin' on the viola, catchy call-response vocals. The electric guitar comping doesn't always work for me, but I've heard waaaaaaay worse.

Check for Senhaji's bio and more tunes. Amazon has LOTS of Sehaji mp3s (though, oddly, not the album I've got here.) And for those of you here on the West Coast of the USA, Saïd Senhaji will perform in Anaheim on Saturday May 19!

Discographic note: the j-card reads
 سهرة حية مع الجمهور, i.e., "live concert with audience", but that does not appear to be the case - this sounds like a studio recording.

Get it here.


(1) Deborah Kapchan. "Nashat: The Gender of Musical Celebration in Morocco." Pp. 251-65 in Music and Gender: Perspectives from the Mediterranean, edited by Tullia Magrini. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 2003.


UPDATE 2012-04-21, 11:30PM - I think the link was incorrect earlier. It should be fine now.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

El Bhiri - Chaâbi from Casa, yeah!

Instead of poring through the Lomax collection yesterday, I decided to pore through a stash of about 75 cassettes I inherited from a friend recently. Separated out the Maghrebi music tapes from the Middle Eastern ones and the Islamic lectures. I was still jonesing for some chaâbi, and scored with a swell tape of El Bhiri. describes him as a chaâbi artist from Casablanca. The tracks here stay mostly to the aita side of the chaâbi field, with the exception of track 5, which is more of a call-response percussion band-style rave-up.

The tape is missing the first couple minutes of track 3, where someone inadvertently (or advertently?) taped some interesting but completely non-sequitur Middle Atlas tamazight song on top.

Here's El Bhiri on TV:

Get it here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Alan Lomax's Moroccan Tape Stash


Well, his Moroccan stash is but a tiny tiny pinch of shake from his huge stash of field recordings. His recordings of American folk music are, of course, the most famous, but he also did his share of international recordings during his many years of research.

Association for Cultural Equity and the Alan Lomax Archive recently went live with over 800 hours of sound recordings as well as video and photographs from Lomax's collection. Perhaps the mother of all tape stashes!

I had no idea Lomax had recorded in Morocco! I'm just starting to dip into this collection, and I'll try to link to anything that particularly catches my ear.

First question I had, of course... is there any Gnawa music? Indeed, there is one short piece recorded in the Djemaa el Fna in Marrakech - it's an excerpt from "Negsha".

Explore the Moroccan collection here.
Explore the entire audio collection here.
Or start at the main menu to get to photographs, video, and other resources.


I found 2 more short Gnawa tracks, in Lomax's recordings from Fez. They are from outdoor processional âada repertoire, thus feature the tbola rather than the guinbri. The recordings were made at the moussem of Moulay Idriss, and include recordings of Aissawa and Hamadcha as well!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

More Aita Haouzia - Mustapha & Latifa El Issawia

I wanted to post more chaâbi after my last chaâbi post, but didn't find anything that inspired me. Like I said last week, my fave chaâbi stays pretty close to the rural, aita end of the field (rather than the Andalusian end, the smooth orchestrated end, or the pop-rai end). I'll try to dig out a good Stati tape soon. In the meantime, here's some more bitchin' aita haouzia. 

After scanning the shell, I realized that this tape comes from the same production house as my last aita haouzia post - Edition Atif, or Aâtiphone, based in ... Kelaat es-Sraghna? I've been thru Sraghna a bunch of times, since it's the biggest city on the road between Marrakech and Beni Mellal, my 2 main perches in Morocco. But never had any reason to stop there (except for one time when it was Ramadan and time to break fast - the bus parked and everyone was able able to get that important bowl of harira...) At any rate, I don't know if these performers are from Sraghna or Marrakech - I would guess Marrakech. The other haouzia group on this label was from Marrakech, and the little picture in the top-left corner of the j-card and on the spine is of the Menara - a royal-summer-house-turned-public-garden in Marrakech.

Track titles on the j-card didn't seem to match the lyrics I heard on the tape, so I didn't transcribe them. The front panel reads "The star of Haouzi song". And track 2 is seamlessly edited together from the end of side A and the beginning of side B by yours truly.

Excerpt from track 2 (of 3):

Get the whole thing here.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Great few weeks for Moroccan Stashes!

Wow - props to my blogosphere colleagues for a bumper few weeks of Moroccan grooves! Well worth checking out:

Snap, Crackle & Pop
Mr. Tear over at Snap, Crackle & Pop is back from a recent Morocco trip and promises to share some goodies in the weeks to come. If the current offerings are any indication, these should be fantastic! Already up is the Mustapha Baqbou tape pictured above - IF YOU LIKE GNAWA MUSIC, YOU NEED THIS TAPE!! This is my all-time favorite Baqbou tape - stunning virtuosity on the guinbri, masterful control of dynamics and drama, passionate singing, and songs from deep in the Ghaba suite! I lost my copy about 15 years back - so happy to hear this again. Also up at SC&P is a lovely album by the group Izmaz - an intense yet laid back offering from one of the '70s folk revival groups. 

Bodega Pop
Gary recently dropped a CD by old-school amarg artist Rais (Hajj) Omar Wahrouche. These are some great recordings, well worth a listen!

Still digesting this huge cache of Jil Jilala tunes over at Hammer's. Some of it familiar, some of it very obscure!

See ya soon!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Chaabi Marrakchi with drum kit

Moroccan chaabi music sounds great with a drum kit. Hi-hat gives you the bright jingle of a tar tambourine, a nice loose snare drum gives you the buzz of the bendir, and tom and bass drum give you a nice variety of low tones for the all-important dummmm.

Here's a nice old school chaabi tape with some in-the-pocket drum kit playing. I don't know who the performers are, but the tape is from the Sawt el Mounadi label out of Marrakech, so you know it's gonna be good like this and this!

Chaabi is a pretty wide genre. My fave chaabi keeps it close to rural forms and textures, and that's what you get here - one viola, heavy on the percussion (drum kit and darbuka), lots of call & response singing, one male lead singer and two or three shikhat-styled backup singer. Track 3 mixes it up a bit with a naqqus clanging out a Berber rhythm. Song titles are best-guess cribs from the lyrics.

1) Khelli li ya Lmwima

2) Basha Hammou
3) Hmam Cherradi
4) Mchite Njibou - Galouli Rkeb Sfina
5) Track 5

Enjoy it here.