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Travel The World of Moroccan Rap Music
Rap is far from the new kid on the block in Morocco. Morocco’s rap roots can be traced as far back to the 1980’s with the group Out-Life; this group spread throughout small Moroccan communities as an urban art. From these small communities, other Moroccan rap artists emerged and moved into larger urban areas spreading their music its profound messages throughout Morocco’s imperial cities and small towns.
Rap is best described as a sub-group of hip hop. Moroccan rap, similar to that of other countries, involves the spoken word immersed with spoken poetry alongside a musical accompaniment. Arguably, rap began as early as the 1960’s when a group of black militants called “The Last Poets” sang revolutionary messages through their music. Since that time rappers such as Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, and the Notorious Big have successfully captured the worlds and Morocco’s attention through their powerful lyrics.
Although rap and hip hop are not new to Morocco, it is only in the last decade that new Moroccan audiences have been captured by Morocco’s rap movement. Since Moroccan rap artists and their profound musical messages did not sympathize with Moroccan traditional values, rap was considered new and unfamiliar, and therefore took longer to become popular. However, today rap is revolutionizing in Morocco. Rap and hip hop can now be heard fused with reggae and traditional Moroccan sounds such as Berber music, Arab, skah, and Gnoua music. This melting pot of sounds is capturing Moroccan’s attention because more Moroccans now feel like they can identify with Moroccan rap.
Moroccan rap has become extremely popular across Morocco. It is likely that during your travels you will see young Moroccans imitating the fashion of western rappers and graffiti art of famous rap stars names like Eminem, Seal Paul and 50 Cent on the ancient, crenulated walls of the medinas (old cities). You will also find that the annual music festivals hosted by Essaouira (The Gnaoua Festival), Agadir (Timitar Festival) and Casablanca (Casa Music Festival), let the sounds of rap flow from its stages and speakers. Rap singers at these festivals motivate audiences and are also a form of communicating to Moroccans that their struggle, fears, and hopes for Morocco are being heard and supported.
Moroccans are very nationalistic and prideful people when it comes to their roots. They care deeply about their environment and are respectful of their old traditions while are open to embracing the new. Despite their pride, many Moroccans struggle with police issues, social disputes, job availability and political/ local corruption.
Even young Moroccans with traditional values look to rap as an outlet for their frustrations. They see the poetic lyrics of Moroccan rap as an original and expressive style used to unite their fellow citizens and solve problems in Morocco.
Rap Albums and Their Political Messages
There are important political issues circulating within Moroccan society that are on the minds of Moroccans, especially the younger generation. One common struggle that has been addressed through rap music is the fact that Morocco is a Monarchy and ruled by a king who allows Moroccans to live in poverty and is not raising the country’s morale or inspiring leadership by example. While this is an important issue, many Moroccans do advocate that Mohammed VI is the most open and progressive King the country has had to date. By contrast, Moroccan rap is instilling a renewal of hope and energy in Moroccans. Through rap music, Moroccans can express their love for Islam but their distaste for unemployment, war, drugs and prostitution.
The past few years have been especially influential as the messages of rap artists have rippled through Moroccan society. Moroccan audiences have responded well to rap and embraced rap artists, however, occasional criticisms do exist which make claims that the some Moroccan rap artists are less sensitive then others when brazenly addressing difficult topics such as prostitution in Morocco.
Moroccan rappers like Bigg often appear on Moroccan TV talk shows and on advertisements throughout Morocco. Certain political nationalist groups even rely on Bigg’s reputation and media impact to further their propaganda. In general, Moroccan rap groups are characterized as nationalistic and fighting to liberalize and help solve Moroccan societal concerns.
