Category Archives: World Travel

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An Introduction to Moroccan Music

In the time I’ve been in Morocco, I’ve seen a lot of music performed and listened to many other kinds. In general, the music you hear in the taxicabs, hanuts, and blaring from stands in the medinas is Arabic music and not necessarily Moroccan in origin. That’s not to say that you won’t hear the music of Morocco in those places, because you will, but by and large it’s music from Lebanon, Egypt, or other Arab countries.

The music of Morocco is diverse and consists of as many regional varieties as you can shake a wooden stick at. In general the Amazigh (Berber) varieties of folk music can be broken into three seperate categories. Music associated with specific villages, ritualistic music, and that of professional musicians.

Regional or village music is usually made with flutes, drums, and voice and has specific dances associated with it such as ahidus and ahouach. Because Morocco is a Muslim country, most music will begin with a prayer that non-Muslims often mistake for music itself. In fact, I’ve been asked about the chanting music by numerous visitors and it took me a while to figure out they actually meant the recitation of Quranic Suras and not actually music at all.

In the past all sorts of rites of passage included a beginning with ritualistic music and prayers, but because most families now have access to radios, cd players, and stereo systems, this has become increasingly rare and special events are now as likely to have blaring speakers as spiritual invocations to guard against djinn and shaitans.

The music performed by professional musicians, called imdyazn in Darija, is led by a poet or amydze, usually this is a quartet that uses djembe drums, rabab (the Moroccan fiddle), and the strange sounds of the long brass horns called bou dunanum. Often this kind of music involves poetry, storytelling, and jokes which make me wish I understood Darija well enough to get what everyone is laughing or nodding in agreement about.

The Chleuh, make music using cymbals, vocals, ouds, and fiddles and have a complex structure that often begins with the fiddle and has intermittent stops with poetry or what at first sounds like chaotic cacophony but is actually a complex composition that takes decades to perfect. I was reminded of Indonesian classical music the first time I heard it.

Chaabi music is a completely different creature and comes from all the different forms of Moroccan music swirled together in melting pot, tossed into a hammam oven, and then pulled out and served super hot.

Chaabi music is the Moroccan music you are most likely to hear just about anywhere. Born in the markets it has become to Morocco what rock and roll is to the United States.

Chaabi had a lot of influence from the Egyptian and Lebanese music of the 1970′s so in a way you could almost call it Moroccan Disco. It is almost always composed of a rapid rhythm and Moroccans can’t help clapping with it when it is playing. There are no set instruments for Chaabi and you’ll find ouds, fiddles, electric guitars, and drums or anything else that the musicians want to try. Maybe Moroccan Fusion would be a better term, but the fact is, if you don’t want to dance when you hear Chaabi music, you are probably dead already.


Of course the music that everyone knows about is the Gnawa music. Gnawa was born from the slaves that were brought from the sub-sahara and at first was used in the same way as Gospel was used in the USA during the times that slaves built both nations. The music became an integral part of the Sufi brotherhoods traditions and is now firmly a part of Moroccan ritual. Gnawa is the original trance music and is used to help aspirants to achieve a mystical state with it’s heavy rhythms and repetitive riffs. It started to achieve fame world wide with kiffed out space cadets in the 1960s and 1970s recording it and finding the master musicians of the art with the help of expats like Brion Gysin and Paul Bowles.


Another type of Moroccan music you may hear if you visit Morocco is Malhun. Malhun actually is sung poetry and not Quranic chants. The poetry is usually accompanied by oud and/or violin. Again, this is a music I wish I could understand the words to, but the music alone usually can tell you what it is about if you pay attention. If not, the tears or smiles of those listening will give you clues. The other instruments in Malhun are the cymbals, flute, and of course drums.

Rai music comes from the cities close to the Algerian Border such as Berkane and Oujda. In fact, the music itself could be said to be Algerian except that Morocco has produced some well known stars and varieties of rai that make a true Moroccan music.

Sufi Music is another form. While Gnawa is associated with the Sufis, not all Gnawa is Sufi and not all Sufi music is Gnawa. Like Gnawa, most Sufi music is designed to bring on a trance like state and is often accompanied by ecstatic dance and ritual. Sufi music differs in that there is rarely an organized drum section, though, as with all things in Morocco there are more than a few exceptions.

Probably the best known Sufi musicians are the Master Musicians of Jujouka.

Couchsurfing in Quebec

World Travel for Almost Nothing #4

If you missed the story of how I met my wife, let me remind you. I was couchsurfing at her family’s house in Morocco.

Couchsurfing likes to remind people that it’s not a dating site, but in fact, it is a place where I’ve met many of my closest friends and the woman I married.

coucsurfing in Morocco

This was the first day I couchsurfed with the family that I would eventually marry into. Wow.

One of the keys to mastering the art of world travel on almost nothing is learning to trust strangers and let them become friends.

World Travel on Almost Nothing Tip #4:
Make strangers into friends.

One of the things that I love about Couchsurfing.com is that it relies on opening your heart and mind to the hospitality of strangers. Contrary to popular belief, most people on the planet are good and want to help you in this life. If you doubt that, look inside yourself and I’m sure you will see it is true.

couchsurfing in Brussels

Rafael and I became brother fools after he offered me his couch in Belgium.

I wrote my thesis in college about the fans of the TV show LOST. One of the amazing things I found was that when fans traveled to Hawaii they often found places to stay, free guided tours, and new friends waiting for them. In that case, what brought these people together was a love of a TV show. For the world traveler, you are more likely to come together because of a love of travel.

I’ve made friends just about everywhere I’ve been and in the process I’ve managed to avoid paying for hotels, meals, and sometimes even transportation. I’m not saying you should be mercenary about seeking out and using people, I’m saying that when you open your arms to the world, you often get a hug in return.

Couchsurfing in Quebec

Kelli hosted me on two seperate occaisions in Quebec. I can\’t wait to return the favor.

While I’ve never been a WWOOFer or used HospitalityClub.com, I certainly have known plenty of people who have. These sorts of communities thrive on the fact that people are in general kind and good natured. If you don’t believe that, then you better keep paying for hotel rooms and guided city tours.

hitch across canada

World Travel for Almost Nothing #3

One thing that screws everything up ┬áis being in too much of a hurry. We all think time is money but in fact, it’s the opposite, money is time usually but time is time and you have a set amount of it to do with what you please.

You can trade it for money, give it away for free, or waste it being a pissed off grumpy asshole but you can’t actually buy time, you can only sell it.

Paris sculpture

Time is not money though this Paris sculpture certainly is both.

So the lesson from that leads to my third tip for traveling the world for almost nothing.

World Travel for Almost Nothing Tip #3:

 

Chill out man. Just take it easy. The slower you move the less money it takes. Think about it, if you want to get a ticket to wherever you want to go today and then come back in three days, you have to pay a premium. However, if you slow it down and make it for a departure in a month and staying indefinitely…it’s cheaper. Now how about if you walk there….take a year to get there.

pot plants in the basement

Sometimes when you slow down enough people will even show you what they have in their basements…

As a guy who has walked around the perimeter of Oahu, Hawaii and who hitched across Canada with $4, I can tell you that being in a hurry means you have to pay. If you are willing to take your time, you won’t. I’m currently on a slow motion trip around the world. It’s happening, but not in 80 days.

hitch across canada

I was hoping this hot air baloon would give me a ride across Canada’s plains, but no luck that time.