North African Sahara: Traditional Music and Universal Rhythms

Said El Mansour Cherkaoui ⧫ 27/12/2021

a man in traditional clothes holding a musical instrument

Paul Bowles Moroccan Music Collection

From July to December 1959, Paul Bowles crisscrossed Morocco making recordings of traditional music under … Continue reading Paul Bowles Moroccan Music Collection


Tayeb Seddiki and the Rise of Nass El Ghiwane

Tayeb Seddiki

Tayeb Seddiki the Man of the Wood Planks who took the scene and actors to the public places to be the mirror of the audience and the spectators who were crossing the streets and reducing the distance between them and their own image reflected by these plays in open sapace.l’Homme des planches du peuple et de la culture populaire avait entrepris de rendre le Theatre une incarnation de la Foukaha marocaine avec un It is in the Theater with Tayeb Seddiki that the talents of the Members of Nass El Ghiwane were revealed to the Moroccan public. On the stage, they set new sets of quality rendition of poems and sufi lyrics inspired from the deep mystic genre of popular poesie that troubadours and sufi followers have edicted as way of life and means of expression of their inner inspiration and inner spiritual revelations. The members of Nass El Ghiwane launched their artistic career by espousing theatrical roles that were directed and written by Tayeb Seddiki who was looking for the revival and the emergence of a real and deep Moroccan tradition of signing and incanting spirituals, psalms and incantations.

Tayeb Seddiki wanted to create a new form of theatrical representations that have a kind of musical without music played on the stage with the voice of the actors and performers as the instruments which represent for him a closer reincarnation of these troubadours and mejdoubs that use to cross the land without instruments but they will be reciting their spiritual inspiration in open public places called a Halka made as a circle by the surrounding spectators who attend the performance in public squares.

Tayeb Seddiki is from the same generation the first Moroccan Muslim Actors and Directors of Theatre that have launch their career during the French Protectorate or at least the period just next to the independence period that had still the impact of the French theatrical culture. The political movement of independence was translated on the scene as a will to break such elitist reference to the Metropole and the colonial time by breaking the walls around the theatre and taking the stage to its initial place among the popular classes and working masses. This movement was then reinforced by the recruitment and the training of actors that were chosen among the barrio, the hood, the peripheral bleu collars working suburban areas.

The opening of the theatre to these social strata was also accompanied by the adoption and the rewriting of plays that suit the actors and the audience as well as the movement of rejuvenation of national identity and regional cultures. In fact, the 5 founding members of Nass El Ghiwane were among the first to join Tayeb Seddiki Troup of Actors and they became the leaders in signing and acting roles that were effectivelly a search of the cultural identity and authenticity for the newly independent generation of young Moroccans waiting for the promises of the movement of independence to materialize for them.

This return made by certain artistic spheres and circles to the real Moroccan sources of popular literature and spirituality was also a reaction against the Arabic drive pushed by the Nationalists and their allies. The major part of the independence movement was hijacked by urban merchant elites who favored Arabic language and culture from the Middle East as the cement of their revendications against the rule of the French Protectorate in Morocco.

These high rank militants used the Arabic language and culture as an ethnic appurtenance to the Arab World centered in Egypt. This identification in the Machrek was conducted just for political and ideological reasons which is to distance the Moroccan masses and to recruit them for demonstrations and struggles against the presence of French administrators. The presence of French colonialists and their direction of Moroccan affair at the helm of key economic sectors and administrations became a hurdle to the expansion of these Moroccan – Muslim urban elites.

The New Moroccan Theatre and its leader like Taib Seddiki and Mohamed Said Afifi were caught in the middle of these moves and motions. They have been formed by the French culture and were given roles in France and frequented the masters of the French Theatre and scenes and now they are back to Morocco where these new emerging elites are bombarding the schools, movie theaters, radios and later the TV with programs tailored made in the Egyptian Arabic made in Cairo and Alexandria.

In reaction, Tayeb Seddiki staged spectacles and plays that were played to large crowds in big arenas, a sort of festive theater without walls. This kind of direct interaction with the attendees of the performance is what Tayeb Seddik aimed to project on the stages with actors interacting directly with the audience and telling their stories that are an expression of transes and second level of mind absence.

