Songlines, November/December 08
“Contemporary Casbah sounds”
Morocco has always projected a carefully managed image of itself. Its tourist brochures are sprinkled with buzzwords like ‘ancient’ and ‘spiritual’, with most of their attention directed towards Fes, Marrakech and the Atlas. Musically, too, emphasis is placed on the more traditional and spiritual forms.
This is, of course, only one rather blinkered view of Moroccan society that ignores the edgy, cultural vibrancy of the country’s larger metropolises. Indeed, wanderingaround Casablanca’s Boulevard Festival a couple of years ago, it was clear that this wasn’t what the country’s youth were listening to. Dressed like their US rap idols – baggy trousers, baseball shirts and bandanas – they bobbed about to a mix of hip-hop, heavy metal and other fusions. How refreshing, then, to listen to this compilation put together by Shisha Sound System’s DJ UMB which features a contemporary mix of rai, rock, rap and reggae, as well as a few more traditional numbers. The two-CD set features 34 tracks with no fewer than 21 tunes exclusive to the compilation.
The first disc features Najat Aatabou’s excellent ‘Just Tell Me The Truth’ from the early 90s. This was the track sampled by the Chemical Brothers’ 2005 hit ‘Galvanize’ and it’s great to hear the original version. Most of the current big players are included. Casa’s Hoba Hoba Spirit – possibly Morocco’s most famous band – feature on a couple of tracks, ‘Trabando’ and ‘Hoba’s Back’. The latter is a rollicking, incendiary rap that attacks ‘The West, stupid, most of the time’. Other highlights include the laidback grooves of Midnight Shems on ‘Aarbi’, the rap-rock fusion of Yassin Rami on ‘Rairap’ and fine art students Darga on the reggae-influenced ‘Tchoumira’.
Completed with decent liner notes about travel in Morocco, and interspersed with beautiful photos, this is an excellent album. It’s a shame, though, that given the edgy music, the cover is a stereotypical, Lawrence of Arabia-type shot. Nonetheless, the album’s a true indication of Morocco’s
diverse fusion scene.