To anyone with a romantic frame of mind, the music of Andalus would probably bring to mind the strident rhythms of Flamenco, but the foot-stamping, hand-clapping and wailing of that music is merely a Johnny-come-lately to the music of Andalus that spread to Africa at the time of the Christian re-conquest of Spain. Phil Murphy, who enlightened us on the story of the Samaâ yesterday, explains.
‘You wouldn’t recognise any form of Andalusian sound if you think of Spain or Andalucia. Moroccan-Andalouse is quite different, distinct. It has to do with fact that the Iberian peninsula was called El Andalus, when the muslim empire, the Mohayeds were ruling large portions of it until they gradually got pushed out by the re-conquest of the Christian armies. Christians, Muslims and Jews all collaborated and created the music.
The moors were expulsed from Spain in different waves during 12-15th centuries, and a lot came to North Africa; Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya. All those countries have Andalouse music but are very different because of the ways they have been nurtured in own context. The music came from that time and period and blended with changes going on in North Africa. It is called Moroccan-Andalusian music because of its history, but it’s very Moroccan, and distinct from Tunisian or Algerian-Andlus, but it also has similarities. One of the reasons is that the Ottoman Empire never got to Morocco, but it got to Tunisia and Algeria. Turkish influence in the music is extensive, so Tunsian and Algerian music has an Ottoman influence, which is different from Moroccan. Moroccans say their influences are closer to older European music.
You find different kinds of Andalusian music in Morocco, from different cities with different names. In Fez it’s called ‘el ala’, which means ‘the instrument’ and refers to a, repertoire, a body of work, to which nothing has been added. It also refers to the kind of instrumentation – there can be 10-20 or more musicians, playing strings, violins, violas, lute, canoon (lap zither), and piano. There are eleven suites that they play, never more. There used to be twenty-four but only eleven survived when the music came from places like Granada and Seville, but nonetheless, it’s an enormous body of work.
Each suite has five rhythmic movements, which have a different rhythmic structure for the five sections, and within each one of the five movements there are songs they perform. The music tends to go from slower and heavier to faster and lighter as they progress, and each suite can last up to seven hours. Nothing new is ever added, a musician can’t simply write a piece and add it. It is a formal structure that always stays the same, although Andalouse music is not necessarily focussed on Mohamed. The sacred and secular overlap. Most people’s initial impression is that they are all the same, even Moroccans say it is very difficult to grasp the difference, and while the words in are in classical Arabic, the poetry and the melodies can be very similar. It’s difficult to differentiate for the uninitiated.’
The final samaâ was held at the Hotel Jnan Palace, and featured Arabe-Andalouse music with the Sufi brotherhoods of Morocco. Each of the concerts over the previous evenings had shown totally different styles, each elevating and enthralling the audience in turn, but there can be no doubt that the highlight of the Festival was this evening’s performance by a combination of groups from throughout Morocco. The music was exceptional, but in many ways was a support to the pleasure shown by the soloists – and at one time or another almost everyone seemed to take a solo turn. And the sheer joy of the performance radiated itself to audience – it’s impossible to imagine a Christian audience ululating for the happiness of being there.
Photos by Derek Workman