The music of Morocco is as diverse and as culturally rich as its people. Styles vary from region to region and are greatly influenced by the region’s ethnic groups and cultural heritage. Depending where you visit you will hear the classical Arab-Andalusian music, the folk music of the Berber people, Gnawa and the popular music styles of Rai and Chaabi.
Andalusian music combines the haunting tonality of Arab music with the flamenco-style strumming of Spanish folk music. The style makes use of complex percussion, stringed instruments, the lute and many other instruments. Considered Morocco’s classical music, Andalusian music is sung in Arabic and is typically performed by men in traditional clothing during religious ceremonies, festivals and concerts.
The Berber people are indigenous to West Africa and make up a significant portion of Morocco’s’ population. The Berber people possess their own language and have a long oral tradition of passing songs and poetry down from one generation to the next. There are three different Berber regions in Morocco and each possesses its own unique rhythms. Berber music typically involves drums, flutes, clarinets and a rabab, a one-stringed fiddle. You can hear Berber folk music at the Marrakesh Popular Arts Festival, the Agadir’s Timitar Festival and at festivals and family celebrations in the Berber villages.
Gnawa combines hypnotic trance rhythms with ceremonial dancing and acrobatics. Brought to Morocco by West Africans, Gnawa evolved from the freed slaves in Marrakesh and Essaouria as both prayer and a celebration of freedom and life. Gnawa has inspired the development of modern Moroccan music and has fused with similar styles like jazz, reggae and hip-hop. You will hear Gnawa in Marrakesh’s Djemaa-el Fna or at the annual Gnaoua World Music festival held annually in Essaouria, the hub of Gnawa music.
Rai is a form of folk music that originated in Algeria but become popular in the Moroccan cities of Oujda and Berkane during the early 1990s. Trendy with young people, the lyrics of Rai are traditionally concerned with social issues that have affected the native populations of West Africa. The music is an eclectic blend of traditional and religious drum patterns and melodies with electric instrumentation. Rai essentially sounds like popular music sung in Arabic, but it has deep cultural and religious influences.
Chaabi is considered the pop music of Morocco. It descended from Moroccan folk music and sounds similar to Rai. Since it is typically performed in Darija, Moroccan Arabic, it is one of the most widely listened to types of music in Morocco. The music features drums, lutes, stringed instruments and more recently electric guitars and buzuks. You will hear Chaabi played in taxicabs, market stalls and clubs.
Written by Amiee Maxwell.
Photo by Mait Juriado.