Taboo: Being single in Morocco
Traditionally, Moroccan society places a lot of emphasis on fixed genders and consequentially, women are expected to be married to a Moroccan man and to raise children. Although Moroccan society has progressed over the years with regards to liberating women and allowing them to participate in a wider range of once only male dominated industries, Moroccan society is still not flexible with how a proper woman should behave. A Moroccan woman is expected to marry and pre-marital relations are out of the question. Being single or a non-virgin pre-marriage are considered social taboos. Also, not well received by Moroccan society are women who smoke or go out dancing at night.
Female rap groups like Tigresse Flow are advocating through their rap lyrics to strengthen women’s rights under King Mohammad VI and liberate women from being locked into what society traditionally expects of them.
Moroccan Rap Outside Influences
Moroccan rap is influenced by many different cultures and styles. Moroccan Arabic music, American and French rap and hip hop have together helped create what Moroccan rap is today. Unique to Moroccan rap is the factor that Moroccan rap artists do not adopt the same lifestyle of big-time rappers like Puff Daddy or JayZ. Moroccan rappers do not appear on television or in public showing off luxurious material items, driving large cars with ladies nor do they arm themselves with guns. Traditional Moroccan values play an important role and a lot of emphasis on respecting elders, religion, and living a conservative lifestyle.
Keeping it Moroccan
In accordance with staying respectful to Moroccan society, most Moroccan rappers do not write or sing vulgar and profane words in their music. Instead rap artists use common Moroccan street sayings called darija and other Moroccan allegories when they need to get a message across. Ultimately, Moroccan rappers want to promote awareness to societal problems they are trying to address and are less concerned with writing racy lyrics. Unlike American and French rap, Moroccan rap utilizes a combination of Arab, Berber, French and sometimes English words in its songs.
Moroccan rappers also reject the idea that they are merely imitating American rap groups because many Moroccan rappers feel that rap is a genre that can be applied to any culture or language. Although Moroccan rappers get their greatest fan support from younger Moroccans, Moroccan rappers claim that their music is directed at all segments of Moroccan society. One unique aspect of Moroccan rap music is that artists encourage the positive aspects of Morocco in their lyrics in addition to its problems.
Rap Artist Sponsors and Media
There are many new and emerging Moroccan artists using music to rap about their concerns. As the music industry is a highly competitive not all rap artists are subsidized by the Ministry of Culture within Morocco. Amateur rappers use methods like touring Morocco by minivan, singing in city medinas and depositing their demos and CDs to music companies in the trade-circuit to get their music hear. Morocco has many music festivals which also allow new rappers to appear. Novice rap artists trying to break into music trade are between the ages of sixteen to thirty, and even if they lack musical experience, the festivals offer them a chance to mature.
For the Moroccan rappers that achieve fame, their music can be heard on Moroccan TV and radio stations.
Moroccan Rap Concerts
If you are able to attend a music festival in Morocco, such as the annual Mawâzine Rythmes du Monde in Rabat, you will be intrigued and surprised with how passionate the young Moroccan generations respond to the rap, hip hop and reggae groups who appear on stage. New artists who are popular and perform often at festivals are rap groups like Zanka Flow’ (Street Flow), ‘H-Kayne’, ‘Fnaïre’ and ‘Kanka’.
Young Moroccan audiences go wild for these rappers who merge the popular Moroccan sounds of Gnaoua with western music. Even young Moroccans are very nationalistic so it is important for them to understand that rap music will not westernize their country, only modernize it. Most important, is that Moroccan rappers zero in on topics troubling young Moroccans through spoken and song verse. Moroccan rap fans also have a sense of appreciation for how rappers emulate western fashion by dressing in baggy pants, funky loose t-shirts, backwards hats, gold and silver chains, and some male rappers have pierced earrings. Historically, Moroccans dress in traditional Moroccan fashion and the younger generation looks to Moroccan rappers as a catalyst in openning the door for less conservative fashion styles.
Currently, government censorship is not an issue for rappers in Morocco. Instead Moroccan rappers struggle the most with religious censorship because they feel pressured to respect Morocco’s holy Muslim traditions. Some Moroccan rappers have spoken out stating that they feel a restriction on their musical freedom of expression because of Morocco’s current views of Islam.
