Tag Archives: Fes

13-03-09_1309

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.

Fes Medina

Traditional Houses in Fez – Riads, Dars, Palaces, and Caravanserai

The Fez Medina is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is filled with more than 3000 traditional houses. Many of these are available for rent or can be viewed by visitors to the Medina.

Here is a full list of hotels and guest houses in Fez, Morocco. The list includes dars, riads, hotels and guesthouses in the medina and in the ville nouvelle.

There are several types of house that visitors typically see and within those styles there is a wide range of architecture that is both beautiful and architecturally interesting.

Fez medina riad, dar

Over the next few months, I will be showcasing several of these incredible houses and introducing readers to this beautiful city that I am fortunate enough to call home. If you would like your property featured, please contact me with the details and I will arrange a time for us to meet so you can show me (and my readers) one more reason why Fez is one of the most interesting tourist spots in the world.

RIADS

 

 

Interiror courtyard in a Fez Riad

The houses in the medina are of several different types. The most well known of these is the Riad. A Riad (also spelled Riyad) is a classic example of the kind of houses that the wealthy once and still do call home. Generally, Riads are composed of several levels with at least two salons surrounding a central courtyard. Fountains made of either plaster or zellij (ornate Moroccan tile work) usually sit centrally in the courtyard and are faced by a central salon for gatherings and visitors.

A large front door containing a smaller door which is used on most occasions leads visitors from often austere exteriors to lavishly ornate interiors that will often overwhelm your senses. These doors are carved and painted on some of the better preserved or restored riads and usually have at least one heavy iron knocker on them.

Inside, fruit trees, decorative plants, carved plaster, and ornate zellij combine to form a decadent and luxurious living or entertaining space designed to awe guests.

On the ground floor, the salons are filled with woven cushions, thick rugs, and comfortable low rise couches which line the walls. At the street level all attention is focused inwards and it’s not until you climb the narrow staircases that you usually find windows. This was for the security of the family since women usually didn’t leave the house without veils but inside would often wear more comfortable clothing to manage the house and relax at home. So the security was for both safety and to protect the harem from prying eyes.

Geometric artwork in compliance with Muslim beliefs which forbid the depiction of anything that might be mistaken for an idol often adorn every surface and the high ceilings and timbered cedar ceilings are often painted in bright reds, greens, blues, and yellows.

In addition to the salons, the kitchen and toilet are usually on the ground floor, though this has been changed in many renovations. The public fountains in Fez exist mainly because running water was not common inside houses of the Medina. Today, most do have water though in the past it was only the wealthiest who could afford the terra cotta plumbing which would bring water indoors.

A very narrow staircase (or sometimes two) would often lead to the second floor. This level was primarily used for storage or entertaining of the women when male visitors from outside of the family were visiting.

The top floors were used for sleeping during the winter months when the natural rise of heat would keep them warmer than those below. The obverse was true in summer.

Fes Rooftop Riad, Dar, Medina, Fez
The roof level, traditionally the domain of women and children offers stunning views from wherever you might be in the Medina. Some rooftops also have a final beautiful salon and a terrace area for eating meals, entertaining, or these days, letting guests be filled with a sense of awe and wonder at the massiveness of the Fes Medina and its architecture. In olden times, it was common to surround the roof with high walls to protect the privacy of those who were there, primarily women engaged in washing, cooking, and preparing the food stuffs of the house.

While Riads are the most well known style of house in Fez, there are several others that visitors should be aware of.

DARS

 

 

Fes, Dar Fez, Riad, tradtional Moroccan architecture

Dars are often smaller versions of Riads, though this is not always true. Typically they contain neither the garden nor the fountain though they do have a central courtyard, albeit oftentimes smaller than that of a Riad, but again, there are always exceptions to the rules. The architecture and layout is similar though usually scaled down to a less palatial magnitude.

Massreiya

 

 

Fes,Massreiya, Riad, Dar, Medina, Fez
When you step into a massreiya, you are often met by stunningly hand carved plaster panels, huge amounts of zellij, ornately decorated cedar architectural pieces, and other sumptuous ornamentation. These houses differ from Dars and Riads in that they usually have neither a ground floor living quarter, nor a courtyard, though as with all medina dwellings there are exceptions.

