Sunday, April 27, 2008


The other week, I was able to attend a practice of Adil's band, Hoba Hoba Spirit. One of the greatest frustrations of playing drums and being in a band is finding suitable practice space. In urban environments, no doubt, there are few apartments that are capable of hosting jam sessions, as the noise would disturb the neighbors.

Adil told me that a local, wealthy businessman offered to let the band use a building (that was old mattress showroom) free of charge. The support the band gets from the community is fantastic: it is so great to see that Hoba Hoba Spirit’s music is embraced by the locals. As a drummer, that sort of philanthropy makes me smile!

The band was preparing for a show that upcoming weekend in Paris. Although they hadn’t played together for about a month, they still sounded very good. They rehearsed their twenty-four song set list: it was really neat to witness this performance in such an intimate setting. The rhythms of Hoba’s songs are really outstanding: because of the West African influence on their music, many of the beats are in six, rather than four.

Throughout May and June, I will have several opportunities to see Hoba perform live. I am really excited to witness the energy of their live performances.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


A few Fridays back, I met Adil Hanine, the drummer of Hoba Hoba Spirit, at Hotel Pietri, a jazz bar in Rabat. Hoba Hoba Spirit is one of the most popular bands in Morocco right now – they received constant airplay and even tour internationally. Based out of Casablanca, Hoba’s music is a fusion of rock, reggae, and Gnaoua. The influence of Moroccan rhythms gives the band a truly awesome, not to mention unique, sound. Check

Adil made a guest appearance at Pietri, both on vocals and drums, during the performance of an Afro-Pop band, Super Jungle. After chatting for an hour or so, Adil said I was more than welcome to stay at his house in Casablanca, whenever I needed a place to crash. The following Sunday, I left Rabat for Casa.

The hospitality in Morocco is incredible: never have I traveled throughout a country where so many people are eager to provide the lonely traveler accommodation.
Adil met me at the Casa Port train station and took me back to his house. A couple of his friends were already over, and we hours we just talked about music, discussing everything from the underrated solo career of John Frusciante to the indispensable contribution George Harrison made to fusion music. It never ceases to amaze me to find people on other continents with such similar music tastes as my own: music truly is the universal language.

That night, Adil, his Bulgarian wife Tzvety, and I went to a local restaurant/bar that has live music. The place is a favorite spot amongst local musicians, as there are guitars, drums and microphones already set up. Needless to say, there are many jam sessions featuring Casablanca’s finest musicians.

After a delicious mixed grill dinner, I played drums with Adil (who was on bass) and another guitarist. We played songs we all knew, such as “No Woman No Cry,” “I Feel Good” and “Wonderful Tonight.” Being that I have not really practiced in since I left New York, it was somewhat intimidating to perform in front of thirty to forty people. Nonetheless, it was a blast to be able to play, albeit a brief twenty minutes.

Adil, the drummer of Hoba Hoba Spirit, and JP the bass player of Super Jungle outside Hotel Pietri in Rabat.

Saad, the bass player of Hoba, myself and Adil outside Pietri.

Jamming at a club in Casablanca.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Below are a handful of random pictures from my stay in Rabat. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the capitol; and, thanks to my host, Amine, was able to meet many people throughout the city. I know I will return to Rabat in the next few weeks or so.

This picture is from a jazz quintet (the keys player is blocked) at Hotel Pietri. Morocco has a thriving jazz scene, thanks to the French influence.

The medina in Rabat is surprisingly orderly and (for the better) lacks the intensity of the market in Fes. Small hand drums are a common souvenir for the tourist; this shop keeper
For me, these drums are not particularly interesting: they are mass produced (as you can see) and are very poorly made. I do think it is neat that some drums are made of clay; but, I am sure they break very easily!

This darbuka (also called a goblet drum) is plated with (faux) mother of pearl. The pattern on the drum is very interesting. The head is a plastic and easily removable if broken. The actual shell of the drum is a composite of lightweight metals.

