Music of Morocco


Morocco is a North African country inhabited mostly by Arabs along with Berbers and other minorities. Its music is predominantly Arab, but Andalusian and other imported influences have had a major effect on the country's musical character. Rock-influenced chaabi bands are widespread, as is trance music with historical origins in Muslim music.

Music is played everywhere in Morocco, from the muezzin which call the people to prayer to popular music being played at markets, music festivals (moussem) and performers at cafes.


Sufi music

Arab music
Algeria Bahrain
Egypt Iraq
Islamic Jordan
Kuwait Lebanon
Libya Morocco
Oman Palestine
Qatar Saudi Arabia
Syria Tunisia
UAE Yemen
Andalusian classical music

Sufi brotherhoods (tarikas) are common in Morocco, and music is an integral part of their spiritual tradition, in contrast to most other forms of Islam, which do not use music. This music is an attempt at reaching a trance state which inspires mystical ecstasy. The brothers hold hands in a circle and chant or dance. Sufi music is usually without rhythm.

Marrakesh and other regions in southern Morocco are home to the Gnaoua Brotherhood, which claims descent from the Ethiopian muezzin Sidi Bilal. Gnaoua ceremonies (deiceba) are used to protect against mental illness, scorpion stings and malicious spirits. Deiceba may be related to Sub-Saharan African ceremonies and use a long-necked lute of African origin called the gimbri, as well as castanets called garagab.

The Jilala are another brotherhood, known for their hypnotic and otherworldly music. They are devotees of Moulay Abdelkadr Jilal. Instruments include the bendir (frame drums) and qsbah (flute).

Andalusian classical music

Morocco is home to Andalusian classical music that is found throughout North Africa. It probably evolved under the Moors in Cordoba, and the Baghdad-born musician Zyriab is usually credited with its invention. Zyriab invented the nuba, a suite which forms the basis of al-âla, the primary form of Andalusian classical music today, along with gharnati and milhûn.

There used to be twenty-four nuba linked to each hour of the day, but only four nuba have survived in their entirety, and seven in fragmentary form. An entire nuba can last six or seven hours and are divided into five parts called mizan, each with a corresponding rhythm. The rhythms occur in the following order in a complete nuba:

  1. basît (6/4)
  2. qaum wa nusf (8/4)
  3. darj (4/4)
  4. btâyhi (8/4)
  5. quddâm (3/4 or 6/8)

Each mizan begins with instrumental preludes called either tuashia, m'shaliya or bughya, followed by as many as twenty songs (sana'a) in the entire mizan.

Andalusian classical schools are spread across Morocco, having left Spain when the Arabs were driven out of the country. Valencia's school is now in Fez, while Granada's is located in Teouan and Chaouen. Cities like Tangier and Meknes have their own orchestras as well.

Andalusian classical music uses instruments including oud (lute), rabab (fiddle), darbouka (goblet drums), taarija (tambourine), kanun (zither) and kamenjah (violin). Other instruments have included pianos, banjos and clarinets, though none of these instruments lasted for long.


See main article Malhun

Milhûn is a form of sung poetry which uses many of the same modes and instruments as al-âla. A milhûn suite is comprised of two parts, the taqsim overture played on an oud or violin in a free rhythm to introduce the mode for the rest of the piece, followed by the qassida, or sung poem which is itself divided into three parts. These are the solo verses (al-aqsâm), choral refrain (al-harba) and crescendoing chorus that completes the suite (al-dîdka).

Al-Thami Lamdaghri is perhaps the best-known milhûn composer, known for songs like "Al-Gnawi" and "Aliq Al-Masrûh".

Milhûn orchestras include oud, kamenjah, darbuka, handqa (small cymbals), hadjouj (a bass lute) and swisen (a high-pitched lute).


Gharnati is primarily Algerian, but it also popular in Rabat and Oujda in Morocco. It is arranged in nuba like al-âla; there are four unfinished nuba and twelve complete ones. Orchestras consist of kvîtra, mandolin, banjo, oud and kamenjah.

Berber music

Main article: Berber music

There are three varieties of Berber folk music: village and ritual music, and the music performed by professional musicians.

Village music is performed collectively for dancing, including ahidus and ahouach dances. Instruments include flutes and drums. These dances begin with a chanted prayer. Ritual music is performed at regular ceremonies to celebrate marriages and other important life events. Ritual music is also used as protection against evil spirits. Professional musicians (imdyazn) travel in groups of four, led by a poet (amydaz). The amydaz performs improvised poems, often accompanied by drums and rabab (a one-stringed fiddle), along with a bou oughanim who plays a double clarinet and acts as a clown for the group.

The Chleuh Berbers have professional musicians called rwais who play in ensembles consisting of lutes, rababs and cymbals, with any number of vocalist. The leader, or rayes, leads the choreography and music of the group. These performances begin with an instrumental astara on rabab, which also gives the notes of the melody which follows. The next phase is the amarg, or sung poetry, and then ammussu, a danced overture, tammust, an energetic song, aberdag, a dance, and finally the rhythmically swift tabbayt. There is some variation in the presentation of the order, but the astara always begins, and the tabbayt always ends.


Main article: Chaabi

Chaabi (popular) is a music consisting of numerous varieties which are descended from the multifarious forms of Moroccan folk music. Chaabi was originally performed in markets, but is now found at any celebration or meeting.

Chaabi songs typically end with a leseb, or swift rhythmic section accompanied by syncopated clapping.

A sophisticated form of chaabi evolved in the 1970s competing with popular Egyptian and Lebanese music. These chaabi groups consisted of a lute and a hadjuj, with some form of drum. Eventually, new instruments like buzuks and electric guitars were added. The three most important early groups were Lemchaheb, Nass El Ghiwane and Jil Jilala. All three bands featured politicized lyrics that got the songwriters in trouble with the government.

The 1980s saw a new wave of modernizing bands like Muluk El Hwa and Nass El Hal.


Main article: Rai

Rai is more closely associated with Algeria in the international music scene, but Morocco has produced its own stars like Chaba Zahouania, Cheb Khader and Cheb Mimoun.

Sephardic music

Main article: Sephardic music

Morocco is home to the Western Tradition of Sephardic music, which is descended from the Jews expelled from Spain several centuries ago. This tradition is now more closely associated with Israel.


  • Muddyman, Dave. "A Basic Expression of Life". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 567-578. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0

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