Listen to the traditional and modern music that set the tone for our stay in Morocco
Morocco projects a soulfulness that sinks into your bones. We could feel this projected through the people, sights and sounds of the country. As an accompaniment to our stories that will use Morocco as a setting, we’ve put together a list of tracks that set the vibe for us while spending time exploring Marrakech, Essaouira, and Casablanca. The playlist features a mix of Moroccan artists, including traditional Gnawa and Berber music, Moroccan singers, rappers and instrumentalists both modern and classic, as well as tracks by artists from around the globe. Click the image below to listen on Spotify.
Below the image, we’ve included stories that go a bit deeper on some of the styles and musicians that are behind the tracks featured in this playlist. This is not meant to be a deep-dive into the complex musicality of the region, just a few of the artists and genres that were important to the locals that we encountered. Each section contains links to help you explore further, so please listen in, learn more and show them your support.
Gnawa music is important to Moroccans, with links to Moulay Ismail ibn Sharif, The Black Guard, and the complex history of slavery in the 1600s in the region. The tracks are long, meant to guide listeners into a trance that connects them to higher states of consciousness. While the tracks have a repetitive rhythmic quality, lyrically they present a series of chants and evocations meant to guide listeners deeper into the spirit world. Many of these groups have experienced fame outside of Morocco, with a Gnawa and World Music Festival being hosted in Essouaira on a yearly basis. Rhythmically and musically the songs are like nothing you’ve heard before, yet contribute to the roots of so many modern styles of music. The history and practice of this form are worth a listen and further research.
Check out Maâlem Mahmoud Guinia on Boiler Room.
Berber music was brought to Morocco by the Berber people as they migrated across Northern Africa. Performance ranges from large groups including dancers and many musicians playing various instruments, to solo performers with acoustic guitars. These songs came to represent a key touchpoint in the Berber people’s struggle for language and cultural recognition within the North African region. The songs of Ammouri Mbarek were instrumental in the Berber people’s fight for equality, and established him as a Bob Dylan-like figure for Moroccan Berbers. He is credited with revolutionizing Berber music by merging traditional and modern styles, thus bringing it to a new generation of fans.
Check out Ammari Mbarek – Tazzewit
Najat Aatabou is a Moroccan chanteuse in the French Chanson tradition, who tells the story of modern Moroccan women through songs of love and loss, unfaithful husbands and falling in love with married men. A revolutionary undertaking in a country where these types of activities were considered illegal. She loved singing from an early age, eventually beginning to sneak out of her house to perform at local parties and banquets at the age of thirteen. A guest at one of these events made a recording of her performance and later began to sell this as a bootleg recording. As luck would have it, this tape became a massive success, boosting her to local fame, but also alerting family to her singing career. After a death threat from her brothers, running away from home and hiding in a record store, she was discovered by a Moroccan record producer and found stardom. Her songs have given a public voice to the women of Morocco and brought feminism into the public discourse.
Check out Najat Aatabou – Hadi Kedba Bayna
Music of Morocco recorded by Paul Bowles – 1959
I have also included a few tracks from the field recordings of Paul Bowles, an important American writer and expat who made his home in Morocco and whose works were a major inspiration for my desire to visit this beautiful country. In 1959 he travelled across Morocco in a borrowed VW Beetle with a tape machine making recordings of musicians, markets, small villages, religious ceremonies and other aspects of daily life. These recordings have been preserved by the Library of Congress and released as a beautiful collector’s set by Dust to Digital. It is an indispensable time capsule of what this region was like at the time, akin to Alan Lomax’s field recordings.
Check out Paul Bowles discussing music as ritual in Morocco in the 1950s.
The playlist also features a selection of modern artists from around the world, whose music accompanied us during our trip and are included to connect you with the pulse that we felt during our stay. This is the music that we heard on headphones at 10,000 ft, in the restaurants, museums and shops of Morocco, and as we finished a bottle of Moroccan wine while watching the night sky from the rooftop terrace at our riad in Marrakech.
We hope you enjoy this small taste of Moroccan music. Don’t forget to listen along as your read our stories set in the region and hit the links in the track list below to support these artists.
As usual, leave your comments and track recommendations below.
- ARRIVAL: Footprints on the Moon – Johnny Harris
- Djema El Fna – Mustapha Maquemon
- El Fjer – Unknown Artist – Recorded by Paul Bowles
- UMI Says – Mos Def
- Issawa’s Woman – Malika Zarra
- Shyne Eyed Gal – Lord Tusk
- Marriage – Telemachus
- Marahaba – Hassan Hakmoun, Adam Rudolph
- Always Be Your G – Sun Runners
- A Habibi Ouajee T’Allel Allaiya – The Master Musicians of Jajouka
- Incidents – Ocean Wisdom
- Hammadi – Innov Gnawa
- INTERMISSION: SpottieOttieDopaliscious – OutKast
- La femme idéale – Titi Robin, Mehdi Nassouli
- Secret Gardens – Farai
- May Hammouniche Awaâdi – Najat Aatabou
- Mood – Draganov
- Mrahba Baba Hamouda – Mahmoud Guinia
- Ancestral Recall – Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Saul Williams
- Ah Aymmi – Ammouri M’barek
- Sure Thing – St Germain
- Almihrab Morocco – Abdelwahab Doukkali
- Ahmeilou – Maallem Ahmed
- Inshallah – Telemachus
- DEPARTURE: Journey’s End – Larry Willis
© 2019 55 Cities
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