Moroccan Diary

Shortly after my cohort arrived to Morocco, Badrdine began to teach us survival Arabic so that we could get around on our own. He was a bronze-skinned Moroccan man in his late-20’s who always wore buttoned shirts and polished dressed shoes. He was a heartthrob to many of the young ladies in my cohort, but no one knew what to make of him when he said, “You know, the librarian’s a whore?”

As we sat in the classroom, our impressionable ears were shocked and traumatized by his words. Someone politely asked him to explain what he meant by that. He repeated his question, but his eyes shifted, noticing a disconnect. “The librarian, her name is Zhor” – pronounced za-hor. After realizing our misunderstanding, we all laughed, Badrdine blushed, and the girls went back to swooning over him more than ever.

This scenario is characteristic of new experiences. Before traveling to Morocco for my last semester of university in the fall of 2005, I was enamored with Morocco; looking forward to the prospect of getting out of the American rat-race for a few months, improving my Arabic, and seeing how Muslims on the other side of the world live. In my community, Moroccans enjoyed a good reputation as being calm and down-to-earth, unlike some other Arab nationalities. Plus, historically groups like the Moorish Science Temple of America encouraged African Americans to identify with Morocco.

However, throughout the experience I found a number of things that confused me, repulsed me, or at the very least bothered me. Once I was able to encounter these things, ponder them, and understand them, my admiration for Morocco returned ten-fold.

The following writings document the last two months of my study abroad experience in Morocco. In the last month of the program, we were expected to conduct field research on some aspect of Moroccan culture and society. This was known as the Independent Study Project (ISP). My project was entitled: The African-American Influence on Moroccan Youth Culture.

While I have long since lost track of the paper I submitted for this project, the diary I kept throughout the project remained with me throughout the years. During a recent move, I rediscovered this diary and found it to be more interesting and personable than an academic paper. I am sure that my candid thoughts and ad hoc notes are more interesting to read than the actual paper. I realize this now as instructor of undergraduate students who teaches information literacy skills. In addition, I have been working on ways of assessing those skills through research diaries. As I look back on these writings, I see the seeds for a lot of my converging interests; Islam, the Arabic language, cross-cultural exchange between Arabs and African-Americans, education, etc.

The wall of an elementary school in Rabat.

Where does the idea to explore the African American influence on Moroccan youth culture come from? It comes primarily from my intense love and respect for Black people and Islam. Black people in America formulate culture in order to survive the trials of life. They adopt Islam as a way of life in order to get to the next level after their survival, which is to resist those challenges and build a new reality.

There are two things that bring me and my circle of friends together: 1) our spirituality, particularly Islam and 2) our “Black” awareness, which usually has to do with a shared socio-political and cultural identity that defines my generation i.e. hip hop.

Studying in Morocco is an opportunity that someone of my background have not experienced and might not ever experience. For this reason, I am in a special position and plan to make the most of my studies. I must study something that represents the interests of my people. If I am not the only one, then I am among a pioneering few in my family and my network of people.

I am interested in viewing the reflection of myself in Morocco. How are Moroccans using a culture that has its roots in the Black American experience to resist challenges they face in their society. Theirs is a society based on Islam, which is a system that guides them in their daily lives I assume.

This idea was sparked by seeing Moroccans that resembled Black people I know from the U.S. There are the MoRastas as I call them; those who wear their hair in locks, sport rastacaps, and appear to embrace a Rasta motif. There are also those who dressed in a hip-hop motif. It was not strange to hear hip-hop and R&B playing in the streets in Rabat. An additional question I have is about the origins of locks and braids in Morocco. Are these imported phenomena or have they always been there?

Similarly, I want to know where Islam fits in as well as their notion of resistance. Although I see Islam as something indigenous to American culture, it is often perceived as something foreign, particularly when adopted by zealous Black youth. However, in Morocco, Islam is not seen as foreign at all. So are young people resisting aspects of their traditional culture by embracing cultures foreign to their society like Rastafarianism and hip-hop? In doing so, are Black American and Moroccan youth making a trade off? I am sure Moroccans are just as intrigued about Americans wearing jalabiyyahs and using Arabic vocabulary in their speech as we are to find Moroccans looking like Rastas and using English vocabulary.