While visiting Amine’s extended family for a Friday night couscous dinner, I was shown these three drums. All three are made from clay and sheep hide. Amine’s uncle said he bought the biggest one for only 20 Dirham (about $3). The big drum is rested on your shoulder when played. The sound of the drum is fairly dull; although, because there are three pieces of string attached to the inside of the head, the sound has a “twanging” ring to it – almost like a very makeshift snare drum. Amine’s uncle told me he bought the drum for his wife.

Monday, April 14, 2008


In almost every sense imaginable, Morocco is a mixture of cultures. For centuries, this country has absorbed the musical flavors of countless of external influences. In short, the many dimensions of Moroccan music can be traced back to Berber, Arab, Andalusian and West African origins. The parallels between Morocco and New York City are unavoidable: both places represent the pinnacle of multiculturalism.

Two weekends ago, Amine and I went to a party (more accurately, a small gathering) in Skhirat, a beach town just south of Rabat. The evening was hosted by a self-proclaimed music fanatic, Bashir. For the party, Bashir hired two Gnaoua musicians to perform; I had never seen a live Gnaoua performance before. It was my first real taste of the West African influence on Moroccan culture.

What exactly is Gnaoua music, you ask. Before I continue with my experiences at Bashir’s house, I will do my very best to define Gnaoua music.

Anthropologically speaking, the term “Gnaoua” (pronounced ga-na-wah) directly refers to the Sub-Saharan communities that either were enslaved and brought to, or naturally emigrated to, Morocco, most likely around the 16th Century. Originally, Gnaoua music was a West African pagan concept; that is to say, it was music performed at various rituals and healing ceremonies.

For the music performance, two instruments were used: the karkaba, a pair of small metal cymbals played with the hands, which is almost like a clave. The genbri, a three stringed bass guitar, was also played. The genbri is made from calf skin and the wood of a fig tree. The music of the genbir is supposed to evoke the spirit of the tree – a very pagan concept, indeed. The music is laden with improvised rhythms; many handclaps are scattered throughout each piece without a following a definitive time signature or meter.

The lyrics of the songs, sung in Arabic, pertain to the unlimited power and benevolence of God, and also tell stories of the Prophet Mohammed. When I asked if any of the lyrics were taken directly from the Qu’ran, I received an emphatic, “Absolutely not,” as my answer. “That would be sacrilege,” I was told.

Many centuries ago, Gnaoua was sung in West African languages and the contents of the lyrics pertained to themes of West African religions. Needless to say, Morocco has had a profound influence on the evolution of Gnaoua music.

In the bluntest sense, the purpose of Gnaoua music is what is called “hadra” – for the individual to become aware of the presence of the Lord. Within the tenets of Islam, God is everywhere at all times; yet, as mere mortals, we often fail to recognize omnipresent nature of the Divine. Through the vibrations of the music, we are able to focus on the tangibility of God. The music provides a medium for this consecrated connection: this, of course, is a very powerful feeling. Hence, many of the performers often fall into a deep trance.

The songs build on top of themselves; as in, as the music progresses, the beat moves faster and faster. The songs themselves can last anywhere from several minutes to several hours: most certainly, the repetition creates a hypnotic essence to it.

Most certainly, the ultimate goal of performing Gnaoua music is to create a mystical union between the musician and God. Not surprisingly, many of Gnaoua musicians are devout Sufis – Sufism is the mystical sect of Islam. The staple of Sufism affirms that every individual is capable of having a personal relationship with God.

To become a true gnaoua musician, there is a rigorous training process: the master and disciple maintain a very close relationship. According to Bashir, among gnaoua musicians, there is a “very codified way of being.”

I was lucky enough to witness a performance by an authentic maalem, master of Gnaoua. Tonight’s performance featured Adbel Kader, the maalem, and Said, the disciple, called a “cuyo.” Because of the vast amount of tourism throughout Morocco, there are many individuals that claim to be a maalem – yet, in all truth, the number of maalem is very few, as the commercialization of Gnaoua music has undermined its spiritual nature. Bashir asserted that among Gnaoua musicians there is an inherent hesitation to advertise their religious tradition.

