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Believed to have began in Cordoba in the ninth century, classical Andalusian music made its way to Morocco during the mass resettlement of the Sephardi Jewish and Muslim population fleeing Andalusia following the Spanish Inquisition. Several northern Moroccan cities – including Fes, Tetouan, Tangier and Chefchaouen – are home to world-renowned Andalusian multi-piece orchestras, using musical instruments including the darbuka drum, oud guitar, rebab, and taarija tambourine. It is not uncommon though to see the zither and kamancheh included in the orchestras as well. Today, to conserve the musical style and honor the historical roots, the town of Essaouira hosts the Festival of Atlantic Andalusian Music each October. Here’s an introduction to Andalusian-Moroccan music with five of its essential artists and ensembles.
The internationally acclaimed Orchestra of Tangier has performed around the world, but are perhaps best received in Morocco where this multi-piece orchestra is best known. Dressed to impress, the musicians wear white attire – either a djellaba or a two-piece set – red tarbouche hat and yellow babouche slippers for their performances. Violinists, oud guitar players, darbuka drummers and a tamborinist make up the ensemble singing traditional songs.
Perhaps the best-known Andalusian singer, Benjamin Bouzaglo draws a crowd wherever he may be performing throughout Morocco. Often dressed in velvet tunics with fine embroidery, Bouzaglo gets the audience singing, dancing and his fans ululating, as he belts out familiar classics known throughout Morocco while collaborating with an orchestra of Andalusian musicians. From Casablanca, Bouzaglo’s best known song may be ‘Kayna.’
Born into a family of music lovers, the young Fassi singer-songwriter Nabyla Maan has released three albums to date. A traditional Moroccan musician, her love of Arab-Andalusian music has flourished as she has studied under some of the largest names in the industry. Her fourth album will mix traditional Moroccan and Arab-Andalusian music, with a touch of jazz blended in for a musical journey through Morocco. Whether performing at an intimate concert or a large stage, Maan is known for the musical energy she brings to the performance.
This young Moroccan singer is known for her Malhoun and Gharnati styles of music. Hailing from Sefrou in Morocco’s Middle Atlas Mountain region, this small town was once home to one of the largest Jewish communities in Morocco. So it is no surprise that she includes Judeo-Andalusian music in her repertoire. Despite her young age, Marahati has already released four albums and is well known on the Moroccan stage, having performed at many of the leading festivals, including the Chellah Jazz Festival and the Festival of Atlantic Andalusian Music, as well as performing internationally.
When the nine-piece Orchestre Chabab Al Andalous perform – dressed in white djellabas, red tarbouche and yellow babouche – one can easily be transported to the little Andalusian towns. Started by a group of music lovers with a shared passion for Andalusian heritage, they also share a desire to conserve this musical style and promote Andalusian music to younger audiences. To do so, the band has performed not only across Morocco but at international festivals from Switzerland to Saudi Arabia, and even Palestine and Syria, to mention just a few stops.