Sunday, January 27, 2013

Ahwach al-Âwad - Moroccan Fife and Drum

Another ahwach cassette for ya this week. As I mentioned in my last post, there are many different regional forms of ahwach. I don't know exactly where this one comes from, but the cassette production house if in Agadir. Unlike last week's offering, which was heavy on the vocal solos, this ahwach tape features no singing whatsoever. Instead, this music is driven by a pair of riffy, high-pitched âwad flutes. And as with other ahwach-s, you get a slew of punchy bendir-s, plus lots of rhythmic footstepping, handclapping, and raucous exclamations. I hear some sort of naqqus (metal ideophone) here as well.

In some parts of the world, fife and drum ensembles are a favored type of outdoor music for parades and processions. Ahigh-pitched flute is an ideal instrument to cut through the onslaught of loud drums in an outdoor setting. In other locales, the preferred instrument for this setting is the oboe/shawm - another shrill sound that can be heard outdoors above a battery of drums.

In Morocco, the ghaita (oboe) and tbel (barrel drum) are the typical instruments for an outdoor procession. While the ghaita is sufficiently shrill and piercing for outdoor venues, flutes in Morocco tend to be low-pitched and breathy - the gasba flutes played by Jilala musicians are a good example.

The âwad flutes heard on this tape, however, have that clear high sound that is perfect for the drum-heavy outdoor ahwach. The pentatonic, repeating melodies and shrill sound of these âwad tunes remind me of American blues fife and drum tunes, though the Berber rhythms are a little more angular than the rolling blues rhythms:

Ahwach al-Âwad - Ûmar Dahouss: Alhan Amazighia Jdida wa Khalda (Berber tunes, New and Immortal)

Track 4 (of five)

Get it all here.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ahwach from Tafraout

Here's a swell recording of ahwach, the communal song-dance-drum tradition of the Tachelhit-speaking Imazighen/Berbers of southern Morocco. Rhythms and forms change from region to region and tribe to tribe. The ensembles can be huge - there are 30 people pictured on this j-card. It's a big, rhythmic sound!

Since the group's name refers to it, I assume they come from the city of Tafraout. As Mr. Tear points out in comments to another ahwach post at Awesome Tapes from Africa, the rock pictured here (and on Awesome Tapes' cassette) is called Le Chapeau de Napoléon and is just outside of Tafraout. He also mentioned that Tafraout is host to the annual Tifawin Festival. This cassette's j-card includes the logo from that festival, but it doesn't sound to me like a live recording.

I've never been down to that area of Morocco, and my only experience of live ahwach has been at the annual Festival National des Arts Populaires in Marrakech ("the folklore festival"), where 20 groups each get a 5-minute performance slot. It's an impressive show, but you know you're only getting the highlight reel, as a typical ahwach performance goes on much longer. Someday I hope I'll have the chance to see a performance at a wedding or other community event rather than on a festival stage. Here's a short clip of this group's singer in such a performance:

Ahwach Argan Tafraout - Othman Azolid & Al Hajj Âabd o Tata - Ttamza Music cassette

Track 3 (of 3) - excerpt

Get it all here.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Hamadsha Information and Jilala Tunes

The most popular post on this blog to date is my post from February 2012 about the Hamadsha and Lalla Aisha, featuring the music of Abderrahim Amrani. I was delighted to receive this message last week from Chris Witulski, an ethnomusicologist currently doing research in Fez. Mr. Amrani saw my blog post and wanted to share some information about Lalla Aisha for the followers of this blog! Many thanks to Chris and to Si Abderrahim for their interest and generosity!



I am a researcher working with the Gnawa, Hamadsha, and Aissawa here in Fez. Amrani has been a good friend of mine for a few years from now, and he just sent me a link to this page with a request. First, I appreciate the recording. Even he has trouble finding some of these older tapes of himself now. He did not realize that you posted a link to his own opinions about Aisha, but he asked that I translate a part of a recent conversation between us regarding who Aisha is into English for your page. He cites four Aishas, three of whom were different living figures that should not be compounded or confused. This, of course, runs counter to many contemporary opinions about the mysterious Aisha that is so present in Moroccan life.

