Wednesday, 27 March 2013

29. Berber music from Morocco

A friend of mine (a brilliant girl from Spain called Mercedes) recently drew my attention to a blog called  "Awesome Tapes from Africa" ( On it I found this amazing recording -- no doubt made during an Islamic (almost certainly Sufi) religious ritual somewhere in Berber Morocco:

Ahwach Souss - Side A
Wikipedia sez:

Ahouach (a.k.a. Ahwach, Ahwash) refers to a folkloric style of music and associated dance from southern Morocco. An Ahwach session is held by a number of performers (sometimes more than 20 performers) from both men and women (in some regions; only men) playing on the rhythms of drums while chanting, Ahwach is famous in the Amazigh (berber) regions of Morocco, especially, the region of Ouarzazate, Zagoura, Souss.

The root h-w-sh means "dance", but the term ahwash encompasses 1) general idea of (musical) performance 2) An evening of song and dance 3) a single piece and 4) the dance section of a single piece. [...] It is an exclusively Berber village music, probably unchanged for centuries or longer. Ahouach texts emphasize the submission of the individual to the community. Typically, it consists of two large choruses engaging in call-and-response vocals, accompanied by instrumentalists and dancers. Since this music requires anywhere from 20 to 150 participants, it is not easily portable and so rarely heard in the cities.
The recording is brilliant. A beautiful religious "song" (probably reciting chosen sentences from the Koran; all his lines certainly begin with the same words, perhaps an incantation or blessing of some kind, or a plea) sung by a single man over a public address system. His solo chanting is regularly cut quite incongruously with longer recordings of a group of girls (perhaps dozens) singing (and no doubt dancing) to the hypnotic and increasingly frenetic beating of drums.