Morocco, by its Arabic name (Al-Maghrib) and geography, means ‘Westerner’. So it’s no surprise that the kingdom was one of the first to embrace Hip Hop (and the first to recognize the newly-independent USA in 1777). Historically, Morocco’s been a crossroads for all types of civilizations, from Arabs to Berbers, and then to the French and Spanish, who divided control over the country in the early 20th century and then relinquished it in 1956. To this day, French is the “official” language of government and is still taught in schools.

Morocco is ruled by a so-called constitutional monarchy, though it is widely understood that the king, a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, has finally say over all matters. The current king, Mohammed VI, has done much to create an image of a “modernizing monarch”, though the country continues to suffer from political corruption, stagnant development, widespread poverty, high unemployment, and suppression of free speech rights. These are some of the main issues that Moroccan rappers address in their lyrics.

Moroccan Hip Hop began years after European and American Hip Hop had landed on its shores (mostly by way of Moroccan immigrants living in France and Spain). The first rap group to gain a national following was a duo from the city of Salé (next to Morocco’s political capital, Rabat), called Double A, whose 1996 album was the first to reach audiences across the country and set a precedent for mixing French and Moroccan Arabic in rap.

The next few years would see a dramatic rise in the number of groups emerging in cities across the country, the most prominent being H-Kayne in Meknes, Fnaïre in Marrakesh, and Mafia-C in Casablanca. These groups gained popularity by mixing “Western” beats with traditional Moroccan music, and by crafting songs that address important issues in Morocco, while remaining respectful of cultural and religious boundaries.

In 2003, an unknown rapper calling himself Awdellil (Night Horse) posted 3 songs on the Internet that broke those boundaries by using “vulgar” words and by addressing taboo subjects, such as the monarchy and sex. These songs spread like wildfire and sparked major controversy over the “threat” of Hip Hop in Moroccan society.

Since 2003, Awdellil has receded back into cyberspace and the original pioneering groups have reclaimed the Hip Hop scene by combating negative stereotypes with positive messages, such as the anti-terrorism anthem, “Don’t Touch My Country”, produced by the group Fnaire in the wake of the 2003 Casablanca bombings.

In 2005, Morocco saw its first festival dedicated to Hip Hop, called “I Love Hip Hop in Morocco”, which featured the leading groups, H-Kayne, Fnaire, and Mafia-C, as well as newcomers FatiShow and K-Libre. Following this widely-publicized event, and the eponymous documentary film that came out 2 years later, these same groups became household names across the country and began to tour Europe and the Middle East, launching Moroccan Hip Hop onto the international stage. What remains to be seen is whether this momentum will be enough to carry the Moroccan sound across the Atlantic to the US market. A number of Moroccan artists, such as MC Alfaress, are already makin moves in the States, so it may only be a matter of time…

As they say in the Maghreb, la t’staghrib, act like ya know!

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