So please pardon the long comment that is to follow. Hopefully you or your readers find it to be an interesting perspective. We were speaking of Sidi Dghughi's trip to see Sultan Bil-Khir at the request of Sidi Ali Bin Hamdush, during which the king gave Dghughi Aisha as a gift for Sidi Ali. According to Amrani, we do not know if his intention was that Aisha be Sidi Ali's wife or servant.

"For six months, Sidi Ahmed traveled to return to Sidi Ali with Ayisha. When he arrived to the place where Sidi Ali had been sitting, he found his master dead under the tree. Sidi Ahmed began to strike his head. In the poem "Al-Warshan" (the carrier pigeon) we hear the story. Then this Aisha, now without Sidi Ali there to marry or serve, began to do miracles of healing. She healed those who would come from afar: the desert, Algeria, Tunisia, and other cities across Morocco. (In Tunisia, there is still an active hamadsha zawiya that celebrates the hamadsha mussem in the city of Um Al-'Arais with Moroccan clothing. She saw many people before suddenly disappearing. No one knew what happened to her or where she was. Her cave, however, remained and became a pilgrimage site just downhill from the zawiya of Sidi Ali Bin Hamdush. Despite the fact that she was no longer there, her cavern became a place where one could bring a sacrifice, light candles, and be healed. This practice entered the tradition, as people would continue to visit and live within the proximity of her past and continuing miracles. This is Aisha Sudaniyya. She was the one who came from the Sudan, from King Bil-Khir, to Sidi Ali Bin Hamdush.

There is a second Aisha: Aisha Bahariyya (of the ocean). She came to Azemmour from Baghdad. Now people go to Azemmour (near El-Jadida) to see her and visit her qubba. Mulay Bu Sha'i al Rddad is the wali of Azemmour, just as we have Moulay Idriss here in Fez. He studied in Baghdad, where she saw him, fell in love, and followed him here (to Morocco). But he was like Sidi Ali, tsawwuf. She came to the edge of the ocean and slept there. The women from here came to know her after hearing her story, that she followed him here out of love. [He did not bring her. She came on her own.] She asked about him when she arrived to learn that he had given up women, cigarettes, alcohol, etc (لقاتو زهد). She had no house, no friends or family. All the woman knew of the story of her love for him. The waves took her [she was sleeping on the beach] and killed her. They buried her body near the coast and now people in love [especially women] visit her marabout in order to write their names and those of their beloved on the walls of the building in henna. She blesses them with requited love. There is a well nearby with very cold water. She is not a jinn, but was a woman.

The third Aisha was Aisha Qadissa from Portugal (not Qandisha, a mispronunciation of her Portugese name). She was a beautiful woman. The Portuguese colonizers killed her husband. She would make herself available to any man who wanted her [Portuguese soldiers], and over the course of an evening, she would kill him, avenging her husband's death. She killed 500 soldiers. ("She was like Zorro.") She was not a jinn.

But those here, the Gnawa, Jbaliyya... shame on them [hashuma alihum]. They create the atmosphere that she is a jinn. Aisha was one of Mohammed's women, how could there be a jinn with the same name? The first two of these examples were holy [ربنية, Sudaniyya and Bahriyya] and the third is powerful [قوية, Qadissa].

There is a fourth Aisha. That's the life that we live, you and me and everyone."

Thank you for reading, and allowing him to speak to his music a bit more directly (albeit translated).

 Christopher Witulski


Unfortunately I have no more Hamadsha tapes in my stash (that I can share, at least...). I was going to share an Aissawa tape that has some Gnawa songs on it (to further exemplify the borrowing and sharing of songs between the Moroccan trance music repertoires. But then when googling around to find more information about the performer, Al-Hajj Said Al-Guissi I found that the tape has been issued on CD and is available on iTunes as "L'Art Aïssawa, Vol. 2". (Though the cassette j-card pictured here is much more glorious!)