While Islam is not mentioned in the title of this piece, it is nonetheless an intrinsic part of my study. In my readings of Black American Islam, I noticed that when Black people meet Islam it tends to be a force of resistance against an oppressive power structure. Though some try to find fault in it, it continues to spread in North America and makes sense to people. It was the sober spiritual understanding of Africans that spread the religion in Africa and inspired slave rebellions in the Americas. In the book Muslims on the Block, the author mentions the Moroccan Sultanate’s opposition to the seizure of Muslim slaves from Europe and Africa.


October 27, 2005

So far, I have acquired a few connections and maybe a couple of more things to look into. Two weeks ago, I spoke to a young man named Abdullah, who looked like a friend of mine. He works at the CD shop in the souq that sells and plays a lot of hip-hop. The people there wear clothes in the hip-hop fashion. Some of them actually resemble Black people in America. I went back there later with my homestay brother to make sure he understood what I was saying.

Souq CD Shop

The hip-hop CD shop in the old medina of Rabat.

A fellow SIT student gave me the email address to her professor/advisor who researches the effects of hip-hop around the world. I that proves fruitful.

I have also seen a barber shop with a Rasta motif. That is all. It made me think about the “tradition” of barber shops in the African American community…Maybe there is a connection to be made, maybe not.

Just a few minutes ago I met someone who might be really helpful to my research. His name is Zakariya (Zak). I met him at the beginning of the program with his father, Rachid. I first met Rachid at his shop in the medina and I was wearing a Bob Marley shirt. He asked me where I was from and if I liked Bob Marley. Then he gave me his number. He did not speak English very well, but his son, Zak, was very proficient; flawless perhaps. I think he has participated in the CCCL program in the past as a host. I also think his uncle is a “MoRasta.” I told Zak about my project and he said that he can probably introduce me to some people. He and some friends regularly met in front of Hotel Balima around 8-ish.


October 29, 2005

I met Zak in front of Hotel Balima the other night. He introduced me to the skateboarders who listen to reggae, hip-hop, and R&B. The two people’s whose names I remember were Hesham and Mehdi. Hesham works with street kids at a charitable organization in Rabat. Mehdi looks like someone I know. He wore a grey skull cap, a shiny chain, and shiny watch along with a pair of Air Jordans. I tried speaking with him in Arabic since he did not know English very well. I asked him what type of music he liked, to which he replied: hip-hop and R&B, adding mostly the Game, 50 Cent, etc.

Even though G-Unit is popular in the U.S. as well, many people see their music as bring the culture down. Their lyrics glamorize a hyper gangster lifestyle and disrespecting women and have no socially conscious message. I do not know if Moroccans know about this. Some people in the U.S. listen to hip-hop for the lyrics and the message. I wonder why Moroccan hip-hop heads listen to it.

The whole experience in front of Hotel Balima was cool. Mehdi gave me his email and cell phone number and told me he would take me to the discotheque some time. I told him maybe after Ramadan.

Zak blew me away when he told me that he learned English mostly from watching American movies. That’s crazy. American culture used for education? Who would have ever thought?

I was walking down Mo V (Mohammed V Street) today when I saw this week’s issue of Time Magazine. The cover story read, “Generation Jihad, Alienated, Jobless and Mad About Iraq: Why Some Young European Muslims Are Turning to Extremism.” I purchased the magazine and went to the park to read the article. I also read the side article entitled, “Muslim Rappers Welcome to the Hip-Hop Ummah.” In this article, the author mentioned a previous professor and friend of mine, Dr. H. Samy Alim, a Muslim, linguistics specialist who is also fluent in Arabic among other languages. He has done research about Muslims in hip-hop. I got up then and there, walked home while still reading the article and emailed him.

Generation Jihad

Time Magazine Cover from October 2005.

The article mentioned that last summer the U.S. State Department funded a project to promote Moroccan rappers in order to promote democracy in the Arab World. Mmmm? That reminded me of the radio station Dr. Abdelhay was telling me about.

I do not know if this has any bearing on anything, but Moroccan women are really “gangster.” The other day I saw a man run across the street as if he was going to talk to a woman. He walked in front of her. Then to the side of her. He glanced and continued to glance at her. She paid him no attention at all. She did not even flinch. The next day I saw another woman do the same thing to a man that was trying to harass her.