The members of Nass El Ghiwane benefited from such direct exposure and they were almost playing performances in front of crowds that were not sitting on chairs but in open spaces like a concert. This kind of plays had influenced their songs that became the hymns of Moroccan youth in the 1970s: nationalist, rebellious, experimental and old-fashioned at the same time.

In 1971, the five members of Nass El Ghiwane performed for the first time on the front of the Moroccan underground theatrical scene. They were the first to introduce banjo, guembri, and spoken Moroccan Arabic in reaction to other singers who incrusted their songs in the model of Egyptian artists.

The First Concert by Nass El Ghiwane in the City of their Birth: Casablanca – Morocco

Nass El Ghiwan channeled new ways and vibes based on Moroccan rural and urban traditions that transmitted music to the disenchanted and rebellious youth. Their concerts turned into riots as their music and lyrics drew deep affection from a virulent fan base. Nass El Ghiwane music echoes medieval Moroccan oral traditions with a direct conjunction with the Gnawa trance music of their own African ancestors, they sang tales of Sufi mystics and wrote lyrics that criticized the conservative political system.

​The importance of Nass El Ghiwane remained in the revival of old traditional music and making it a drive of cohesion and coexistence among peoples of different origins and various thoughts as well as from distant and foreign cultures.

Beirut march remembers Sabra & Chatila 40 years on – YouTube


The Ethnic Music of the Touareg Tinariwen

I am Amazigh, this Tuareg band is using modern instruments of music and it is related to the one of the ancient music existing in Africa but that has been “subcapitalized” for the sake to reach the western markets.

This is where the Tuareg band of Tinariwen is actually located and performing. Through their past of militants in the Touareg demands of autonomy and independence as well as have been refugees, the Tinariwen possess a legitimacy of engagement and militancy as well as reverberation of rebellious minds and expressions.

The Tinariwen sound is primarily guitar-driven in the style known as assouf among the Tuareg people. The Tinariwen guitar style has its roots in North and West African music and other traditional styles practiced by the Tuareg and Berber peoples, and has often been categorized as “desert blues”. 

Tinariwen was also influenced by traditional Malian musicians, most notably Ali Farka Touré,  and regional pop singers like Rabah Driassa. While the Tinariwen style is possibly a distant relative of blues music, via West African music, members of Tinariwen claim to have never heard actual American blues music until they began to travel internationally in the early 2000s.  Tinariwen was also influenced by American and British rock bands whose bootlegged albums had made it to the Sahara region, such as Dire Straits, Santana, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan,  and Jimi Hendrix.

It is like a Folklore of the Club Med, you have the dress, the look but you get the wrapping of the product for westernized consumption that is willing to identify cultural diversity in such make-up and adaptation of distant and foreign expression of culture, art, music and so on in form that is more westernized as convenient product of entertainment with a dose of “orientalism”, exotism and in this example, as primitive as expression of an ethnic civilization that is no more existing in their virtual or realistic world.

I can multiply examples of such acculturation of the roots and identities for the sake of market demand, Gypsy Kings are the next one while they are not even Gypsy, they are from another confederation established in South of France and along the Catalonia and l’Herault, Languedoc Roussillon crescent.  They are in fact Manouche and one of their uncles is Manitas de la Plata and their tribe has already given Django Reinhart.

Of course Nass el Ghiwane did not start this, Nass El Ghiwane started in the middle sixties of last century, while the Touareg like the Mauretanian and the Burkina Faso, the Hausa, the Fulani and the Bambara as well as the Sondhadja, the Masmouda, the Berghouata, the Zenete, the Tchtouka, the Zenete, the Zenata, the Chaouiya, the Mzab, the Ait Youssi, Ait Seghourchen and more and more, the Afri were all there even during the Roman Empire and in many places before.