So instead, here's a vintage Jilala cassette on Tichkaphone. I'm pretty sure I bought this one sealed, but the lyrics (what I can make out of them) don't seem to have any relationship to the song titles on the j-card. Unusual that one of the vocalists is female!

Track 2 (of 4)

Get it all here.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Hi Y'all - Back with More Marrakchi Party Tunes - Si Mohamed Aguir

Happy 2013 to all. Sorry for the long absence - tape deck needed a little maintenance, and I guess I needed a little break too. Thanks for the comments and well wishes in the interim!

Still have a bunch of tapes from my summer trip to get digitized and out to ya. For now, though, here's a couple of oldies from deep in the stash. These both feature my fave oud man out of Marrakech, Hamid Zahir, but also highlight a particular member of his group, Si Mohamed Aguir.

The first tape, pictured above, is credited to Alfarqat Almarrakchiya (The Marrakchi Ensemble). It's basically the Hamid Zahir group, but featuring some different lead singers. I'm pretty sure that the singer on some of these tracks is Si Mohamed Aguir, and I think he's the one pictured on the cassette j-card. The only picture I could find online is from the sleeve of the 45 seen in the YouTube clip below. Does it look like the same guy to you? It sure sounds like him:

The cassette contains some tracks that appear on other cassettes credited to Hamid Zahir (#2 and #3 specifically). You'll still want to hear this album, though, if only for the insanely catchy singalong "Lebniya Llah Ihdik" (preview below).

The second cassette, pictured below, features tracks recorded live by Hamid Zahir and troupe (somewhere outside of Morocco, if I'm hearing the introductory comments to track 5 correctly).

This set features Si Mohamed Aguir singing on track 5. Zahir introduces Si Mohamed as the singer (and, at the end of the song, dancer). You'll hear Aguir's prominent rhythmic footstamping on several tracks. I believe Si Mohamed is the heavy set gentleman clapping, dancing and singing back-up in the following YouTube clip.

Even when he's not singing lead, he's a huge part of the atmosphere of Zahir's performances - adding the percussive clapping, cadential call-outs, and syncopated footwork. The songs he sings are more ironic and comedic than than those sung by Zahir. I don't know if he's still with us, but his good-time vibe is still in effect when the Marrakchi groove hits!

Any corrections or additional info about Si Mohamed Aguir would be greatly appreciated!!

Audio transfer notes: I did a time-pitch correction on track 4 of "Alfarqat Almarrakchi". It always seemed to run too fast to me - now the oud is in tune with that of the other tracks on the tape, though this track was certainly recorded at a different session. The Koutoubiaphone tape seems to me to run on the slow side, but I didn't adjust anything on it.

Discographic note: The Zahir live tape says "Koutoubiaphone" on the j-card, but the cassette shell bears the Tichkaphone imprint. They are one and the same company.

Tagnawit note: Track 2 of the Koutoubiaphone tape contains 2 Gnawa-related songs. "Hada Wa'du Meskin" takes lyrics from a Gnawa song but gives them a different (but still pentatonic) melody. "Lagnawi" refers to the Gnawa melk Sidi Mimoun. However I believe this song has its origins in the Aissawa repertoire - I've heard the melody played at an Aissawa ceremony, but it's not typically played at Gnawa ceremonies.

Alfarqat Almarrakchia - Editions Hassania EH1097
1) Lebniya Llah Ihdik

2) A Bgha Itjewwej
3) Kulshi Msha Ghafel
4) Farkh Lehmam (or so it says on the j-card - the only refrain I hear sung refers to "Al-ghaba")

Hamid Zahir - H. Azzahir (live) Koutoubiaphone/Tichkaphone CKTP5006
1) Lalla Souad
2) Hada Wa'du Meskin - Lagnawi
3) Lil Lil Ya Sidi Âamara
4) Lghorba
5) Ma Bghit Zuwwej 

And of course there's more Hamid Zahir stashed away here and here.