I have also seen women fighting in the streets. Tonight, I was walking through the crowded streets of the medina. First some kids started fighting among themselves. Then more kids joined the fight. In another scene a young woman was fighting two older women in hijab. The medina was gridlocked. People were laughing  and rooting for someone. I did not understand what they were saying, but I think it was something like, “Kick their @$$!” Then two women came, pushing their way through the crowd. Then right in front of me, they started yelling at a man. It was a 40-something year old woman along with her daughter who started kicking and throwing blows at this man.


November 4, 2005

Hairstyles. See if African American culture has influenced hairstyles, especially women’s hairstyles as well as rhythms, instruments, maybe the way they eat, etc.? What are the politics behind their cultural habits? Do MoRastas eat ital? Do they know what that is?

What is al-Limon clique?


November 9, 2005

(In Loutichina) There are a lot of differences between these classrooms and those I know from my youth. The children sit at wooden and metal desks, paired boy and boy or girl and girl. In this particular classroom the girls are primarily sitting in the back, but that was not the case in all classrooms. There’s not much of anything here. There are a couple of posters on the wall: pictures of the king Mohammed VI, an outdated map of the world, a surah from the Qur’an, a poster promoting school, otherwise the walls are bare. There is a chalkboard at the front of the class. Most of the education appears to be centered on language. This morning, I watched the students learn Arabic grammar and recite the Qur’an. In the current class, they are learning French grammar and how to use a dictionary. I have not seen a science class yet, but the math class I saw was kind of different. They were adding and subtracting time.

I can imagine that schooling in the rural areas are different from urban areas, but not completely. Even though the students and teachers do not have much access to learning and teaching materials, the students seem eager to learn and the teachers are ready to teach. The good thing about this is that it encourages more creative and relevant teaching methods. Students are more active and independent in their learning.

Fulbright scholars:

Joshua Asen – Ethnomusicology

  • American hip-hop and culture in Moroccan modern society

Pamela Nice – American culture

  • Teaching American Culture through Theatre Literature of Film and Research for Documentary of Moroccan Youth

Amine à sings like Michael Jackson


November 14, 2005

So some things I have been thinking about, some things I need to think about, and other thoughts:

First, I need to contact all these people who I want to interview and see if they will all be willing to help me on this project. Secondly, I need to come up with some questions. Under this, I do not want it to simply be questions and answers. I want it to be an exchange, where they can constantly show me things that they do in Morocco and I can shed some light on similar practices in America. I thought of maybe preparing a quiz-survey type thing in order to get a general idea of what they know about Black American culture and key things I should be checking for.

Furthermore, I need to be finding those Fulbright scholars who are doing research related to my topic. Maybe one of them will be my advisor. I sure hope so because I really do not know who else will be.

People to contact:

Fulbright scholars

  • Joshua Asen
  • Pamela Nice
  • Saadia Meski from Comission Morocco Americaine


Hip-Hop heads

  • Mustafa
  • Mehdi
  • Abdullah (Mohammad V University student)
  • Abdullah (CD store)
  • Rachid
  • Said
  • Zak
  • Hesham



  • Rachid


Tuesday 8:30am Mohammed V University – Suisi II Irfane Hall

Along with this project comes a number of personal concerns. This research project will mark the last month of my semester abroad in Morocco. There were some ups and downs, but on the whole I enjoyed it and most definitely learned from it. I am looking forward to the next three weeks being on my own, hanging with and finding people who I feel I can probably related to. However the pressure will be on when I get back to the U.S.

Yesterday, I spoke with my mother on IM (not even realizing it was her birthday). I also spoke with my roommate Solomon. My mother told me that if my tuition for this semester is not paid by the time of graduation, the university will withhold my degree. I would rather look for a job with the diploma than not, so we have to find a way to for me to graduate on time. Moreover, my car, which I trusted to the family is not working now (and probably has water inside it). I will most definitely need it when I return. This is indicative of my family’s financial troubles since my mother is the only one currently working. Even though I am living comfortably in Morocco right now, this will all change when I get back to the U.S. No more $3 lunches and free meals, it will be back to paying for gas, bills, and all the unexpected expenses that come with life in America.

