Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Over the past few years, L’Boulevard Festival in Casablanca has emerged as one of the premier festivals to showcase popular Moroccan rock, reggae and hip hop acts. Like so many other festivals throughout Morocco, the festival was extremely well organized and the promoters demonstrated a profound level of professionalism.

The festival ran from Wednesday, June 18th through Sunday, the 22nd: I was only able to attend two nights, Thursday and Sunday, as I wanted to attend the Maroc Hit Parade in Rabat on the 21st. (This just goes to show how many festivals there are in Morocco; many festivals overlap one another).

On Thursday, I attended a performance by H-Kayne, probably the most popular hip-hop act in Morocco. It was definitely a fun show, although, as a drummer, I always am a little jaded while watching a concert that does not have a live drummer. As they say, “Drum machines don’t have souls.”

Sunday was the biggest day of the festival, anyway, with performances by Darga, Barry, Band of Gnawa, and of course, Hoba Hoba Spirit. The whole afternoon and evening was a blast. Hoba’s performance was incredible: it was the hometown show for the band, so there was an even higher level of energy than normal. Because I was leaving Morocco the next morning, it also was the last Hoba Hoba Spirit concert I attended, making it a very special experience for me.

Throughout the course of this year, I have been exposed to many new wonderful musicians. Without a doubt, I have seen more talent in Morocco than any of the other countries I have conducted the research in.

When friends ask me, “What is Moroccan music like?” I cannot help but roll my eyes. Moroccan music is absurdly diverse: because North Africa is teeming with so many different cultural influences, the music of Morocco cannot be easily categorized. But, to answer that nagging question, Moroccan music can sound like traditional Arabian music or classical Berber music or classical Andalusian (Spanish) music or typical French music or tribal West African music…or, it can sound like a hybrid of all, or some, of those influences!

Because contemporary artists have such a deep musical pool to draw from, bands like Hoba Hoba Spirit and Darga emerge with a very unique, but very grounded, sound. I think it is so neat how modern bands employ traditional elements.

To think of the evolution of Moroccan music, it is so incredible to remember that a genre of music, like gnaoua, originated as the music of West African slaves brought to Morocco. The rhythms of gnaoua can be heard in the music of Hoba Hoba Spirit. These same rhythms even constitute the backbone of blues music. Very, very cool, indeed…

In terms of my personal experience in Morocco, I have only the fondest memories of country. I would highly recommend anyone and everyone to travel to Morocco; it is one of the most fascinating, and beautiful, corners of the world. If you are a music aficionado, definitely visit Morocco anytime from the middle of May to early July, as there are a plethora of festivals. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the “music season” in Morocco is that almost all of the performances are free: it is so commendable that the King and other private institutions have financed so many great festivals.

Lastly, I must say a big, BIG thank you to Amine Chabi and Adil Hanine for all their help. I could write a list of a hundred names of individuals that assisted me throughout my field research, a testament to the tremendous level of hospitality throughout the country…

Apologies for the delays on the website; more to come on my adventures in Cuba. Stay tuned…

Monday, August 11, 2008


On Saturday, June 21st, I attended the inaugural year of the Maroc Hit Parade Festival, which is sponsored by Hit Radio, in Rabat. Top to bottom, it was the best one-day lineup of any festival I saw in Morocco; some of the artists included H-Kayne, Fnaire, Darga, Bigg, Casa Crew, and Hoba Hoba Spirit

There was a somber atmosphere because a week earlier, the DJ of the hip hop act Fnaire, Hicham Belqas, died in a car accident in Fes. I actually went to Fnaire’s performance in Fes the night before Hicham died. At one point during the festival, all of the artists gathered on a stage for a moment of silence in remembrance of Hicham.

Hoba Hoba Spirit headlined the festival; because there were so many other acts, Hoba didn’t finish their set until almost two in the morning. Of course, Hoba played a great show; but the highlight of the evening was the performance by Darga, another rock-reggae-gnaoua fusion band from Casablanca. Amine Belghiti, the lead singer of Darga, actually performed a couple of songs with Hoba. A very cool collaboration indeed…


Truth be told, I had rather mixed feelings about the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music: on one hand, it is a fantastic gathering of musicians, but on the other, it is a blatant exploitation of religious music. While the festival has a strong emphasis on multiculturalism, which is a positive aspect, there is a rampant sense of materialism at the festival – a prospect that should be contradictory to “sacred” music.

Indeed, a lingering question remains, as to whether “spirituality” in music can exist when there is corporate sponsorship. How can it truly be spiritual if a profit is made? Spirituality music is supposed to be free of material chains; the music of the Divine should be accessible to all. Furthermore, music is an expression of the self; so in a sense, almost all music can be labeled as “spiritual,” as, existentially speaking, the self is a reflection of the Self.

Yet, this is all a matter of perspective; some people do not find anything negative about the festival’s approach to “spiritual,” or “sacred,” music. At one show, I met a young banker named Khalid Ben Hadine, who is from Fes. Khalid had very positive things to say about idea of the festival: “Spiritual music is more important [than contemporary music]…it helps you to be comfortable with yourself.” Khalid asserted that with, “rock and hip hop, we lose spirituality. They are too commercial.” He lamented that the youth of Morocco just “want the clothes” that the artists wear. According to Khalid, “modernization” has caused this desire for the material world. Nevertheless, with the music at the Fes Festival, the people are able to learn about “the history of my country.” The festival creates a, “good chance [opportunity] to meet old cultures” from around the world Khalid was adamant when he stated, “We need it [sacred music]. Radio is just pop, house, rap; it is so rare to find spiritual music on the radio.”

