Morocco has an extensive range of musical styles, most of them regional and hard for newcomers to discover and appreciate. In recent years, musicians started experimenting mixing traditional music with other genres, which helps make it more accessible. This is a curated selection of such crossovers, which I hope will make you curious about Moroccan music. Happy listening!
Note: Gnawa music
Probably the most exported style of Moroccan music, Gnawa is a genre with religious roots and is still played in spiritual ceremonies today.
After the 90s, Gnawa music has been modernized and it is now played outside of religious ceremonies. Many musicians, both local and foreign, experimented with mixing Gnawa rythms with other styles. The first three entries of this list are examples of this.
1. Majid Bekkas & Louis Sclavis, Minino Garay - Boulila
Gnawa + Jazz trio
Musician Majid Bekkas combines blues, jazz and gnawa music.
2. Jimmy Page, Robert Plant - Wah Wah
Gnawa + Rock
14 years after Led Zeppelin‘s dissolution, former members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant recorded the live album “No Quarter”. The album was partly recorded in Morocco with a Gnawa band. “Wah Wah” is one of the songs they recorded together. You can listen to it here.
3. Snarky Puppy & Hamid El Kasri - Lalla Aicha + Lingus
Gnawa + Jazz ensemble
During the the 2018 Essaouira Gnawa festival, award-winning jazz collective Snarky Puppy collaborated with a prominent Gnawa band for a unique concert. The set’s finale is a crossover of popular Snarky Puppy song Lingus with a staple of Gnawa music, Lalla Aicha.
4. Aza - Tifiras
Tamazight music + Jazz
AZA unites traditional Tamazight (Berber) music, indigenous to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, with the jazz and soul influences of its diverse members. Although they are now US-based, the founding members originally come from the small town of Imintanoute, my father’s hometown.
5. Oum - Lágrimas negras
Moroccan soul + Cuban trova
Lágrimas negras is a popular Cuban song first recorded in the 1930s. Moroccan singer Oum covers this song, and translates parts of it to Darija, the moroccan dialect of Arabic. This is one of my favorite pieces, and combines elements from Morocco, Cuba and France.
6. Abdessadeq Cheqara - Bent Bladi
Andalusi music + Flamenco
Andalusi music is more than a thousand years old, and is in its traditional form a very formal genre, akin to classical music. Abdessadeq Cheqara, during a trip to Spain in 1982, collaborated to produce a combination of andalusi music and flamenco, with intertwining Arabic and Spanish lyrics. This has become one of his most popular songs and a tune most Moroccans instantly recognize.
7. Hindi zahra - Imik Si Mik
Tamazight music + Folk
Hindi Zahra is one of the first artists to mix tamazight music and Western-inspired folk, and sings in both berber and english in the same song.