Anthologie de la Musique Marocaine

Produced by the Royaume du Maroc Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication and Maroc Telecom

Directeur Artistique: Ahmed Aydoun

Rabat 2001-2002.





Volume I    Chants du Moyen Atlas   CD 1          Mohamed Rouicha [64:00]
     CD 2  Mohamed Maghni [52:27]
    CD 3     Abdelouahed Hajjaoui [54:00]   
  ‘Aita     CD 4    Oulad el Bouazzaoui [63:04]
    CD 5  Khadija Margoum [65:50]
    CD 6   

 Hajib [62:37]                                           

  Chants du Sahara    CD 7     Banat Aichata [56:55]
    CD 8   Banat Aichata et Abba Ould Badou [52:14]
    CD 9    Batoul Marouani [60:34]
Volume II     Chants des femmes   CD 1    M’almat de Meknes [73:13] 
    CD 2   Wafae al Asri  [56:37]    
    CD 3   Houariyyat de Marrakech [65:19]
  Chants des Jbala   CD 4    Ahmed Guerfti [51:58]
    CD 5    Ahl Srif [49:06]
  Gharnati     CD 6       Ahbab Chick Salegh [66:46]
    CD 7 Mawçiliya [65:07]
Volume III    Soufisme populaire CD 1     Ahl Touat (Rachid Touati) [61:03]
    CD 2    Aissaoua (Mohamed Bouyahaoui) [73:10]
     CD 3    Hmadsha (Si Allal Belhaj Dghoughi)[62:32]
     CD 4    Hmadsha (Si Allal Belhaj Dghoughi)[74:30]
    CD 5  Jilala (Amira Jeldoun) [59:58]
  Rythmes basiques CD 6    Daqqa (Abderrahim Bana) [53:58]
    CD 7   Gnawa (Abdelkader Amlil) [64:24]
     CD 8   

Gnawa (Ahmed Boussou) [66:49]

Volume IV        CD 1     Aabidat Rma [73:10]
     CD 2   Chants du Rif (Mohamed Boudrous)[66:44]
    CD 3    Chants du Rif (Sellam Mounes) [53:21]
    CD 4       Chants de l’Oriental (Haj Younsi et Chikh  Liou) [57:29]
    CD 5   Chants juifs (Zahra el Fassia) [74:14]
     CD 6    Chants Nationalistes [61:02]



“Anthologie de la musique marocaine” is a collection of Moroccan traditional musics produced by the Moroccan Ministry of Culture and Communication, with a subsidy from Maroc Telecom.  Previous anthologies issued by the Ministry of Culture include a 73-CD set of Andalusian music, a 3-CD set of malhun (an urban song form in dialectical Arabic), and a 4-CD set of rwayes (Berber professional musicians from the High Atlas Mountains).  The anthology under review here, which comprises thirty CDs in four volumes, was anticipated as an important initiative taken toward the official documentation of many of the country’s other musical traditions—an initiative coupled with music festivals, organized or co-organized by the same Ministry, which take place in Morocco throughout the summer months.   

Recorded between 2001 and 2002, the anthology was envisaged by Mohamed Achaari, the current Minister of Culture, who sought to safeguard the rich musical tradition of Morocco.  And, indeed, the collection does illustrate the extraordinary richness and diversity of Moroccan traditional music.  Despite the good intentions of Mr. Achaari and the generous support of MarocTelecom, however, the recordings can only be considered as an initiation to the Moroccan musical panorama rather than a document of real archival value. The reasons for this are numerous.

A first but fundamental problem lies in the fact that although the genres presented in the anthology are, with few exceptions, living musical traditions, these recordings were made neither in the field nor during live stage performances. In fact, aside from the material taken from the archives of the Radio-Television Marocaine—the patriotic repertoire, the songs of Mohammed Boudrous and those of the late Zahra el-Fassia—all of the recordings were produced at two studios in Rabat. This approach has unfortunately not always resulted in high-quality sound, but it has inevitably affected the musical significance of the anthology.  Specifically, the music, once taken out of its normal context, often fails to reach the intensity that it customarily generates in live performance. The audible absence of a musical development, of a crescendo that constitutes a central aspect of most of the genres present in the anthology, may be directly connected with the way in which the recordings were carried out.