On another note, I do not think that my friends at home are quite the same as before. The core network of me, Solomon, Rasul, Kelsey, and Ron (all friends of mine) has not held together since I have been in Morocco. Solomon is working two jobs and going to school in Durham. Rasul is traveling back and forth from New York and South Carolina, looking for work, and visiting his family and fiancée. Kelsey has been stressed about his trial, which could lock him away for the rest of his life. Ron has not been around much. He has been attending the Salafi mosque, Masjid Tawheed wa Sunnah. The breakdown of this unit is exactly what I feared before I left, because we are largely kept together by my car, apartment, and jum’ah services. This is what I have been missing in Morocco. When I go back, it might not be there anymore.

I do not know how the music thing is going to work out or the business stuff in Morocco I have been thinking about lately. I have some good money-making ideas. It just requires time and money.

  • Said Graiouid (Professor of Cultural Studies)
  • Drees Kssikis (Telquel) à does music and culture
  • SAWA (broadcast from Lebanon) plays hip-hop and R&B


Khalid (DJ Key)

Original Hip-Hop et l’Education Artistique et Culturelle a Casablanca


Taieb Belghazi (Professor at Mohammed V University)

“Muslim Networks from Hajj to Hip-Hop” Edited by miriam cooke and Bruce Lawrence


Green Energy in Morocco

  • Amal Haddouch Director of Moroccan Center for Development of Renewable Energies


Cross-cultural interactions:

  • Moroccan hip-hop in darija incorporates Gnawa
  • subversiveness: hip-hop festival attracts c. 30, 000
  • opposes Islamist movements


70’s-80’s: Nasse Ghiwane

80’s-90’s: Rai Music

90’s- present: Hip-hop


November 20, 2005

The first few days of ISP, how goes it? Well, not much has been done on the actual interviewing process. These last few days have been holidays in celebration of Morocco’s independence. Independence Day was November 18. I also wanted to meet with my advisor first, which I did yesterday. I walked out to Agdal to meet Dr. Said at Café Flamingo, where we talked. He advised me of things I should probably consider, as well as a lot of readings, including a mysterious ISP from the previous spring semester.

Apparently, I am not the pioneer I thought I was. Someone named Niambi Young did a rather extensive ISP on Moroccan hip-hop. It is humbling, I must admit. She goes through the history of hip-hop in the U.S. as well as in Morocco and Africa in general. She met and interviewed the most well-known figures in Moroccan hip-hop and even last year’s Fulbright, Josh Asen, who is a key American organizer of the yearly hip-hop festival. Apparently, he also filmed a documentary on it. Niambi’s piece also touches on a lot of ideas and questions I previously had; it’s like she stole me ideas before I even thought of them.

Anyway, my meeting with Dr. Said gave me a lot to think about. Especially in the direction of my project. I think that I might do some background research on youth cultural movements in Morocco. Dr. Said told me about the three main musics/sub-cultural genres in post-colonial Morocco:

  • 1970’s – late 80’s: Zajal, Nasse Ghiwane
  • Late 1980’s – 90’s: Rai
  • 1990’s – present: Hip-hop

He said that the zajal lyrics of Nasse Ghiwane tended to be very traditional. They even borrowed lyrics from 14th and 15th century Arabic poetry. It spoke to the political consciousness of his generation. Rai music had its start in Algeria and Northeast Morocco. It was very controversial because the lyrics spoke of sex, drugs, debauchery, etc. things that conflict with Islamic principles. He said that some Rai musicians were even assassinated in Algeria. Then, he spoke of hip-hop, a culture that reflects the outcome of globalization. Some see it as an imported culture mostly adopted by middle to upper middle-class Moroccan youth. As I hear, Moroccan hip-hop is not about guns, drugs, cars, girls, and jewelry. It tends to be more political. Hmm? People tend to have doubts about its relevance because of its association with the middle-class and the fact that the U.S. Department of State backs a yearly hip-hop festival.

I thought about it some. Is it that people around the world adopt hip-hop and Rasta culture in the same way that white and/or middle-class youth in the U.S. do? Is hip-hop seen around the world in the same way that “wiggers” see it? Is this the case in Morocco? Are Black people in America alone in their affection to hip-hop? Are Rastafarians in the U.S. and Jamaica alone in their affection to their “culcha?”

After finding a grossly over-priced hip-hop magazine in French, I see that this might be the case. Since only some die-hard Moroccan hip-hop head with plenty of expendable income can afford this type of magazine.


