Abdeslam Cherkaoui is one of the master Moroccan performers on the 11-string oud -- a short, potbellied instrument that is directly related to the European lute. He has been playing this instrument practically all his life, beginning with instruction from a master musician (sheikh), who taught him enough to allow him to go out on his own at the tender age of 11. The oud is associated with both classical and popular music, and is at the heart of an ongoing exchange between the two musics that results from the tradition of performers such as Cherkaoui. Particularly when he was younger, he would frequently perform at open air events such as street markets. Popular radio singers would sometimes create versions of songs they had heard at such events, and in turn other street musicians would then turn around and create their own versions of these songs once they heard them broadcast on the radio. Participating as a musician in this process is hard work, as the street performer must compete with all manner of distractions as well as convince passers-by to part with a few of the coins they might have been hoarding for their shopping. Further competition might be present from food vendors, street dentists, jugglers, acrobats, and fortunetellers.
By the time he was in his twenties, Cherkaoui had already made three all-encompassing tours of Morocco, and had also performed in neighboring Algeria and Tunisia, sometimes getting to the gigs by mule. In 1960 he was offered a job at the Fez Conservatory of Music, where he continued teaching into the early '70s.
He is frequently featured on recordings and broadcasts in his own country, and from time to time has taped music for internationally distributed world music labels. The first of these appearances was on the '70s Lyrichord album Moroccan Street Music, which was actually recorded in a studio. More than two decades later, he taped an album of traditional Arabic music for the Unesco label, which was also licensed to Auvidis.