Nass El Ghiwane: Moor and African Culturel Bridge with the West

Nass El Ghiwane started the introduction of this soufi and engaged lyrics and chants in the western societies through the use of traditional musical partitions and the adapation of traditional poetry and religious incantations soufi. Such “Moor and African Spirituals” and “Islamic Gospel” made the Nass El Ghiwane to be the conductor of new style in the North and close Sub-Saharan countries. This kind of introduction and fusion between past and present trend of music and spiritual references existed within the walls of religious lodges, confreries, fraternities and maraboutic associations.

The innovation of Nass El Ghiwane was to integrate their lyrics and their chants in the movement of search of the Moroccan identity and the return to the sources that was crossing the Moroccan society and their rising youths.

Such drive toward the socialization of religious thoughts and chants made the religious messages seen and used as references for the demand of reforms and for improvement of the relations between all humans. Nass El Ghiwane used also a nostalgic approach in defining the past that has buried by the excess of modernism that is more destructive than bringing together people of different races and religions. The median position taken by Nass El Ghiwane was reinforced by their insertion of their music in the movie Jesus par Martin Scorsese and who called the Nass El Ghiwan, “The Rolling Stones of Africa.” This integration of Nass El Ghiwane in the depiction of Jesus was the pinnacle of their ride and confirmed for many of their followers that their message about the tolerance and acceptance of others was heard loudly and appreciated in the West. Fusion of cultures was since then becoming the driving force of interaction between artists around the world, especially from Africa that confirmed the initial move by the Beatles in integrating Ravi Shankar and Sitar sounds in their music inspired from the Beach Boys of California.

This is the trajectory where I situated the Nass El Ghiwane who had the merit not to change the instruments used, neither the lyrics and the incantation that were all beside the Banjo which is an African authentic musical instrument coming down from Gembri the Amazigh smaller goat skin mandolin and the Hadhoud which is the Gnawa also covered with sheepskin and with cords as the Gembri with skin of sheep or goat a sort of guitar instrument that serves as drums at the same time.

Later on, African musicians took the lead and connected to the Movement of Afro-Caribbean and western music such as Fela of Nigeria and Peter Gabriel, ones he has left Genesis.

The lyrics of the songs by Nass El Ghiwane are in majority from the traditional narrative of the tribe that existed before the arrival of Islam and from mythical Sufi incantation while the rest are symbolic, metaphoric and mainly aiming at enhancing the awareness about the “indigenous and traditional local and regional cultures and their form of expression or reaction against oppression and exploitation while referring to citations from human wisdom and from ethical religious practices by devotees who were rebellious against the abuse imposed to the people following the principles but not benefiting from their real meaning and their life remain in waiting for better that never come.  

The other aspects included in the lyrics of Nass El Ghiwane is a message and denunciation of the reason and the exploitation of immigration and the use of culture centrifugation and division that creates more harm than solutions for the individuals and the societies concerned.   The other level of awareness is the scream that Nass El Ghiwane echoed in their songs about real peace and about the exploited and abused people around the world, including the minorities close and far from Morocco and the Amazigh and the Palestinian were and are among such scream for justice and equality within Peace among all humans that Nass El Ghiwane have defended and payed a heavy price for such progressist position and such screams of awareness.  

Nass El Ghiwane were far very far in front of the movement of peace and they carry such message to the end of the life of every member of their group,

Nass El Ghiwane were not a surfing group over a wave and fashion seeking statues and glass trophies for one night shot the type of Emmy and Oscar Nights for self-gratification and self-satisfaction.  They came from the real people from the Barrio, the Hood, the Periph and the Banlieue of Casablanca Hay Mohammedi and other Tribe deep Amazigh Tribe and carried the message first as Actors on Stage with Tayeb Seddiki, they are trained Actors and choose to drop the acting to be real performers of the awareness of an entire trends of people minds and expectations and to set their place in the human history as drives for peace, diversity and acceptance through tolerance but first equality and equity and equality of chances.

Have Peaceful Holidays and Hachem, God, Allah make and bestow Peace and Eternal Beatitude of Eden on the members of the Band Nass El Ghiwane, Ameen for the rest of the World too in Peace we shall be and share between all the believers in their own peace first.  Ameen

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