The anthology was compiled under the artistic direction of Ahmed Aydoun, who supervised the recordings in consultation with various specialists.  Aydoun—a musicologist, composer and, at the time of these recordings, the head of the music division at the Ministry of Culture—is well-versed in a wide range of Moroccan musics.  (Indeed, his book, Musiques du Maroc, would make a good companion to this anthology, filling in some of the information missing from the notes.)  Since, however, the supervision included making decisions concerning the choice of the repertoire, the manner of performance, and even the texts to be sung, it is difficult to imagine how the painstaking efforts of Mr. Aydoun and his collaborators could fail to affect the flow of the music and, in turn, the outcome of the project (1).

Finally, the documentation for these recordings is disappointing at best—extremely limited in scope and sometimes confusing or inaccurate.  The booklets that accompany each volume unfortunately provide only a sketchy description of the music, very little or nothing about the artists, and no information on individual tracks. In addition to this, there are also discrepancies between the titles listed in the booklets and those on the backs of the CDs, and with the sequence of the CDs themselves (for example, Hajib is listed as CD 5 of volume I while it is actually CD 6).  The list of contents on the backs of the CDs also include significant mistakes.  The transliterated Arabic titles are often incomplete and may also include typographical errors.  What is more distressing is that the titles of the tracks do not always correspond to the music actually performed; in the case of Volume II/CD 2, only the last track (out of seven) is correctly identified.

In short, a newcomer to Moroccan music may not get a clear picture of the many styles of music represented here, their connections to one another, or, still less, the many musical and social issues that they entail.  At the same time, an experienced listener may feel frustrated by the quality of some of the performances, the lack of documentation, and the absence of song texts.

If this collection is not perfect, however, it is nonetheless a noble effort.  Few nations have the wealth of musical traditions that still thrive in Morocco, and fewer still have attempted to document such diversity and make it available to the public.  The Moroccan government has now issued more than 100 CDs, but there remain well-established traditions that the Ministry of Culture has yet to anthologize, from the ahwash of the High Atlas to the innovative revivalist music of groups like Nass el Ghiwane.  If listeners are lucky, there will be more collections to come.  Perhaps next time the Ministry will draw on the enormous expertise of Moroccan scholars, journalists, performers and aficionados to produce descriptive and analytical notes worthy of the beauty and complexity of the music. 

One cannot really do justice to the entire anthology in so little space, but here is a summary of the contents.

Volume I 

Chants du Moyen Atlas. Mohamed Rouicha (CD I), Mohamed Maghni (CD 2) and Abdelouahed Hajjaoui (CD 3) are today’s most famous interpreters of the songs of the Tamazight-speaking Berbers of the Middle Atlas. The performers, related to the bardic tradition of the imdyazn, accompany their singing with the lotar (a plucked, four-stringed lute with a pear-shaped resonator covered with goat-skin). Their repertoire is mostly based on a genre of sung poetry whose subject ranges from social and political commentaries to romantic love (izli). 

Rabbi mayt’nit  (mp3 file) performed by Rouicha

“Rabbi mayt’nit,” track 3 of CD I performed by Rouicha, is a representative performance of tamedyâtz (songs of the imdyazn). An unaccompanied instrumental solo (taqsim) on the lotar establishes the mode, whose ambitus rarely exceeds a fifth (A-B-C-Db-E), after which two bendîrs (large round frame drums) come in playing an unchanging pattern in binary rhythm. Rouicha’s verses alternate with a refrain sung in unison by four female vocalists, whose high-pitched voices and prominent vibrato are characteristic of the singing style of this region.

‘Aita. Ouled Bouazzaoui (CD 4), Khadija Margoum (CD 5), Hajib (CD 6). These CDs present some of the varieties of this strophic song style practiced along the Atlantic Plains of Morocco. Traditionally performed by a group a male instrumentalists and a group of shikhât (professional female singer-dancers), the instruments of the ‘aita include kamanja (violin or viola held vertically the knee), ‘ûd (Arab lute), swisdi (a small three-stringed pear-shaped lute), darbuka (a single head pottery vase drum) and ta‘rija (small- or medium -size single-headed clay goblet-drum).

