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.


  1. Nice! He came to Boston not long ago, saw him live. Great to have this earlier stuff. Thanks!

  2. As a viola player, Lionel Tertis became one of my inspirations in continuing my music career. He contributed in propagating viola as a genuine solo instrument. viola teacher