The straight stuff: Hip-hop in Morocco



 
Morocco has been experiencing a veritable hip-hop explosion over the past few years. MENASSAT spoke with Caprice of Casa Crew, one of the country's leading rap groups, about the reasons behind hip-hop's appeal to Morocco's youth.
 
By LAYAL ABDO
 
casacrew.jpg
Casa Crew. R.R.

CASABLANCA, March 31, 2008 (MENASSAT) – Ten years ago, the rap phenomenon was little known with the general Moroccan public. Although people were listening to the better-known American rappers back then, Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, the Notorious BIG, it was not generally a phenomenon among Morocco's youth. They had not yet embraced hip-hop culture.

Official definitions of rap are sketchy. From a technical viewpoint, it involves vocal rendition of improvised or written lyrics – a sort of spoken poetry usually over some kind of musical accompaniment. But, at its core, rap is a sub-division of the larger culture of hip-hop, a mode of life of which music is only the tip of the iceberg. 

Some hip-hop historians trace the direct roots of rap to the 1960s and the appearance of "The Last Poets," a group of young black militants who put their rage into rhymes and percussions in order to transmit their revolutionary messages.

Others refer to the block parties that popped up in New York City in the 1970's, in which DJ's spoke over the music that they were spinning, evolving over time to encompass what we now call rap today.

Eventually, as has been the case throughout the world, young Moroccans began to take on the culture of hip hop, rapping about their concerns through their lyrics, using music from the Moroccan sound systems to localize what has become an undeniable musical force. 

Nowadays in Morocco, no TV station, no radio station can resist rap. And through rap, Moroccan youth have found at least one artistic medium to exorcise their demons, exploring themes like unemployment, injustice, corruption, fraud, politics and many other subjects that have until now been considered taboo.

'Vulgar'

For some, awareness is the priority; often using a style without metaphors or allegories, these rappers instead replace them with "common Moroccan" or street language. Others are more expressive, using simple language, often racy, sometimes coarse, pointing to what the society and the "system" is lacking.

Rapper Lbigg is the most famous for his earthy use of lyrics from which he got his pseudonym "lkhasser" or "the vulgar".

As for the "Moroccan Ttouch" in rap, this has arrived in the form of the direct use of dialect; rappers introduced the "darija" or "the common" tongue in addition to French, English and "Amazigh," the Berber language.

Caprice, a member of the Casa Crew, one of the more recognized Moroccan hip-hop groups, says that using the common language allows a greater freedom of expression. 

"Some things can't be expressed other than in the street language. We say them and sing them as we feel them," he told MENASSAT.

Considering the diversity of styles that are gaining an increasing audience share in Morocco, it's not hard to predict the widespread popularity of rap in the years to come. And, for now, Moroccan rap can be produced and bought freely as government censors have not yet put their watchful eyes on this form of musical expression. But given the taboo themes treated by this young generation of griots, the question is how long will this last? 
 
Freedom in lyrics

Over the last four years, the hip-hop group, Casa Crew, has become the standard-bearer for Moroccan rap.

Started in 2003 in Casablanca, this crew of four has been expanding its fan base significantly in neighboring countries like Spain and Algeria, in part because of their classic rap delivery and partly because of the risqué themes explored in their lyrics. In short, Casa Crew is truly an Arabic rap phenomenon.

MENASSAT spoke with Amine Ganghal, aka Caprice, composer and member of the Casa Crew, and he explains the secret of rap's growing popularity in Morocco.

MENASSAT: What do you think is the secret of this boom of rap music in Morocco these last few years?

CAPRICE:
"First of all, to designate rap simply as mere 'music' deprives it of its real impact. Rap is a life style, and mainly a culture of convictions. The fact that rap is spreading in countries like Morocco is an excellent sign. On the one hand, it's proof that the youth are starting to react, to think they have the right to express themselves in any way they see fit, without anyone judging them or denying them of that right. On the other hand, the development of rap means that the space for artistic freedom is growing particularly when considering that a majority of Arab rappers are dealing with subjects that we were forbidden to speak about a few years ago."

MENASSAT: Some people object to your use of street language which is often considered vulgar?

CAPRICE:
"Street language is the most direct means of transmitting a message. Our audience does not have to be "educated" to understand our lyrics; everyone can listen to us and understand what we're saying. Plus, certain things can only be expressed in this language: anger, disgust and rage, for example, are better expressed when the language is free, when it is not limited by the restrictions of formal language where you have to respect grammar and vocabulary rules.

MENASSAT: How do you choose the subjects you treat in your songs?

CAPRICE:
"We address the problems facing the Moroccan youth, such as unemployment, injustice, friendship, corruption, freedom… Our songs. 'L'kdoub F'les Infos' (Lies in the News) or 'Hay Chaabi' (Popular Street) or even 'Rana ka3i' (I'm Angry, Casa Crew's most popular track) are very expressive and reflect what we deal with."

MENASSAT: Have your lyrics been subjected to censorship?

CAPRICE:
"Not yet. And we hope this never happens."