Various Artists

The Rough Guide to the Music of Morocco

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Given the diversity and relative success of Moroccan music in recent years, it's something of a surprise that it took the folks at Rough Guide this long to put together a compilation. That said, this one was probably worth the wait. The single-disc compilation makes a run through the majority of the major forms of Moroccan music in vogue currently, with some omissions and some extra attention here and there as needed. It opens up with a contemporary version of the classic Gnawa forms that will play a prominent role in the album (as they do in Moroccan music in general). Quickly following is a track from the classic Jil Jilala troupe, fusing Gnawa with the poetic melhoun tradition and some contemporary chaabi pop from Najm el Fara Essafi. The girls of Bnet Marrakech contribute a heavy-duty thumping Berber groove, followed immediately by the more relaxed (and far more sophisticated) melhoun singing of Mohamed Amenzou. After a lengthy spoken word introduction, the "Rolling Stones of North Africa" Nass el Ghiwane provide one of their classic 1970s politically infused Gnawa tracks to center the album between the old and new rather symbolically. Expatriate Emil Zrihan follows with a moving song from the Andalusian traditions prior to the reconquista of Spain and the much later return of Jews to the Middle East after WWII, and Dar Gnawa show off the latest and greatest in their own looping style of Moroccan rap, a fusionary, multilingual form of the youth that's been gaining ground very quickly in recent years. Fatna Bent el Houcine is added in here as a display of the powerful female al aita singers, and the contemporary Gnawa fusionist Hassan Hakmoun makes the most obvious bridge between old and new, with a use of minors that almost makes the track sound like rai for short periods. Finally, the album completes with another chaabi star in Mustapha Bourgogne, who combines his violin with his somewhat thin vocals to create a sturdy dance beat for the masses. Given the diversity of Moroccan music, this compilation does an admirable job of including all of the major forms, and perhaps even more importantly, the interweaving of the various traditional forms, as al aita and chaabi intermingle a bit, and Gnawa ideas infuse seemingly everything else. Moroccan music deserves the acclaim it's been receiving in the past few decades, and this album pays a fine tribute to its power and emotion.

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