Most of the massreiya in the Fez Medina were built as either guesthouses for visitors who didn’t get the privilidge of access to the family quarters or to the eldest sons. This is one of the reasons why massreiya are usually attached to dars and riads.

Often the ground floor is composed of a medina shop along one of the many derbs and alleys. An often unnoticeable and unassuming doorway will lead to narrow stairs which lead up to some of the most highly decorated living quarters in the medina.

In times past it was rare for a massreiya to have a kitchen, but today most of them do, though in those that have not been renovated or restored there is frequently still no running water.


CARAVANSERAI

 

Caravanserai, Dar, Fez, House in Fes, Riad in Fes
Caravanserai were used by travelers, often those who were traveling the great Sahara caravan routes to Timbuktu and back to Fes. Since these were not family dwellings and women didn’t travel unaccompanied, these houses were built with men in mind. Often for men with camels, horses, and large amounts of goods that needed storage and protection. Because of the mercantile nature of these dwellings they were sometimes the most ornately decorated in the Medina, though as a place that housed camels and sweaty traders this wasn’t usually the case. These days, medina dwellers often refer to them with the standard arabic term for hotel “fondouk” or even “fundook” depending on who you choose to transliterate the arabic script, though when the caravans still tread through the Sahara sands, they were called the more regionally appropriate caravanserai.

KSAR

 

Dar, Riad, Palace, Caravanserai, Fes, Fez, House in Fes, Royal Palace Fez, Sultan's palace Fes
Finally, for those who were of the ruling classes, of course there were true palaces which were constructed on the same general plan as a Riad but on a far larger scale. These palaces are called Ksar (think ‘castle’) and usually are made up of extensive grounds, several houses, and a level of opulence that literally stunned visiting European royals. One example that is easily visited is the Batha Museum which once belonged to a Moroccan Sultan.

Turkish residence permit tea

Getting Foreign Resident Permits in Morocco and Turkey

Traveling around the world in the slowest possible way means that I generally stay longer in a country than a tourist visa allows.

What that means is that I either have to be illegal or get a foreign resident permit. The difference in requirements and bureaucracy can be staggering. I won’t go into what it takes to stay in countries like the USA if you are a non-citizen, but the two countries I’ve most recently called home offer a startling contrast to one another.

Morocco Foreign Resident Permit

Getting my foreign resident permit in Morocco (called a carte de sejour) was a monstrous undertaking. I had to provide the following documents:
-ten passport photos
-six copies of my passport
-proof of residence, i.e. a rental contract
-five copies of my birth certificate
-five copies of my proof of employment (work contract)
-a letter from my employer stating that I was in fact working (attestation de travail)
-a police report from my last country of residence
– a 100 dirham stamp
All of the documents had to be certified as original and stamped at the local city hall. The process took six months during which I had to check in at the local police station every month. Total cost was only about 50 Euro. By the time I got it, the permit was only valid for six months of the one year I had applied for.

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Turkey Foreign Resident Permit
The process in Turkey was far easier but also much more expensive.

– I had to have a Turkish bank account with 500 lira for each month I planned to stay in Turkey (12 months = 6000 Lira). In order to get the bank account, I had to get a Turkish Tax Identification Card which cost about 700 Euro. I was also asked to prove who my parents were since Turkish ID generally states your parent’s names on it. To get the bank account, I needed just my passport and the tax ID card.

– I needed to have a sponsor who vouched to be responsible for me while I was in Turkey. In this case, me and the 24 year old Turkish man who vouched for me laughed about the fact that a 24 year old man was responsible for a 38 year old man. We had to get a notarized statement.
– I needed to be able to provide an address of residence and phone number to be reached at.
– 5 passport photos
– 2 copies of my birth certificate
– An application for residency
– 900 Lira for the residence card

And finally a trip to the regional police headquarters where there were several visits to different offices for stamps and interviews, during one of which I was served tea and baklava! Turkey is one of the most civilized nations on the planet, this proved it. Two weeks later, they called and I went and picked up my residence permit.

The permit is good until November of next year.

So to summarize: Morocco is cheap but slow and involves numerous bureaucratic hurdles while Turkey is much more expensive but runs efficiently and with a minimum of bureaucracy- not to mention the tea and baklava from the Leftenant!