Monday, September 1, 2014

Raïs Lhaj Belaïd

Raïs Lhaj Belaïd was the first nationally renowned Chleuh (Soussi Berber) poet and musician. Since his death nearly 70 years ago, his compositions have constantly remained in the repertoire of the rwaïs. Here's a cassette compilation of some of his recordings, released originally on 78RPM records.

The photo on the j-card appears in the 1933 book Corpus de Musique Marocaine: Fascicule II - Musique et danses berbere du Pays Chleuh by Chottin. The full photo is a favorite of mine:

"The raïs Belaïd improvises a poem. In front of him, on the ground, his compositions are scattered. Behind him, a dancer, standing, holds a book full of other poems."

Here is some info on his life and work, translated from Mohamed Ameskane's Chansons Maghréines:
"Emblematic and essential figure of the Amazigh amarg [art song tradition], Haj Belaïd is to Moroccan Berber song what Mohamed Abdelwahab is to Arabic song. His timeless refrains have been reprised, since the thirties, by generations of Rwayes such as Rkia Damsiria, Amentag, Amouri Mbarek, by the groups Izenzaren, Ousman, Oudaden, not to mention the new scene with, among others, Amarg Fusion.

"His recordings, the documents of his fabulous destiny, and his photos are very rare. The troubadour of the Souss was born in the 19th century, between 1870 and 1875, at Anou n Adou, in the area of Tiznit. Coming from a modest family, he lost his father at an early age. Soon he would leave Koranic school, where his mother had enrolled him, to earn a crust of bread and to help his brothers. As a shepherd, he traveled the areas of Ida Obaâkil and Anzi, accompanied by his inseparable flute.

"He recounts that he dilligently frequented the Mellah of Tahala, in the Tafraoute region, where he learned music among the Judeo-Berber community of that place. The intervention of the Cheikh R'ma of Tazeroualt, the Cherif Sidi Mohamed Ousaleh, was decisive in his life and career. Haj Belaid joined his band as a flutist, was introduced to the l’outar and the ribab. Thereafter, he started his own company with Mohamed Rais Boudrâa Tazeroualti, Moulay Ali Souiri and Mbarek Boulahcen. In their company, he roamed the country like the medieval troubadours, performing for great political, religious, and business personalities. Much appreciated, his passages were run. His themes, his incomparable ribab playing, and his bewitching voice made women cry and lulled generations of music lovers.

"An author, improvising his refrains, a songwriter and performer, Haj Belaid sang on a number of themes. In "Fars", "Tadouat d’lklam", "Ribab", "Ouar laman", "Igh Istara Oudar", and "Ika isbar yan", he evokes his suffering with poetry, wandering and traveling. In “L’jouhr", "Ajdig nimi n'trga", "Adbib", "Talb," "Atbir oumlil “, it is courtly love. Feminine beauty is celebrated in very modest terms and subtle metaphors. With "Ch'rab” and “Taroudant" social criticism is put forward. Haj Belaid also played an undeniable role as a historian of everyday life, in recording events that shook the region and the innovations introduced by Western civilization, in the songs “L’makina ousatiam","Tiznit Oulbacha", and "Chifour outoumoubil." Haj Belaid also leaves us anthology pieces about his travels such as "Amoudou L’hij", describing his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1910, “Amoudou n'taliouine" visiting the Pasha Haj Thami Glaoui, and his famous "Amoudou n'bariz." The latter piece refers to a visit of King Mohammed V to Paris. Although the great Rais did not make the trip, he sings a tribute to the City of Lights:
Our sul illa ch'ka gh'lberr wala gh'waman
There are no more troubles, neither on earth nor at sea
Wanna add our iran amoudou yakka laâdourat
He who wishes to travel has no more excuses
Mkar tid ournki, lakhbar'ns lan darnigh
Although we have not been, we have news of him
Koulou matidikan our iaâwid blah ghar'lkhir
Those who have visited say only good things
"In the twilight of his life, "Al Dalail Khairat" and the ribab slung over his shoulder, the eternal wanderer consulted the doctors of the faith on the legality of making commerce of his art. After a positive response, he said, "People sell what they have; so do I." Haj Belaid only began recording in 1929. Listening to him singing, at the age of 70, "Tachirguid", "Zeroualia", "Tazeroualt" "Ouar lman", "Tagujist" and "Toumoubil”, released by Gramophone, one can only imagine the subtleties of his voice when he was young. What a pity!"
This compliation includes two types of compositions. Some pieces are unmetered, poetic declamations ("Tagzirt", "Bariz", and "Alhaj") while the others are metered and include choral refrains. Oddly, tracks 1 and 10 begin with an announcement in Arabic along the lines of "Amarg Bariz, Rais Lhaj Belaïd and his group, in the presence of Ustad Muhammad Abdel Wahab", though neither of these songs are in fact "Bariz". Apparently the great Egyptian performer and composer Muhammad Abdel Wahab was in the studio when Lhaj Belaïd recorded these sides, and was quite impressed at Belaïd's ability to improvise verses.

Raïs Lhaj Belaïd Volume 2 (Casa Music cassette)
01) Tagzirt pt. 1
02) Tagzirt pt. 2
03) Bariz pt. 1
04) Bariz pt. 2
05) Lmakina pt. 1

06) Lmakina pt. 2
07) Adbir Oumlil
08) Alhaj pt. 1
09) Alhaj pt. 2
10) Tadouat Da Lqlim pt. 1
11) Tadouat Da Lqlim pt. 2
12) Aka Isber Yan
13) Attaleb
14) Mqar Tla Touga Arafoud

Get it all here.


  1. wow -- you want the unvarnished & raw sound, this is it!!! just loaded it onto the ipod, can't wait to listen to it a few times thru... thanks!!!! btw i left a comment on the previous post about a video i found -- that whole youtube channel seems dedicated to posts from what was prolly a VCD of Said Guissi -- i'm curious as to exactly what it is?

  2. wow, although the actual "sound" on this is quite crunchy --- go 78's!! --- the "music" on here is incredibly subtle, sweet, and beautiful... Very very nice...

  3. Very very nice, thank you so much!