The Moroccan government has steered away from censoring rap music; however, as rap in Morocco is gaining widespread popularity, the future may see government restrictions on some rap lyrics or artists. However, today you can enjoy Moroccan rap in its organic and uncensored state.
Project Rap: I LOVE HIP HOP
Due to the popularity of rap in Morocco and its openness to allowing Moroccans to tap into patriotism, a few projects involving rap and hip hop have emerged. Joshua Asen, an Arabic speaking American teamed up with California director and writer Jennifer Needleman to create the first documentary on Moroccan hip hop. In 2003, the film producers met with some of the most famous Moroccan rap and hip hop artists to achieve their ultimate objective; of staging the first Moroccan hip hop festival. H-Kayne, Fnaire, DJ Key, Bigg, Brown Fingazz, and Fati Show were the featured rap artists at this festival.
The first viewing was in shown 2004 in Morocco and titled I LOVE HIP HOP IN MOROCCO. Moreover, Asen and Needlemen achieved their main goal when Morocco hosted its first hip hop festival, sponsored by the American Embassy. The documentary has even gained international exposure and featured at the world premiere 2007 H20 Hip Hop International Film Festival in Manhattan.The international exposure has further helped raise global awareness of Morocco’s culture and people.
Other rap related projects include the American Cultural Association inviting Remarkable Current, a Muslim hip hop group to perform at several language centers in Morocco.
Notable Rap Groups
Since 2001, representatives of Moroccan Rap include: Bigg, H-kayne, Zanka flow, Hoba Hoba Spirit, DJ Key, Put Crew, Smoufey, Style Under, Aminoffice solo of salted, Rass Derb, Fnaïre, The Author' S, Marocologues, Derb Funk. DS Crew, H-Name, Kachela, Hell-Ouaf, UnDer MiC , Hell Lemkane, Professorz (Reduction/H.N), Fes City Clan, RAIRAP, and Mobydick.
Moroccan Rap Artists Biographies:
Bigg: Taoufiq Hazeb better known by his stage name Bigg and Alkhaser is a Moroccan rapper from Casablanca who was born in 1983. Bigg studied Law in the Hassan II University in Mohammedia. He is considered one of the pioneers of Moroccan rap, mainly for his aggressive style and for his songs' themes, which express problems common among Moroccans. As a child Bigg was amazed by the American musical culture. He was highly interested in what was at that time east-coast west coast rap war. This influenced his choice of his stage name. First, he went by the name Bigg in reference to the Notorious B.I.G who was at that time the star of Bad Boy records. Even the last group he was in was called Mafia C which is a literal copy of Notorious B.I.G protégée. To satisfy his ego, he added another stage name to his existing one called The Done. This is a clear reference to Makaveli the Don which was the last name Tupac Shakur chose for his last Album: The 7 Day Theory.
Bigg began his real musical career at age 14. With two friends he created a rap group called "Thug Gang". At the age of 16, he performed for the first time, with his group, in the Sidi Belyout theatre in Casablanca. He then joined the group Cash Money, then X-Side. While he was rapping in English like most of other rappers, he had an idea to rap in Moroccan Arabic, also known as Darija. He turned his idea into reality by creating a group called "Mafia-C", which participated to the Boulevard des Jeunes Musiciens festival in 2001 which was a total success after the group won "the best rap group" award.
Having failed to get recognized by the Moroccan authorities as an artist, he tried to flea the country illegally. He was caught in Malaga and sent back home after he had spent two weeks in Spanish detention. Once Bigg returned to Morocco, he focused all his efforts on solo. The group work was not rewarding financially therefore Bigg finally decided to quit the group and to start on a solo career. He participated in the Casablanca Festival in 2006. On April 2007, Bigg was featuredd on TV for the first time at Al Aoula channel, in Al Aoula Show. Morocco Street Life is the title of the first documentary Bigg is featured within; one devoted to the Moroccan scene hip-hop, carried out by Dj Key, and one of the precursors of its kind.
