You’ll hear it within an hour of getting off the plane and you’ll know that you are in a different country.
To begin, let’s look at why music is so important in Morocco and then we will talk about the 6 main styles of Moroccan music.
Role of Music in Culture
Moroccan music is present in everyday life, for celebratory occasions, and for religious purposes.
One of the first places that you might notice music in Morocco is in your taxi cab or other transportation. You will be struck by the rhythmic, dynamic sounds. You might notice the call and response nature of the music with a leader singing a few lines and a chorus joining in in repetition.
You will also notice the music as you walk down the streets of the old city. Different music will be played in the shops that you are passing. If the music is extra loud, you might be passing a CD selling shop, which always makes sure to outdo the others. Music is also played in the cafes and is often displayed on the TV’s unless the football (or soccer) game is on.
A second area of the culture where music is especially remarkable in Morocco is at celebratory events, such as weddings. The music is played so loudly in celebration that you can hear it from your house nearby…you don’t even have to be at the wedding! The bride comes in with the blaring of trumpets and the music does not stop for the rest of the night.
Music is especially important to the religious tradition of Morocco. Many of the lyrics are based off of the Koran or Islamic tradition. In some communities, as will be discussed in greater detail later in the post, music is also seen as a way to access or communicate with God and the spiritual world.
Whether you are in a taxi, at a wedding or simply listening to the melodic call to prayer, you will hear the music of Morocco everywhere you go.
6 Main Music Styles
There are a wide range of different music styles present in Morocco, because of its history and geographic location. Influences from its surrounding countries and cultures can be heard in the style of Morocco’s music.
Andalusian music is the classical music of Morocco. It is currently mostly prominent in Northern Morocco. This music originated in around the 9th and is often said to be the creation of the master Ziryab, whose creativity of combing different styles of music led to this genre. This music holds a bit of a Middle Eastern flavor, combined with some Spanish influence because there were many Arab and Jewish people immigrating to Morocco after being exiled from Spain during the time that this musical tradition was being formed. In Andalusian music along with vocals, you will hear the lute, fiddle, violin, drum and tambourine.
Rai / Rap
Rai music, translated to mean “opinion,” is traditionally associated with Algeria, but this music style is prominent in Morocco as well. Recently there have been disputes about whether Rai music originated in Morocco or Algeria, as Algeria has tried to register Rai as an Algerian music. Traditionally, this music speaks about social issues and is a form of folk music that combines Bedouin music with modern instruments. Instruments include the more modern synthesizers, base guitars, and traditional flutes and drums.
Hip hop and rap are also becoming more popular in Morocco, especially among the youth. Moroccan rap is starting to mix with its other forms of music. Moroccan rap music is often used to discuss the political and social concerns that Moroccans have about their culture. Something unique about Moroccan rap is that it often mixes many different languages including English, French, Arabic and Berber words.
Chaabi is the most popular music of Morocco. This music is a combination of many different influences ranging from Arab to African to Western sounds. This is what you will hear on the streets as you are walking past cafes or in the taxis as you are driving from place to place. It is very upbeat and celebratory and often sings about love and social movements. When you hear Chaabi music, you will hear stringed instruments such as the oud, gimbri, and kamenjah (similar to lutes and violins). Percussion includes a darbuka (single-head drum) or qraqeb which are metal clackers. Chaabi is very fluid and poetic.
The different regions of Berbers will each add their own flavor to the music that they play, however, Berber music typically is known for its drum beats and handclapping. There are two well-known dances that are associated with this music, the ahouache and the ahidus. In the Berber culture, music is used prominently in cultural events. For example, they will gather to perform music at a wedding, funerals, seasonal celebrations and other significant events. As is true in the larger Moroccan culture, their music is also considered to have religious implications and can be used to ward off evil spirits. Berber music tends to tell stories of the past, both culturally historical and entertaining. Instruments that Berbers use for their music are the fiddle, drums, flutes and hand cymbals.
Malhun is sung poetry and has been present in Morocco since the 15th century. It became more popular during King Hassan II’s time, as it was embraced as “Morocccan” music in opposition to the influences of the French and Eastern Arab styles. Malhun was originally vocal (or accompanied with a drum), but can also be performed with a bendir (frame drum with snare) or tbel (double-headed drum).
This music is named for an ethnic group that was trafficked as enslaved people in Morocco during the 11th century. The name “Gnawa” represented all black enslaved people who eventually made their own communities as they were freed or escaped. Because of this troubled past, this style of music retells their history of oppression and constructs an identity of freedom for themselves. Gnawa music is also deeply spiritual, as the Gnawa believe that one cannot contact Allah directly and use their music to correspond with the spiritual world. The structure of the songs is spiritually connected with the structure of the ceremony. Gnawa musicians use the gimbri, qraqeb and the tbel, which is a double-headed drum. Despite this marginalized beginning, in more recent years, this music style has become more popular across the country and even globally, in its more secular form.
Hear it for yourself…
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