Rabat, Asharq Al-Awsat- Audiences scream and shout in frenzied anticipation for Morocco’s rap bands to perform. Moroccan rap artists are taking the local music scene by storm in what can only be described as a bona fide phenomenon reflecting the voices of the country’s younger generation.
Held annually in Rabat, the ‘Mawâzine Rythmes du Monde’ festival dedicates a main section of its artistic program to provide a platform for such artists and groups to perform their music, which it dubs the ‘Mawazine generation’. Musical genres include rap, rock, hip-hop and reggae. Among the names of some of these bands are ‘Zanka Flow’ (Street Flow), ‘H-Kayne’, ‘Fnaïre’ and ‘Kanka’. These bands depend on sharp performances that address their listeners in an immediate and direct manner.
But what is the secret behind the popularity of these groups that draw twenty-something year olds? They perform very simple musical compositions and most of the performers lack musical background. The only redeeming quality to their music is their love for this Western type of music, which they imitate or ‘Moroccan-ize’ by integrating popular Moroccan rhythms such as Gnawa [also Gnaoua].
But is it not only the music that reflects the Western influence as their choice of clothes, loose cotton t-shirts printed with certain phrases and baggy jeans worn low on their hips, is also a sign of Western influence . They emulate American artists especially, and often wear sports caps, gold and silver chains and even earrings.
It’s true that they make up a phenomenon that is worthy of close examination, not simply because of the concerns they address in colloquial Moroccan Arabic, but particularly because of the influence they have on Moroccan youth. But it’s not only their demeanor and movement that attracts attention and lends an impression of freedom and challenge; the words of their songs have come to constitute a reference for their thoughts and experiences. Through their music they are able to voice their positions and what they are against or dissatisfied with. They use phrases such as, “Be a gentleman or leave,” and at times express absolute pessimism declaring “no present, no future and no past.”
The topics broached by the songs are endless and include unemployment, poverty, wars, drugs and prostitution, and perhaps this is what accounts for their success and the positive response they receive from their young audiences. But the problem is that some of these performers do cross the line and do not hesitate in using abusive or hurtful words under the pretext of ‘realism’ when they talk about shameful phenomena in society such as prostitution for example.
The artist ‘Bigg’, who rose to stardom, is hosted on TV talk shows and has also been featured in a number of advertisements. Bigg has even collaborated with political parties that describe themselves as ‘historic’ or ‘nationalist’, which rely on his presence in their propaganda gatherings to ensure the largest turnout of Moroccan youth. What is marked is that the majority of these groups has a strong sense of nationalism and expresses its patriotism in its own unique way.
Asharq Al-Awsat interviewed various artists during the ‘Mawâzine Rythmes du Monde’ festival [18-24 May, Rabat] to see what their view was on the matter.
According to Farid Ghenam, one of eight members that make up the Casablanca-based group ‘Ma Yara Fusion’, their music is a blend between traditional Moroccan and Western sounds. The group was awarded this year’s Mawâzine prize in the music category [the same award also went to ‘Hakmin’ from Meknes], and the reason behind its success, in Ghenam’s opinion, is that the group’s members exert all their efforts to deliver the best to their audiences. He affirms that audiences are able to discern between genuine songs and pretentious ones. Ghenam does not deny the role of the media in making these groups known; groups that have imposed themselves on the scene to fill the gap that already existed.
However, Zacharia Bnan, a member of the Bnan performance arts troupe, which performs folkloric Moroccan music, believes that the rap phenomenon in Morocco is a short-lived one that will soon disappear. He predicts that the people will get bored with such groups and ultimately seek tradition, which is embodied in the Moroccan music culture. Bnan, who spoke with confidence, said that his troupe wanted to emphasize the fact that Moroccan youth do not rush to imitate the Western tradition and that they were attached to their Moroccan identity.
For his part, 23-year-old Yousef al Fajri who is the accountant for ‘Hnouz’ group stated that young people nowadays prefer loud music. He said that this was the reason ‘Hnouz’ chose to play this type of music, and furthermore added that the lyrics of their songs were not a priority but rather that the melodies and rhythms came first.
But the success of many of these groups, in their own view, is based on their ‘politique’; or their words about politics, which they approach with boldness and honesty. Their young listeners have found that the words of these songs express what goes on in their own minds.
As for the members of Hakmin, they insisted that they learnt music through ‘perseverance and expertise’ and absolutely reject the notion that they are merely imitating American rap groups. In their opinion, ‘rap’ is a rhythmic genre that exists in all languages. The members added that their music was not simply directed at youth but rather at all segments in society. They revealed that they rely on Moroccan musical pieces, which they incorporate into their music to make new versions and remixes. The group also stressed that it was careful to emphasize the beautiful and positive aspects of Morocco, while including messages that urge youth to practice good morals. They too, like the members of ‘Ma Yara Fusion’ acknowledge the significant role the media played in their rise to fame.
So, what are the views of the musicians on this new wave of music?
Baleid al Akef, Moroccan composer and member of the ‘Mawazine generation’ jury committee told Asharq Al-Awsat that the majority of these groups deal with Western music by virtue of the ages [of the musicians]. He added that their ages ranged between 16-30 years old and that they lacked experience but that the festival offered them a chance to mature for the future especially those that show potential and promise. Al Akef pointed out that the festival encourages groups that emerge from the Moroccan musical tradition, meaning that they integrate tradition and contemporary aspects of music. However, he expressed his amazement at those who sing in English despite their improper pronunciation of the language.
Al Akef explained that ‘rap’ music fundamentally relies on street “lingo” that express the socially and economically repressed conditions of a particular segment of society, which is why this type of music is prevalent in the marginalized neighborhoods and districts. He compared it to the roots of rap and hip-hop in Harlem and the Bronx in the US, and French rap that originated in France’s poor suburbs [les banlieues, French rap is often referred to as the voice of the banlieues]. According to al Akef, French and American rap has a huge audience and moreover has a significant impact on social, and even political, life. Al Akef maintains that such artists and performers possess an awareness, which he contrasts with Moroccan rap performers. Al Akef believes that the content of Moroccan rap is vacant and full of slander, pessimism and vile language.
But al Akef was quick to affirm that he does not direct any blame at these youth but rather at the officials of the Moroccan Ministry of Culture and Communication who place youth showing artistic promise within a framework. He added that they establish cultural centers that specialize in artistic development to guide these young artists’ inclinations rather than let them creatively grow into their own.