Khadija Margoum is known for her interpretation of the ‘aita hasbawia (region of Safi), a style that is generally characterized by a raw sound quality, fast and short rhythmic cycles, and an emphasis on the percussive character of the music.  In contrast, Hajib, who has reached popular success thanks to his modern rendition of the different styles of the ‘aita, has instead been able to cross over into the realm of Moroccan popular music (chaabi).

The Ouled Bouazzaoui are representative of the ‘aita marsawia (from the region of Casablanca), considered to be a more sophisticated style with slow, long and complex rhythmic cycles, elaborated melodies and an overall rich sound.   

Kharbousha performed by the Ouled Bouazzaoui

In “Kharbousha,” track 5 of CD 4, the performance of the Ouled Bouazzaoui follows the characteristic structure of the ‘aita. After an unaccompanied solo played by the kamanja and the ‘ûd in the mode bayâtî (D-E-F-G-A-Bb-C-D) the first section, consecrated to singing, begins to unfold over a 19-beat rhythmic cycle. The end of a series of verses is marked by a vocal transition accompanied by the kamanja and the ‘ûd, after which the singing continues punctuated by a different cycle each time. The last section, consecrated to dancing, is marked by a fast 6/8 rhythm that, after a crescendo, ends with an abrupt halt.

Chants du Sahara. The Banat Aichata (CD 7 and 8) and Batoul Marouani (CD 9) are the interpreters of what is known as hassani song, a genre found in the Moroccan region of the Sahara with similarities to the music of Northern Mauritania.  These mostly female groups, composed of four to five women who sing while accompanying themselves with hand clapping and a camel or sheep skin large floor drum, also include a male performing on the electric guitar and/or tidinit (four-string plucked lute with a resonator covered with cow-hide).  Hassani song is characterized by pentatonic melodies, ensemble singing often in call-and-response, and a syncopated rhythm produced by the pattern of the floor drum played against that of the hand clapping over 6/8 or 12/8 meters.

Volume II  

Chants des Femmes. M’almat de Meknes (CD 1), Wafae al Asri (CD2) and Houariyyat de Marrakech (CD 3). These recordings are consecrated to the musical traditions of all-female ensembles that animate women’s parties during weddings and other family celebrations.  

The recordings of the M’almat of Meknes present a repertoire that is mostly based on songs in praise of Muslim saints. Accompanied by a variety of percussion instruments such  as bendîr, ta’rija, agwal (a long, slim single-headed goblet-shaped drum) and tbila (a pair of pottery kettle drums beaten with two sticks), the songs are built around a verse-refrain structure. The repertoire of the m’almat is distinguished by an unchanging rhythmic pattern in 5/8.   Track 1 of CD 1 —erroneously listed as “chrif al hasbia” and probably titled “mayat Chick al-Kamal,” listed instead as track 7— represents an example of the repertoire in which the m’almat sing the praises of Sheikh al-Kamal, Sidi Mohammed ben Aissa, the patron saint of Meknes and progenitor of the Aissaoua religious association (more fully represented in Volume III).

Wafae al Asri is the leader of “al-Ikhlâs,” a renowned all-female orchestra from Tetouan that performs excerpts from the Andalusian music tradition. These female ensembles—originally established to replace groups of blind male musicians who entertained wealthy female patrons—are found in the cities of Tangier, Tetouan and Oujda, and represent an exception to the usual percussive styles of women’s music.   The orchestra directed by Wafae al Asri, the lead vocalist and ‘ûd player, consists of 5 performers who sing and play kamanja, ta’rija, târ (a small tambourine with a deep frame), darbuka, bendîr, and an electric keyboard.  “Ma nansa habibi,” track7 of CD 2, is a representative performance of the Andalusian repertoire performed by this all-female orchestra.

