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MOROCCO / Music in Morocco
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Morocco possesses a diverse music scene that demonstrates the influence of migrations and cultural interchanges across the Sahara and along the Atlantic coast. The confluence of history and cultures fuse into a rich tapestry of sounds, both sacred and secular. Gusty strings and nasal, resonant singers wind their way through sweet-sour scales, hypnotic rhythms, and knife-sharp harmonies. A tinny taxi radio blares a new chaabi (pop) hit, a street-side bard bawls out a broadside, an all-female chorus accompanied by an all-male back-up band wanders from party to party, Sephardic liturgical music and other folksongs from historic Jewish communities illuminate festivals, and a local television station airs a concert by a classical Arab-Andalus orchestra – all while the minaret of every mosque in town simultaneously intones the Muslim call to prayer. The complex and constantly evolving styles have at once a fervent heat and a graceful rawness.


In many cases, music and dance are synonymous. Dances are common particularly in the countryside, during ceremonies such as harvest festivals, marriage festivities, and religious celebrations. Traditional dances, Berber in origin, have survived in various local and regional forms in both Arab-and Berber-speaking areas. Most public performances are accompanied by music and attended by most of the community or neighborhood.


With its hypnotic statements drawn from West African, North African, Mediterranean, Andalusian, and Islamic sources, Moroccan music has long lured listeners and holds them in its trance. Moroccan music is magical in its way of transporting and inspiring you. In every major city, without fail, music will accompany your Moroccan experience, for every day, the muezzin, beginning in the largest mosque in the city, will begin the chanted call to prayer. In the quiet of the early morning, the effect is hauntingly beautiful.

Beyond this primal experience, there are many genres of Moroccan music, including Arab, Berber, classical, and popular styles. Musicians perform in concerts, in cafes, at private homes, ceremonies, marriages, funerals, and religious processions. It is also used to accompany dancing and storytelling. A few of these genres follows:

The Guedra is a dance of the desert. The dancer starts her performance kneeling, entirely covered with a black veil. The musicians’ steady rhythm on the guedra (a "cooking pot") accelerates and the dancer’s fingers start undulating, expressing the mystery of the dance. The audience’s singing evolves into short, guttural, screams, then speeds up to reach its highest point.


The Gnaoua people, for which Gnaoua music is named, originally came from Senegal, Guinea, and Mali. During the 16th century, they were deported to North Africa as slaves of rich sultans, and integrated this new culture and religion into their own. The music of the Gnawa is a powerful combination of religious Arabic songs and African rhythms, trance music tinged with mysticism. It can be heard throughout particularly in Marrakesh and Essaouira, where there is an annual festival of Gnaoua music. From marginalized subculture to "official" representatives of Moroccan culture, many Gnaoua have undergone a dramatic transition in the past decade as their music has been "discovered" by aficionados of world music. Listen to samples of Gnaoua music and learn more about leading Gnaoua musicians.


Andalusian music, which traces its roots to the flourishing culture of Moorish Spain, is characterized by a complicated musical structure. The lyrics are in Gharnati, an Andalusian dialect, or in classical Arabic. Performed by larger orchestras, this style thrives through regular performances in conservatories located in all the major cities. Listen to samples of Andalusian music.


Berber music has been around for millennia, and combines African rhythms with rich oral history, literature, and folklore. Though styles vary by tribe, Berber music traditions endure via small bands of musicians who travel from village to village, as they have for centuries, to entertain at weddings and other social occasions with their songs, tales, and poetry. Listen to samples of Berber music and learn more about leading Berber musicians.


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