Chaabi, or the “popular music” of Morocco was once performed by street musicians ready to earn easy money by quickly turning from old country songs to the latest city hits and back again, and even more ready to take a booking for a wedding or festival. Lyrics move swiftly from old proverbs to political satire and can be stolen entirely from anywhere else. Now this “urban folkloric style” is to be found whenever Moroccans gather together and laughter is never far away.
Credits: Nawarra brought a chaabi solo to Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival, and in Newport Shirley Griffiths treated us to a host of chaabi shenanigans. Photos: Jo Hirons
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Go into any Moroccan music store and you’re most likely to find piles of CDs and video discs featuring full-length concerts by the stars of modern chaabi. The lyrics of typical chaabi songs read like folk tales, shaggy-dog stories, and small soap operas charting the ups and downs of everyday life.
And no chaabi band is complete without a team of kaftan-clad dancers. At first they seem to idle through the song, but they - and the audience - are waiting for the moment when the singer gets to the leseb, the punch-line of his tall, extravagant, story, for then there are fireworks!
The song escalates to double and quadruple time, as fast as the band are able to hold together before tumbling into madness, and the dancers respond to the musicians with every trick and turn until each can play and dance no more.
Credits: Nawarra promises that her mum will get her blue kaftan back, eventually. Photos: Jo Hirons