Monday, January 30, 2012

Morocco Loses Two Legendary Musicians

On January the 17th this year two of Morocco’s musical legends, Mohamed Sousdi and Mohamed Rouicha passed away. Imad Estito, writing for the Arabic daily Al-Akhbar, today published a celebration of their contributions to the North African music of the marginalised.

Mohamed Sousdi (1952-2012)

The newspaper describes Mohamed Sousdi (1952-2012) as "the pulse of the oppressed". Back in the 1970s Sousdi, along with the late Mohamed Batma and Cherif Lamrani from the famous Lemchaheb (The Torches) band, inspired the a generation, which rebelled against injustice under dictatorial rule. With his companions, the late Sousdi provided a unique musical experiment that left an indelible mark on the memory of Moroccans. “We used to engage in issues that political parties could not broach,” said Sousdi in one of his last interviews as he watched the Arab Spring unfold. “We were one of the first to demand the advent of spring with the song M’jmaa L’arab in 1977, which called for revolution,” he said.

Sousdi grew up in Quartier Al Mohammadi, in Casablanca, the birthplace of the band Nass el Ghiwane. He began working in the theatre as a child and joined a group affiliated with known Moroccan playwright Tayeb Saddiki. In the early 70s, he became a professional singer and musician. With Mbarek Chadli, he started two groups – Ahl al-Jouda and al-Diqa – before joining Lemchaheb in 1974.

The band achieved resounding success. Sousdi used to write colloquial poetry, compose music, and sing. Lemchaheb’s work brought the wrath of the authorities down on them and they were persecuted by the security services, who feared that their songs, combined with Sousdi’s melodious voice, would feed the rising revolutionary tide. “We knew we would be arrested after every concert,” Sousdi said once. Lemchaheb’s songs were infused with politics. Nobody who heard the song Palestine, which incidentally was once sung by Sousdi in Moscow, during the conference of the Socialist International in 1978 will ever forget it.

Some of his most famous songs are Lghadi Baid, Ellil, Ya Latif, and his masterpiece Bghit Bladi, (I loved my country).

His words reached a wide range of working class people for four decades before he passed away at the age of 60 due to respiratory problems.

Sousdi lived as a hermit, disdaining fame, with his finger always on the pulse of the oppressed. As Al Akkhbar put it, so eloquently paraphrasing the Palestinian novelist Ghassan Kanafani - The legendary leave silently, disdaining life, believing that it is nothing but a truce with death.

In a tragic coincidence the man nicknamed the Moroccan Bob Marley, Mohamed Rouicha (1950 - 2012), died on the same day. Another politically engaged musician,  the "Amazigh Farid al-Atrash,” Mohamed Rouicha died at his home in the Middle Atlas town of Khenifra in the Meknes-Tafilalet region following a sudden deterioration in his health.

A king of the ouatar – a rare Moroccan instrument similar to the violin –  Rouicha (his real name is Mohamed Lhwari), managed to create a popular base from the south to the north of the country, despite the fact that many did not understand the words of his songs in the Amazigh language of the Atlas mountains.

Politics was always close to his heart, not surprisingly as his mother was one of the fighters in the battle of Ait Atta – a Berber tribal confederation in northeastern Morocco – against French colonialism,.was apparent early on. 

He recorded his first song Abibi Osghouy in 1964 at the tender age of 14. Rouicha was also known for his interest in percussion and poetry. He employed his knowledge in infusing various music genres to create his own, which led to the revival of Amazigh songs. Thus the singer earned his nickname “Rouicha,” which means mixing and blending in Amazigh.

 His genius led him to add a fourth string to the ouatar, making him the king of the instrument. His golden fingers also added a new and special Sufi character to the instrument. He left behind a number of timeless masterpieces like Inas Inas (“Tell Her” in Amazigh), Chehal Men Lila (How Many Nights), Goulou lmimti (Tell My Mother), Allah Jmaa Lmoumnin, and other songs adopted from the Tuareg heritage dealing with many themes, including the homeland, peace, love, nature, and the suffering of the oppressed.

 Disdaining tributes and honors, Rouicha died only days before the ceremony was going to be held for him at Mohammed V Theatre in Rabat. That is how he desired death, in the embrace of his Atlas mountain, his major source of inspiration. Until his final hour, he remained true to the shy man behind the artist – to his introversion and solitude. The touch of sadness that appeared on his face and enveloped his songs never left him.


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