“Houariyyat” is a generic term used to designate the highly entertaining all-women ensembles who perform in the region of Marrakech and Taroudant.  Their name is derived from the Houara, an Arab tribe in the Sus Valley of Southern Morocco. The repertoire of these groups consists of sacred, folk and chaabi music accompanied by a variety of percussion instruments such as the târ, ta‘rija, bendir, darbuka, nâqûs (a bell made from an automobile brake drum and beaten with two metal sticks), agwal and a metal plate beaten with a set of nwiqsât (metal finger cymbals).

The music of the houariyyat is distinguished by its percussive character, its intense polyrhythm, the alternation of 7/8 and 5/4 rhythms in the same composition, the superimposition of binary and ternary rhythmic cells, a melody based on the pentatonic scale and a call-and-response structure (Baldassarre 1999).  “Moul zaouia,” track 1 CD 3, provides a good example of their repertoire.

Moul zaouia

Chants des Jbala.  The repertoire of the Jbala musicians, from the northwest of Morocco, is based on two genres: an indoor repertoire called taqtuqa jabalia, played by a string ensemble, and an outdoor repertoire that is mostly performed on the t’bel (a double-headed side drum) and the ghaita (double-reed aerophone).   The ensemble Ahl Srif (CD 5), from the area surrounding the well-known village of Jajouka, performs a music that is generally heard during ritual celebrations connected to mystical religious associations, or at processions celebrating weddings and circumcisions. Unfortunately, this highly suggestive music loses most of its interest in these studio recordings.

Ahmed Guerfti (CD 4) is one of the most renowned interpreters of the taqtuqa jabalia, a genre often classified as another style of the ‘aita, but possibly also influenced by Andalusian music.  It is performed by an all-male ensemble on kamanja, ‘ûd, bendîr, swisdi, târ and darbuka.  “Salli ‘la Mohamed,” track 2 of CD 4, is a typical taqtuqa. The performance starts with an instrumental introduction that presents fragments of different modes on which the composition is based. The ensemble unison singing, over an unchanging rhythmic pattern in 5/8, signals the beginning of the first section. A shift into a fast 6/8 rhythm accompanies the last section consecrated to dancing.

Salli ‘la Mohamed (mp3 file) performed by Ahmed Guerfti

Gharnati. Ahbab Chikh Salah (CD 6) and al-Mawciliyya (CD 7). Gharnati is a version of the Andalusian musical style, thought to have originated in Granada, Spain, and developed after 1492 in Algeria.  Unlike the more typical Moroccan style of Andalusian music, gharnati uses a small ensemble and emphasizes solo singing.   The style, specific to the cities of Rabat and Oujda, was brought to Morocco by Algerians from Tlemcen and Algiers, fleeing French colonial rule.

The repertoire of gharnati is organized in suite form, a series of vocal and instrumental pieces that follow one another according to a specific order (nûba). A complete nûba consists of a measured orchestral overture (tushia) that establishes the mode; an instrumental interlude with a lively rhythm performed at the beginning of each vocal piece (kûrsi); a first vocal piece performed by a soloist in a slow 2/4 or 4/4 rhythm (msaddar); an unmeasured instrumental and vocal solo performance (istikhbar); a second vocal piece employing the same 2/4 or 4/4 rhythm (btayhi); a third vocal performance in a faster version of the same rhythm (darj); a fourth vocal piece in a 10/8 or 5/8 rhythm (insirâf); and a final vocal performance sang in unison by the ensemble over a fast 6/8 rhythm (makhlas).

The ensemble Ahbab Chikh Salah present two incomplete nûbat on the modes mazmoum (F) and mawwal (C), while the ensemble al-Mawciliyya presents the complete nûba ghrib (D- E(b)-F(#) –G-A-B(b) –C).

Volume III 

Sufisme populaire. Ahl Touat (CD 1), Aissaoua (CD 2), Hmadcha (CD 3 and 4), Jilala (CD 5). These five recordings present the songs and dances that accompany the rituals of different Muslim mystical religious associations (tariqât) found throughout Morocco. Aside from their weekly meetings, the tariqât get together for other events such as marriages, a member’s death, or pilgrimages to the tomb of their patron saint.

