Music in Morocco
Rhythms of Moroccan music
One of the richest aspects of Morocco’s culture is its music. Made up of more than twenty-five different types, Moroccan music reflects the richness of its diversity and echoes its present and past history. Depending on which region of the country you visit, you will be sure to hear the sounds of Andalusian, Berber, Raï, Chaabi or Gnawa permeating the air.
Andalusian music, as its name indicates, comes from Al-Andalus or Andalusia. It is a blend of Arab and Spanish music that Moroccans call El-Ala and is considered to be Morocco’s classical music which is sung in classical Arabic. Andalusian music dates back to the 9th century when the famous Persian singer and musician Ziriab made this type of music popular. It makes use of many musical instruments such as the violin, lute and many others. In Morocco, Andalusian singers and musicians are mostly men who perform in traditional clothing. Moroccans usually listen to Andalusian music during religious ceremonies.
The second type of music is Berber music. The three different Berber regions in Morocco each possesses their own language and, in turn, their own Berber rhythms. Berber music has survived thanks to a few Berber musicians and poets. Many Arab Moroccans do not listen to Berber music since most do not speak or understand Berber. The main instruments of Berber music are the round drum – or Bendir – and the banjo. Berber music has undergone many changes during the past twenty years. One of the more notable changes is the presence of more and more women performing it.
Another type of Moroccan music is Rai. With its origins in Algeria, it has been adopted by Morocco and is associated to the eastern region of the country, especially the city of Oujda. Rai music gained a lot of popularity in Morocco in the 90s with the death of the famous Algerian Raï singer Cheb Hasni. Since then, Raï has blossomed in the North East of Morocco.
Chaabi is probably considered pop music since it is indeed the most popular music listened to in Morocco. It is another form of Moroccan music that is widely listened to because it is sung in Darija, Moroccan Arabic. In the 70s it was the music that was used to express people’s overall political views and feelings via groups such as Jil Jilala and Nas El Ghiwane. Chaabi can be heard at weddings and other festive occasions or group gatherings.
Even if you speak Moroccan Arabic, do not be surprised if you cannot understand the lyrics of Gnawa music. For Gnawa music is a fusion of Arab, Berber and African rhythms. It is powerful trance music that goes back to the 16th century and has gained international popularity over the last few years. If you are in Morocco during the month of June, don’t miss the three-day Gnawa festival in the city of Essaouira in the south of Morocco. The main instruments of Gnawa music is the double-headed drum – or tbal – and metal castanets or qerqbat. Gnawa has also gone through changes and can be heard mixed with different musical styles such as Jazz.
If you are planning to visit Morocco, be sure you get informed of the music festival taking place during your visit. There are many of them in different cities and it is most likely that your visit coincides with one of them. There are, for example, a festival in Rabat called Mawazin, another in Fez called sacred music (or la musique sacrée) and another one in Chefchaouen called Allegria. There are also many others.
Last updated: January 17, 2020