In sum, the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music is extremely well-organized festival; yet, unfortunately, due to the high cost of the tickets, it remains inaccessible to the bulk of the Moroccan population.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


From Hoba Hoba Spirit's second show at the Fes Festival...


The Fes Festival of Sacred Music is not exclusive to “sacred” music: several venues, chiefly Ait Skato and Bab Boujloud, feature contemporary musicians. While I support the idea that the Fes Festival has both traditional and contemporary music, I firmly believe the organizers need to try to bridge a gap between these two genres. That is to say, there is no effort to recognize the “spiritual” aspect of contemporary music. Indeed, it is disappointing that the event organizers place so much emphasis on the “sacredness” of traditional music yet fail to distinguish or define “spiritual” essence of modern music.

When discussing this issue with Adil Hanine, the drummer of Hoba Hoba Spirit, he asked me, “What is spiritual music?” After a quick pause, he answered his own question: “Spiritual music is the heart’s expression.”

Regardless of this debate (although, as it is impossible to contradict Adil’s answer, there is not much of a debate at all), the festival organizers did a good job to showcase popular Moroccan artists, such as Nass El Ghiwane, Fnaire, Fes City Clan and Hoba Hoba Spirit.

Hoba Hoba Spirit actually played twice at the festival: on Saturday, June 14th, at Ait Skato, a venue outside the city center, and the following Sunday at Bab Boujloud, located in a plaza in the old medina. Both shows were well-attended: there were between twelve and fifteen thousand people in attendance for Saturday night’s show at Ait Skato, and about ten thousand showed up for Sunday afternoon’s performance.

As always, Hoba put on an outstanding show: they are one of the top live performers of all the bands I have ever seen. At each Hoba concert I have attended, the band has formed such a strong, immediate connection with the audience. Because these concerts represent a major form of social outlet for many young Moroccans, there is always so much energy in the audience, which, in turn, transfers onto the stage.

Below are some photographs and short videos from Saturday’s performance. I will post the media from Sunday’s show shortly…

Thursday, August 7, 2008


My apologies for any difficulties experienced while viewing this site. I have had some issues with my new posts as of late. I am not sure what is wrong, but will try to fix everything asap. More from Morocco and Cuba to come...

Monday, August 4, 2008


First and foremost, apologies for this extended delay: my last two weeks in Morocco were extremely hectic. At the end of June, I left Morocco for Cuba, spending about a month in a Caribbean. Before I get ahead of myself, let me finish my analysis of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music…

On Thursday, June 12th, the legendary Abdelwahab Doukkali performed at the Bab El Makina. Abdelwahab Doukkali is one of the most successful Moroccan musicians of all time; to give his level of popularity some perspective, the following night at the Bab Boujloud scene, there was a tribute band that just played Abdelwahab Doukkali compositions. A. Doukkali is more than a musician; he is an institution.

This evening’s performance was entitled, “Spiritual Dialogue Between Souls.” The orchestra of Rachid Regragui, a very young but already-celebrated conductor, accompanied A. Doukkali. Typically, A. Doukkali plays contemporary music; nonetheless, tonight, he only performed traditional, religious music.

Princess Lalla Salma was in attendance; and, naturally, the audience gave her a huge ovation. (Side note, in the Moroccan royal family, the woman married to the King is not given the title “Queen,” but instead, “Princess”).

Throughout the entire evening, the performance almost felt as if it were exclusively for the Princess: that is to say, it felt as if the audience was watching in on a private music session of the royal court. All of the musicians wore tuxedos, with the sole exception of A. Doukkali who wore traditional Moroccan garb. Needless to say, it was a majestic production.

Born in Fes, A. Doukkali sings and plays the lute. Although all of the vocals are in Arabic, it is clear that the lyrics of each song reflect typical themes of the music of Sufism: the individual’s quest for a union with God.

Accompanying A. Doukkali was an orchestra of forty musicians, giving the ensemble a very full sound. Truth be told, the music was more melodic than rhythmic: there were only two percussionists. Like many other nights of the Fes Festival, the audience was very engaged, often clapping the beat.

After almost three hours of music, the performance at Bab El Makina ended, and I headed over to the Dar Tazi scene. As with every other night at Dar Tazi, this evening’s performance showcased traditional Sufi musicians. Tonight featured the Derkaouiya Brotherhood, conducted by Abdelhamid Zouya. From Larache in North Morocco, the group consists of fourteen musicians. Despite its name, the group is not an exclusively male: there are two female performers. Because of the Derkaouiya Brotherhood is from the north of Morocco, there was a definite Andalusian influence: the group had two lute players and two violists.

As always, the place was full to capacity. Once again, the audience was obliged to sit, rather than have the freedom to dance. It does seem a little odd that dancing is discouraged; and I sincerely have no idea why the rules are what they are. Regardless, the performance at Dar Tazi was a great ending to an even better evening.