Their ceremony (hadra) begins with the recitation of a litany (dhikr) and the singing of poems in honor of Allah, the Prophet and the saints. Later on the instruments come in to accompany the dance that may lead to possession by a saint or spirit. The tbel and the ghaita are the principal instruments that accompany the songs and dances of the Aissaoua.  To this ensemble the Hmadcha add the harrâzî (large single-skin clay goblet-drum held on one shoulder), while the Jilala accompany their ceremonies with the bendîr and the qasba (a long end-blown flute) (Schuyler 2001:140-141).

Rythmes basiques. Daqqa (CD 6) and Gnawa (CD 7 and 8).  ‘Âshurâ, the tenth day of the Muslim New Year, was traditionally the principal (and sometimes only) occasion for daqqa, a highly percussive music performed by large groups of men playing the ta‘rija, qaraqeb (large metal castanets), târa (large round frame drum with cymbals set into frame), interspersed with elaborate patterns of hand-clapping.  Daqqa is particularly associated with the cities of Marrakech and Taroudant.  In the weeks leading up to ‘Âshurâ,  children and young men rehearse the lighter, faster rhythms, but the full performance, running continuously for as long as twelve hours or more, took place only on the night of the holiday itself.

The daqqa performance on Track 1 of CD 6 begins with the unison singing of a repetitive chant (‘ait) that unfolds over an unchanging slow rhythm. About twenty minutes into the performance, the switch to a slightly faster rhythm in 4/4 signals the beginning of a middle section, whose rhythmic crescendo and antiphonal singing will lead to the last part of the daqqa (afous ) performed over a fast 6/8 rhythm.

Daqqa (mp3 file)

The Gnawa—whose ancestors came from Sub-Saharan Africa to Morocco as merchants, mercenaries, or, principally, slaves—traditionally perform in all-night ceremonies (lila) in order to secure peace of mind and heal their followers. Their ritual is structured on a series of dance suites dedicated to seven families of saints and spirits, each characterized by specific colors, odors, flavors, feelings, actions, and sounds (Schuyler 2001:141).

The music of the gnawa—characterized by the low percussive sound of the guinbri or hajhûi (large three-stringed plucked lute with a rectangular-shape resonator) and the qaraqeb—has evident connections with Sub-Sahara Africa, most notably in the call-and-response pattern of singing, pentatonic melodies and interlocking rhythmic patterns, and the sliding leather tuning rings and metal sound modifier of the guinbri.  Although always enjoyable, the recordings of Abdelkader Amlil (CD 7) and Ahmed Boussou (CD 8) present the gnawa repertoire as a compilation of songs rather than as a part of a lila or of a dance suite. Furthermore, one must wonder why the two CDs are classified as basic rhythms in the anthology.  Although the Gnawa belief system is heavily influenced by Sub-Saharan religious practice, the musicians and devotees are all practicing Muslims and their songs contain many invocations to recognized Muslim saints.  In that respect, they are really an extension of the first three CDs (“Soufisme Populaire”) of this volume.

Volume IV 

Aâbidat Rma (CD 1). The term aâbidat rma (slaves of the archers) refers to all-male ensembles who accompany their singing and acrobatic dances with an array of percussion that includes a large pair of scissors beaten with a short stick (mqas). Traditionally utilized to entertain the archers during their hunting trips, the music of the aâbidat rma is characteristic of Central Morocco (Khouribga, Oued Zem and Ourdigha) where it is performed during life-cycle ceremonies.  “Al attar” track, 1 of CD 1, is a representative performance by the group Siada from Oued Zem.

“Al attar” (mp3 file) performed by the group Siada from Oued Zem

Chants du Rif (CD 2 and 3). Mohamed Boudrous (CD 2) and Sellam Mounes (CD 3) respectively represent the old and the new music traditions of the Rif, a mountain region in the north of Morocco that is largely populated by the Tarifit-speaking Berbers.  “Yamna,” track 3 CD 2, is an interesting example of the music performed for traditional dances, in which the singing is accompanied by the zamar (double-flute) and the adjûn (round frame-drum).

