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Friday 17 May 2024

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 35 - Morocco

The juggernaut rolls on and this week we reach Morocco, a country that I've been lucky enough to visit a number of times over the last 20 years or so. 

On my first visit me and a couple of pals got the ferry from Malaga to Melilla and made our way east along the coast to the Algerian border. On my most recent one in December 2019 I visited Tangier, Tetaoun and - as a treat to myself on Christmas Day - spent one night in a fancy hotel in the seaside resort of Martil. This was the view:

Tangier has been home to many interesting characters over the years, including the American writer and composer Paul Bowles who lived there for over fifty years. He was one of the first people to make field recordings of traditional local music, and our first track by Moqaddem Mohammed Ben Salem from 1959 is one example. You can find it on a compilation of Mr Bowles' recordings released on the Dust-to-Digital label.

I have chosen a more recent field recording next. This one comes from an album called "Ecstatic Music Of The Jemaa El Fna" (the main square in Marrakesh) recorded in 2005. If you have ever been to Marrakesh you will know that all human life and much more beside can be found in Jemaa El Fna of an evening - snake charmers, shysters, sellers of snail-based snacks and musical groups. Troupe Majidi are one of the latter and may perhaps dabble in the others as well for all I know.

I don't know whether the music of either of those acts would technically be described as gnawa music  but it shares some of the characteristics. Gnawa is probably Morocco's biggest contribution to global music and is still influential today. The most prominent of the current wave of gnawa inspired bands is Bab L'Bluz. Their new album "Swaken" came out last week. This track is from their previous album "Nayda!".

After that carefully curated first half things go a bit haywire now. First we have some frenzied Arabic rhythm 'n blues from Fadoul, the James Brown of Casablanca, courtesy of the estimable Habibi Funk label. This track is on the "Habibi Funk 007" compilation but there is a whole album devoted to Fadoul's work which you really need to get.

Also hailing from Casablanca around the same sort of time is "bachelor hairdresser and composer" Abdou El Omari - an odd blurb but that what it says. It goes on to describe "Nuits D'​É​té", the album from which this track comes, as being "an Oriental psych monster from the organ king of Casablanca, combining traditional rhythms with spaced out modern sounds", which sums it up nicely. Vocals by local diva Naima Samih.

We rounds things off with some MAR from Cheb Kader. Kader was one of the pioneers of the modern rai sound and while he has not enjoyed the same level of success as the likes of his friend Cheb Mami he has been extremely influential. "Reggae Rai" comes from his 1986 album "El Awama" and can also be found on the "A Moi La Liberte" electronic rai compilation which I raved about when we kicked the tour off next door in Algeria a year ago last Wednesday.   

"Third Zqel" - Moqaddem Mohammed Ben Salem & Ensemble

"Afriquiya" - Troupe Majidi

"Gnawa Beat" - Bab L'Bluz

"Bsslama Habiti" - Fadoul

"Zifaf Filfada" - Abdou El Omari

"Reggae Rai" - Cheb Kader

As some of you may have spotted we had Eurovision last weekend. I had not realised until I started what passes as research for this series that Morocco once participated Eurovision. They could probably do so again if they wanted to as the national broadcaster is a paid-up member of the European Broadcasting Union, but clearly they decided once was enough (and who can blame them).

The year was 1980, the song was called "Bitakat Hob", the performer was Samira Bensaïd, and they came second to last. They were robbed.


  1. Ms Bensaid's song is far superior to What's another bloody year by Johnny bloody Logan!

    1. That third video has brought a smile to my face (after being told the car has an oil leak FFS). And I do like the Bab L'Bluz track

  2. That last video is just mental. Loved it.