This relatively brief but killer collection of music is from the golden age of Moroccan independent recording. The country's music, made by its indigenous people who call themselves Berbers (and who are often referred to globally as such), was cut, manufactured, and distributed exclusively by European labels until the nation won its independence in 1956. After this, studios and labels exploded onto the scene. That said, the origins of the music found on Kassidat (the Moroccan word for "poetry") date back centuries, but its emergent 20th century forms, the hybrid chaabi, the distinct nomadic rwais, and the distinctive Moroccan brand of rai, became the two most popular forms of music in the nation until the '70s, when Western pop grafted itself onto indigenous forms. The highlights here include Mohamed Bergam's "Zine Mlih (Sublime Beauty)," in which the singer expresses great anguish at his lover's social climbing. What is not clear, as the dominant oud, violin, and polyrhythmic percussion and handclaps drive his singing, is the interaction between him and the female backing chorus who counter his words with either affirmations or wry comebacks; the words can be interpreted either way. Another fine moment occurs in the gunbri-driven "Makh-Makh (Why, Why?)," by Jmimi, Lekmir, and Fatma Anounyah, where a compelling dialogue takes place about a woman whose lover is either leaving, or has left her for another woman. Closer "Sidi M'bark (Mr. M'bark)," by Cheikh Mohamed Riffi, is an orgiastic, deeply percussive from of trance music played with an aloui rhythm. As he wails the intricate, multivalent, layered meanings of the kassidat, he is driven on by the zamr, a double-reed instrument played with circular breathing so that it never stops. It's a hell of a way to close this comp. Raw, immediate, unhinged, and hypnotic. Kassidat: Raw 45s from Morocco was wonderfully compiled and annotated by ethnomusicologist David Murray. The only complaint is its brevity, clocking in at less than 35 minutes. This is music so rich in history, texture, dynamic, and presentation, it requires more exposition in the West.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek