Poetic Malhun Music

Morocco is country that has a rich musical culture. Many traditional forms, or genres, of music are still played today, such as rai, berber, gnawa and sufi. A very unique and unusual form of music is that of malhun. There are a few artists in Morocco who still write malhum music and play in malhun orchestras. It is music that is mostly sung and performed by artisans and working class locals of Morocco. What started out as a literary experiment, soon became a genre that was adopted and loved by many.

Moroccan poetic art is known as Qasida, which means “poem” when translated. It is from this poetry that Malhun was created. In short, malhun was derived from Andalusian music and is in effect a musical poem. The music is, however, performed in a specific way, with two very distinct parts. The qasida has two basic components that create malhun, namely the overture, which is the instruction of the poem and then the poem itself. The poem, which is performed by singers and musicians, can take various forms. The choral refrain is referred to as the harba, a chorus called the didka and the verses which can either be sung as a group or by a solo artist. The verses are accompanied by orchestras and consist of a variety of traditional instruments such as the hadjouj, oud, darbuka, swisen, handqa and kamenjah. The hadjouj is a type of bass lute, while the swisen is also a lute but with a higher pitch and the handqa are small cymbals. Together they create the unique sound of malhun that locals enjoy and has made a few of their musicians famous.

Some of the older, but well known, melhun authors include Abderrahman El Majdoub. He passed away in 1568 but his legendary mystical quatrains are known throughout Morocco and are a vital part of the heritage of the genre. A more recent artist is Haj Houcine Toulali, who died in 1998 and was a great promoter of malhun. Most legendary is Thami Lanmdaghri who is responsible for composing some of the most popular songs that are still performed today.