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Friday, August 11, 2006

Tel Quel Rawks!

(OK, it’s less rock than it is a hybrid fusion of hip-hop, funk, Gnawa, raggamuffin, rai, rap, reggae, R&B, punk, bhangra, folk, shaabi, and pop... But you get the idea.)

At the end of July Tel Quel released its 116-page July-August super-edition (25 dirhams/$3), which enables the journalists to engage in the sacred Moroccan middle-class ritual of taking off the month of August. The edition included a free copy of the latest album, Sleeping System, from musical wunderkind Barry.

In 1994, Barry became one of the first Moroccan kids to rap in Darija, at the age of 14, with the rap posse Casa Muslims. He formed a reggae group called Barry and the Survivors in 2001, then launched a hard-core punk experiment, before finally settling into his current blend of Moroccan pop/reggae/raggamuffin fusion.

I already had shot video of portions of Barry’s set at Essaouira, where he opened for Algerian rai-rock-punk legend Rachid Taha. In particular, I got the entire performance sequence—including Barry’s explanations and exhortations, and the crowd’s exuberant reactions—of his hilarious, outlandish, and hard-hitting rocksteady political anthem "Johnny Walker Bush."

I had been feeling pretty defeatist whenever I thought of working through the video of this song in addition to Barry’s chitchat with the crowd—discerning, comprehending, transcribing, then translating the dense Casablanca street darija (like members of Nass al-Ghiwane, Barry grew up in the legendary working-class quarter of Hay Mohammadi)—and I was putting off getting started until my friends at Dar Gnawa got back from their France-Germany tour and could help me out.

But one of the tracks on Sleeping System is a studio version of "Johnny Walker Bush," and the liner notes include the lyrics in Moroccan Arabic, in Arabic script. This is a first for me, for a Moroccan CD to include lyrics, and particularly lyrics in Darija. Anytime you can find Darija in commercially successful publications, it’s a major point. (It’s also lifesaver for someone like me who always feels about one language short of being bilingual...) So I was overjoyed—a lot of work has already been done, and now I also have an "official" version to test against the live one. I’m still going to need extensive help from a young Tanjawi hip enough to break through all the slang...

Last night, though, I really hit the jackpot. In July Tel Quel also published a 196-page "Le Best Of" edition (50 dirhams/$6) that reprises the editors' favorite stories from the last five years of the magazine's existence. This edition includes some tasty extras:

1. "Know Your Rights," a booklet published in collaboration with Transparency Maroc and the Ministry of the Interior, which details all the rights and responsibilities of Moroccan subjects with regard to identity cards and other bureaucratic hurdles, all written in plain, conversational French;

2. Three posters:
(A) An organizational structure of the principal branches and offices of the Moroccan secret security services,
(B) A chart of the major Moroccan Islamist movements,
And (C), my favorite, a family tree detailing the various lineages, births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and current affiliations of all 31 more-or-less active official and unofficial political parties, with such cute little tidbits as:
"Union Constitutionelle: a center-right liberal party founded in 1983 and dictated to by the palace; Leader: Muhamed Abied; Ideology: only God knows";

3. And finally, the compilation CD Stoune 2: Le Best Of de la fusion marocaine, containing 14 tracks by Barry, Dayzine, Oum, Fnaire, Hoba Hoba Spirit, and H-Kayne, as well as a bonus video to the "Dear Mama" duet by Barry and Oum.

The "Dear Mama" video features Oum channeling Rita Marley via Erykah Badu--wearing a head wrap, singing in ethereal R&B Darija and perfectly accented American English--along with Barry singing and rapping in Darija. The liner notes puff it: "Inspired by Tarantino and manga," the video is "one part Mad Max, one part Bollywood, [with] amazing special effects and dancing... You would never dream that the entire video was conceived, designed and produced by three creative young Moroccans who are, on average, only 25 years old."

I had already been scouring music shops for Stoune 2 and Stoune, last year’s compilation, so now I’m already halfway there. Plus, the liner notes have informed me that Hoba Hoba Spirit have offered their entire debut album free for download here, but the download is currently out of service. (Their sophomore effort, Bled Skizo or Blade Schizophrene, should be out later this year.)

Like Sleeping System, Stoune 2 also has lyrics to all the songs, including the reggae track "Basta Lahya" by Hoba Hoba Spirit. Lahya, meaning "beard," is a term used by impudent kids to refer to excessively religious men; I think basta means "stop it" in Spanish. The three verses to the song--in Darija, French, and Darija--mount a series of attacks on the "beards" for ruining the country. Here’s the refrain:

Ayayaye I was born in Casa (short for Casablanca)
Ifriqi miya fal-miya ("One hundred percent African")
Had al-rigi hta huwa ("This reggae is where it's at")
Ayayaye al-hamdulillah mulana ("Praise God our Lord")
Had al-blad bladna ("This country is our country")
On vous l’abandonnera pas ("You'll never be abandoned")

I.e., in six short lines, a wondrous confusion of local, national, and transnational--and specifically pan-African--identifications; including a stock invocation of God, despite the verses’ anti-religious bent; pulled through to patriotism and even nationalism; and all expressed in a heady mix of Arabic, French, and English...

I.e., a goldmine for your friendly neighborhood cultural analyst to go to town on...

Thank you, Tel Quel.

PS: I can’t help reproducing a few important lines from the Hoba's cover of the haunting Nass al-Ghiwane song "Fine Ghadi Biya Khouya" (Where are you going, Brother?), which celebrates and laments migrant laborers. The gentle guitar-driven acoustic ballad (a la the U2 of Joshua Tree) intersperses old-school rap verses in French and Darija with a shaabi chorus chanted Nass-style in Darija, which finally devolves into the refrain from Bob Marley’s reggae anthem "Exodus," albeit changing the lyric to speak to the “movement of harraga” (migrants)... But the lines I especially like:
Un petit peu tradition/Un petit peu science-fiction ("Part tradition/Part sci-fi")
On est des cyber berberes perdus sur la terre ("Cyber berbers are lost upon the earth")
Jabu lina Internet hna fhamna Inter-bnet ("When we heard the word ‘Internet’ we understood ‘Inter-girls’")


At 1:21 PM, Blogger dagger aleph said...

Wow, that's truly awesome that you found darija lyrics in Arabic script. I've tried to figure out Rachid Taha lyrics based on the liner notes, which include transcriptions done by French people who use "r" for "ghayn" and so forth, which always confuses me. Plus I don't know Moroccan so I'm trying to figure out what he could be saying based on my knowledge of Fusha roots.

At 2:55 PM, Blogger John Schaefer said...

Yeah, it's really hard to transcribe North African Arabics. Arabic script is good for showing the consonants and thus the roots of Arabic-based words, but Roman script is better for the vowels, of which there are many more variants than the Arabic script is able to show.

Of course if you already speak some Darija, then you can make sense of Roman script most of the time (although it can still be infuriatingly difficult to try to figure out what kind of "k," "s," "t," or "d" that is...), but if you're coming from Arabic, like me, it's much easier to figure out the Arabic script.

Except when there are tons of Berber, French, and Spanish roots and loan words. I learned polite, formal Darija from Fassis, who stick much closer to Fusha than many other Moroccans do.


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