Chioukh de l’Oriental (CD 4). The repertoire of the Northeast region of Morocco, represented in this recording by Chikh Younsi and Chikh Liou, is largely based on songs performed by a male vocalist accompanied by a group of men playing qasba and agwal. The songs, which usually accompany an all-male dance enacting the preparation for war with guns or sticks, have a rather austere character (Aydoun 1995:95). In “Milouda,” track 8, a simple and repetitive melody is accompanied by a binary rhythm that may vary according to the movements of the dancers. 

Chants des Juifs (CD 5). Zahra el Fassia is regarded as one of the best interpreters of nationalist and modern popular songs, as we as traditional genres such as gharnati, ‘aita, and melhun (an urban strophic song style with long texts in a rich, witty, and sometimes obscure dialectical Arabic). Born in Fez in 1905 to a Jewish family of modest means, el Fassia was already popular in the 1930s and the leader of her own orchestra in the 1940s. Thanks to the radio, el Fassia’s voice entered many Moroccan households and crossed over into Algeria where she became a star. After emigrating to Israel in 1962, el Fassia continued to perform for the mostly Moroccan Jewish community until her death in 1995.  Her exceptional voice and unique ability to interpret different genres can be heard in the light song “Ya warda”.

 Ya warda (mp3 file) performed by el Fassia

Chants patriotiques (CD 6). A series of patriotic songs taken from the archives  of Moroccan Radio and Television concludes the anthology. These grandiose compositions, performed by large Egyptian-style orchestras, include the Moroccan national anthem (track 18) and Ahmed el Bidaoui’s “Ya sahiba sawlati” (track 16). The latter provides an early example of musiqa asria (modern music), a genre that, after years of imitations in the Egyptian style (1930s – early 1950s), eventually took on its own Moroccan identity.


             Alessandra Ciucci

City University of New York



Aydoun, Ahmed. 1995. Musiques du Maroc. Casablanca: Éditions Eddif.

Baldassarre, Antonio. 1999. “With the Daughters of the Houara (Morocco): From Fieldwork to World Music.” Music and Anthropology 4.

Chottin, Alexis. 1939. Tableau de la musique marocaine. Paris: Paul Geuthner.

Homo-Lechner, Catherine and Christian Rault. 1999. Instruments de musique du Maroc et d’al-Andalus. Paris: Fondation Royaumont/CERIMM.

Schuyler, Philip. 2001. “Morocco.” In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Vol. 17: 135-145.



(1) Personal communication. Rabat, March 30th 2002.

“Moi, je travaille entre les deux [studios] et puis-je viens à chaque fois pour rectifier qu’est qu’il passe, où est le problème, (…) s’il y a un répertoire que ne passe très bien donc on décide sur place avec les artistes de changer, je leur propose de changer le texte, ou de changer la chanson (…). Par exemple, la chanson de Moyen Atlas ou la chanson du Sahara, on se trouve parfois devant des gens qui n’ont jamais été dans le studio. Et donc du coup ils commencent à buter; il y a des problèmes d’accord des instruments, d’accord de voix et on décide donc de changer (…). On lui dit de chanter d’autres choses, de nous donner des autres exemples et puis on fait le choix. Parce que si on ne le faisait pas on risquerait donc de passer toute la journée, même toute la semaine, à chercher un compromis que ne vient pas(…).”

“I work between the two [studios] and I arrive each time to rectify what is going on, where the problem is, (…) if there is a repertoire that is not working very well then we decide there with the artists to change, I propose them to change the text, or to change the song (…). For example, for the song of the Middle Atlas or for the song of the Sahara, we are faced sometimes with people that were never before inside a studio. And thus all of a sudden they start to get into problems; there are problems with the tuning of the instruments, the tuning of the voice and thus we decide to change (…). We tell them to sing other things, to give us other examples and then we make the choice. Because if we wouldn’t do it we would risk to spend the whole day, even the whole week looking for a compromise that never comes (…).” 


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