The candle lit room at Bashir’s house provided an intimate setting to showcase the performers. Acrobatic dances accompany the music: a tremendous amount of energy is required to perform Gnaoua. That being said, for tonight’s performance, there was minimal dancing, as the environment was not exactly conducive for it.

Although Gnaoua is a very serious music, this evening’s performance was rather light-hearted. Towards the end of the evening, an up-and-coming twenty-year-old Moroccan blues guitarist performed with the two Gnaoua musicians. Interestingly enough, musicologists have traced American Blues music back to Gnaoua. Of the past quarter century, several notable Western musicians, including Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and Bill Laswell, have experimented with Gnaoua, to create a new fusion music.

Gnaoua music reflects its West African roots; yet, is still an Islamic enterprise.
On the surface, the marriage of a West African tradition and Islam may seem to be counterintuitive, as some West African religious were polytheistic; but nonetheless, these two concepts come together fluidly. That is to say, the common goal of developing a sense of piety and raising awareness of the Divine is reached. The music itself serves as a religious invocation: in the purest sense, Gnaoua strives to create awareness for the Almighty, through the trance of the music.

In all truth, I know very little about Gnaoua music– it is a very complicated art indeed. Every June in Essaouria, in south Morocco, the Gnaoua World Music Festival is held: I look forward to attending the festival to learn more about this mystical music.

Here are some pictures; more videos to come!

A blurry but happy Bashir in the background

The musicians; I chose not to use flash, so they would not be disturbed...

Earlier in the day, cruising the beach on ATVs with Amine and Bashir

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Apologies for a lack of updates as of late. I have been bouncing between Rabat and Casablanca. Much research and writing is in the works and will be delivered as soon as possible...

Thursday, April 3, 2008


First and foremost, my apologies for a lack of updates since my arrival to Morocco: my internet access has been inconsistent as of late. Furthermore, due to slow connection speeds, I have been unable to upload any videos. Moving on…

Last week, in Rabat, I met Younes Boumehdi, one of the directors at Hit Radio, the first hip-hop and R&B radio station in Morocco. Founded in July 2006, Hit Radio strives to expose up-and-coming Moroccan artists.

Like hip-hop in other parts of the world, the music reflects the urban struggles of the younger generations. Some artists, like Hakim from Rabat and Fnaire from Marrakesh, incorporate traditional elements of Moroccan music into the beats of their contemporary music. The marriage of rap and “classical” Moroccan music is an intriguing enterprise. That being said, throughout American hip hop, it is very common for the beat (music, that is) to sample Western classical music – just think of all of the string sections employed in a beat by Dr. Dre or RZA.

(An interesting side note, Fnaire, a trio of rappers, has recorded with several members of the Wu-Tang Clan. Here is a link if you would like to stream some of their music).

Although Hit Radio only broadcasts contemporary music, Younes does know many traditional musicians, most of whom are based in Marrakesh. Younes asserted that many young Moroccans were “fed up” with the traditional music scene, and thus, had a greater interest in genres of music like hip-hop. The Moroccan government had been hesitant to approve a hip-hop radio station – deeming it to be a potentially bad influence on the youth of Morocco. Nonetheless, since Hit Radio was inaugurated, it has flourished and fostered the growth of the Moroccan music scene.

Aside from establishing several contacts for me, Younes generously offered to provide a pass for the “Mawazine, Rhythms of the World Festival,” which is from May 16th to 24th in Rabat. I am really looking forward to attending that festival; I will write more about it as it approaches.

Two days ago, I went back to Hit Radio and met a man named Dominique, who is French. Dominique works to promote and develop contemporary Moroccan music; and also, helps form the weekly play lists for Hit Radio. Dominique also provided me with several potential contacts for my research.

So a big thanks to everyone at Hit Radio! I forgot to take pictures at the station; but here is one of me wearing traditional Moroccan clothing, the jellaba. I am attending a wedding this weekend and need to have a Moroccan "tux"!