H-kayne: H-kayne began his career in 1996 and is based in Meknès. As one of the pioneers of the Rap in Morocco, H-kayne was among a fusion of artists such as Sif Ssane, HB2, Ter-Hoor and 3tmane and DJ Khalid having gained first place in the category of the Rap and Hip-Hop contest Boulevard of the young musicians (BJM) of Casablanca in 2003. Titles like Issawa style, F’ Mo hadak and Dania appear among the titles which have propelled this musical formation. H-kayne is the association of a group of Rappeur S Moroccans. Regarded as pioneer of the rap to the Morocco, (DOGS or 15-3/MKS), the formation is made up of: Adil, Azeddine, Othman and Hicham who continued his studies in Montpellier, France. He met DJ Khalid of Montpellier and formed the group. DJ Khalid was later replaced by DJ Key of Casablanca.
Zanka flow: Born in Tangier, the duet is composed of Muslim and L3arbi. The style of Zanka Flow (journalists of the streets) represents the hard tendency: hardcore of the rap Tangérois, the group insufflates a spirit of rebellion vis-à-vis the social injustices. Their texts and lyrics express violence and with the image and despair of the young people in the cities. They speak about reality using their own language and their own lingo. In Zanka flow’s music one discovers a group completely ignored by the Moroccan public hip-hop however their music conveys rage mixed with wisdom.
Hoba Hoba Spirit: Within the new Moroccan scene, Hoba Hoba Spirit is a group which is distinguished from the others because of the great success in attracting young people. The music contains "Haiha Music" (the music of bursts). The rush of young people towards the Festival of Essaouira to see them in concert testifies their greatness. Hoba Hoba Spirit is the precursory group of Fusion/Reggae Moroccan Afro/, created in 1998. Their music exposes songs that reveal challenges and problems in Morocco. The group composes songs that mix rock and roll with reggae, and some rap (in particular with the Moroccan rapper Bigg). The words are sung in dialectical Arabic, French and English. Hoba Hoba Spirit has lead a controversial recent past as they were found to be directly related to the attacks of Casablanca in May 16th, 2003 and were questioned by the Moroccan authorities. The leader of the group, Réda, qualifies the formation d'" apolitique" and claims that their music does not convey any political propaganda. Members of the groups are Réda Allali Anouar Zehouani, Adil Hanine, Saâd Bouidi, and Othmane Hmimar.
Morocco’s MTV Rap Awards
While it is common in Morocco to appreciate the beautiful sounds of traditional Gnaoua, melhun, and Andalusian music, celebrating hip hop and rap with an awards show is a new concept in Morocco. Sponsored by Casablanca's Boulevard pop festival and by Morocco’s HitRadio, the first Maghreb Music Awards were presented on March 31, 2007 at Rabat’s prestigious Mohammed V Theater. Artists were nominated for the Best Album, Best Song, Best Video, Best Hip Hop Act, Best Rock/Metal Act and Best Fusion Act.
Ouf du Bled Music Festival
As a result of the growth of Moroccan rap and hip hop in Morocco, in 2008 the city of Casablanca sponsored the first national hip hop festival where ten hip hop and break-dance groups from all over Morocco competed at the Ouf du Bled. The festival attracted nearly one thousand attendees and provided opportunities for new rap artists and hip hoppers to make their debuts. The huge success of the festival has reinforced the growing appeal for more rap and hip hop festivals. TheOuf du Bled Music Festival with its large, young Moroccan audience demonstrated that a younger generation of Moroccans is inspired by rap and hip hop artists who are spreading messages of peace, social justice, living traditions and bold expression through this musical form. Undoubtedly, rap and hip hop is will continue to make large waves throughout Morocco.