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The grooves of Morocco

Every percussionist I know who has been to the central 'Djemaa el-Fna' square in Marrakech comes back highly inspired by the grooves and drumming that is sounding out virtually 24 hours a day.  The smoke from the outdoor food stalls and the sound of distant drumming getting nearer as you approach the lantern lit square at dusk is worth the trip over there in its own right. 

The grooves are very ambiguous and difficult to pin down if you don't know where the beat is and so you can sit for hours on one of the balconies around the square hearing different divisions, placements and groupings. The basis of the traditional 6/8 you hear with the Bendir based groups are based on the simple fundamental rhythmic root below. This would often be heard on the traditional Bendir drum, a frame drum aprox 14" with an internal gut snare.  Nowadays a lot of players use plastic heads and very highly tuned drums.  With this type of instrument you can really hear the deep African roots and at times a group of Bendir players can sound like Djembe masters from the Ivory Coast.

Basic traditional Moroccan 6/8  (Music examples are clickable to enlarge).

This would then be felt a little more like this.

The groove feels more like this

Bendir and Tarija

The groove has a couple of pivotal points which are played on small cylindrical drums called 'Tarija'.   These are small drums similar to very tiny darabukas, longer than they are wide.  Sometimes there is a larger one (called 'Gwel') which the performer will place over his shoulder and strike with one hand.  Usually the smaller ones are held with one hand and struck with the other. They are usually made of clay with a thin animal hide skin.  The sound is a sharp mid tone open note.  Ideally these drums should have two parts played by two players.  The parts are below.

Tarija part one

Tarija part two

Sometimes the part needs to be played by one person and in that case both would be played on one drum with the top parts being more of a slap/muted tone and the second part playing the open tones. It would be like this.

Tareja parts combined

With this in mind, check out these videos recorded in the square in 2006.

Morocco Grooves, Part 1 (Video) 

Morocco Grooves, Part 2 (Video)

Morocco Grooves, Part 3 (Video)

The ambiguities ot the feel

The first thing one notices is how difficult it is to identify for sure where the 'one' is.  The first and most common mistake is to hear the pulse incorrectly.  For example, you could hear the fundamental rhythmic root in 3/4 instead of 6/8, as below.

jPulse ambiguity one

Or like this.

Pulse ambiguity two

One stage worse than this is to then hear the bass root of the rhythm in the wrong place as below. This is fundamental rhythmic root but heard backwards.

Pulse and place ambiguity,  with the bass drum heard on the beat

This would then make the general feel of the rhythm like this, as below.

Pulse and place ambiguity  with the bass drum heard on the beat

Then the two Tarija parts with be heard as below.

Pulse and place ambiguity,  with the tarija parts heard on the beat

There is no great crime in hearing the grooves in all these manifestations and more. It is actually a very 'trancey' experience and I certainly filled a whole notebook with rhythmic ideas whilst absorbing the atmosphere.

Chilling with the groove in the square!

There are also a couple of other combinations you hear in Marrakech.  Similar grooves are played which include standard Darabouka and 'Marrakech tambourine' which is played loosely in the style of Arabic Req.

You also get the groups of Gnawa drummers with their bass drums and metal castanets, equally entrancing.

 Gnawa in the square!

Morocco Grooves, Part 4 (video)

Making metal castanets (Qkraka)  in Marrakech (Video)








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