For nearly every traveller to Morocco, one of the biggest highlights is listening to live Moroccan music. From the performers jamming in Marrakesh’s famous square, Jemma el-Fnaa every night, to the Gnawa beats pulsing in the desert… one thing is for certain, Moroccan music will set beat to your time in Morocco.
Here is our “must download” list of Moroccan artists. Give them a listen and create your own soundtrack, whether its for the plane ride over or that epic road-trip that takes you from the bustling port of Tangier all the way to the quiet of the Sahara.
Hailing from Taroudant, M’barek is often credited for reinvigorating the traditional music of the region. With some definitively spicy Latin-flavored guitar infused with some reggae chill, M’barek’s harmonious chanting adds to a mix that could easily see you through takeoff or maybe lounging by the pool.
Probably the most popular band to come out of Morocco’s Souss region, over the High Atlas and south of Marrakesh. The feels are enchanting with a stress on the gimbri (a Morocco stringed instrument that is something like an acoustic guitar) and often some 70s-era flavor mixed in. The perfect sounds for a lazy drive through the mountains.
Perhaps the most popular music in all of Morocco is simply called “Chabbi” music (that is, “popular” music). This type of music, typically sung in Moroccan Arabic, has a lot of Western influences and deals with themes, by and large, of daily life. You’ll hear this in taxis all over the country! There are several very popular Chabbi singers, with Aâtabou being one of the most known. Her song, “Hadi Kedba Bayna,” was sampled by The Chemical Brothers.
Perhaps best known for her jazzy, multi-lingual album Berber Taxi, Zarra is a trained jazz musician having studied in France before moving to New York. She is perhaps at the forefront of jazzy Moroccan sounds pulling sounds from all over her home country, from the calls of the desert to the quiet strings of the mountains and the unmistakeable rhythms of Gnawa. It all makes for an intoxicating musical cocktail.
Considered a real master of Gnawa music, Guinia fronts a band, leading the rhythm and the chanting with his gimbri and voice. Unlike some of the other Gnawa musicians recording and playing festivals, Guinia has kept the Gnawa stress on long trance rhythms, making for songs that are often longer than what we are used to hearing, though were once the norm in some regions in Morocco. Tune in, chill out, and be enchanted by the metal castanets, the specific sound thought to have originated from the sounds of the slaves as they moved across the desert, chained together.
The Master Musicians of Joukouka
If you’ve never encountered Sufi Trance Music, this is your chance. Sufism is still big in Morocco, though largely goes unnoticed by most travellers. Music plays a large part in Sufism with many adherents believing that it can help you reach a sort of divine state, or trance, with the aid of the right music. Interestingly, Brian Jones (yes, THAT Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones) once worked with The Master Musicians of Joukouka.
Nass el Ghiwane
Often dubbed “The Beatles of Morocco,” Nass el Ghiwane is a veritable Moroccan institution. This super-popular group hit their peak of popularity in the 1970s, bringing an energy lots of Maghrebi beats accompanying silky smooth vocals and vibrant Moroccan-style guitars and funky bass. If you’re creating your own Moroccan Music playlist, Nass el Ghiwane is a must-add.
Originally from M’hamid al-Rizlane, a desert town at the end of the road, Oum has grown to be an international star with her Gnawa-pop-jazz fusion, a particular sound that is all her own. Interesting, she also hosts the Taragalte Music Festival, a three-day event held at the end of October every year in her home town in the Sahara. Oum also sings in English, making her music often more approachable for those listening to Moroccan music for the first time.
About the Author
Morocco expert, writer and photographer Lucas Peters curates and edits the Journey Beyond Travel blog and pens the JBT Insider’s Guide series. After spending years traveling to the distant corners of Morocco, he wrote and photographed the best-selling guidebook Moon Morocco. He is now based in Paris, where he lives with his wife and son.