November 21, 2005

I think I found out what al-Limon is. Dar al-Shabab al-Limon is an arts school, I believe. The place next to the Clinique, which goes by the same name appears to be some type of arts magnet center. I walked by it a little before 5pm and saw a lot of kids hanging outside with art portfolios and hip-hop styles of dress, hair, and demeanor. I will bring my sketchbooks out there the next time I visit. I hope to get Zak or someone to go there with me and introduce me to some people.


  • How do you define yourself? (Muslim, Moroccan, etc.)
  • What type of music do you listen to?
  • What special interests do you have? Hobbies?
  • Can you explain the beginnings of hip-hop culture and Rastafarian culture in Morocco?
  • Can you explain the beginnings of Rastafarian and hip-hop culture in the U.S. and Jamaica?
  • To the best of your knowledge, explain the differences between hip-hop and Rasta culture in Morocco and the U.S.
  • What do you know about African Americans?
  • Do you (or do you think other Moroccans) understand the origins and differences?
  • In general, what is the perception of people who follow hip-hop and Rasta sub-cultures in Morocco?
  • Would you consider hip-hop and Rasta sub-cultures subversive?


November 23, 2005

Interviewed around 12pm:

Saad 19, Youssef 21, Salwa 20, Idriss 19, Hajar 18, Hijar 18, Kawtar 19, Youness 21, Fatima 18, Jawad 24, Mehdi 19

Things to think about after these first two sessions:

  • How much of this cultural adoption is wrapped up in the rush to learn English?
  • Sports as they relate to musical and dress choices.
  • What are the negative impacts of African American culture on Moroccan society?
  • How can Moroccan youths learn about or help African Americans?
  • Who is Nasse Ghiwane and how can he be related to African American musicians or political figures?
  • What are older people’s perceptions of jazz?

I do not know if those first two interviews went well. I mean, they were good because they gave me some things to think about as well as some insights into the world of Moroccan youth culture. However, they did not have a lot of substance.

Rachid told me that most people learn about hip-hop dress from watching basketball on television. He also said that people learn about reggae and whatever they know about Rastafarianism from VH-1 specials and the like. So it all comes back to media and globalization. These are two of the most globalized cultures and they originated with Blacks in the Americas.

Rachid also told me that the MoRastas are largely confine to the old medina, near the beach. For some reason people associate surfing and smoking hashish with Rastafarianism. He said that since the Rasta look is so foreign to Morocco, many people ask them about their look, which forces them to know the meaning (or make up one) for their appearance and lifestyle. In addition, he alluded to the fact that people all over the world are in a rush to learn English, which familiarizes them with global culture, which aids in the global economy. Or is it the other way around? So people watch these VH-1 specials and strive to understand the Rasta culture from images and mimicking what they see and assume that there is something spiritual in smoking marijuana, surfing, and living life on the beach.

I also asked Rachid about Nasse Ghiwane. He said after “he” left his previous group he did his own thing, which we described as a mixture between rap and soul. Much in the way 2Pac mixed rap with melodies.

The Mohammed V students in my homestay brother’s class… When asked what they knew about African Americans there was silence. Then I heard, “Martin Luther King!” Just like some ignorant African Americans might say. Their following remarks pertained to aspects of their cultural expression rather than their history or anything else. I believe it was Hajar who said that African Americans have a slightly different way of speaking, hand movements, and musical styles. I also think she said something that I wanted her to clarify, but there were a number of people talking at once so I could not follow up. I think she might have said something to the effect of racism was created by Black people because… I was not quite sure of her reasoning.

Most of them knew that the source of hip-hop music was Africa and was, as they asserted, to express problems in their lives and it was later spread internationally. That is not exactly true, but even people in the U.S. believe that.

One thing that I found interesting about this group of students is that they belonged to the same clique of students, but they all represented different subcultures. One young man, named Mehdi, wore a Marilyn Manson shirt yesterday, which had a pentagon and a goat’s head. Another young man wore a cap, Timberland boots, baggy jeans, etc. One girl wore a “Jamaica” hoodie. Everyone claimed to listen to different types of music. One girl even said that she liked country music.

My question is: when does a Moroccan youth transition from loving a particular type of music to embracing a subculture? Not everyone considered it bad or foolish to dress like their favorite musician, but there tended to have a particular abhorrence for Rastas. Maybe the MoRastas had gone too far.


November 24, 2005

My thought for today: I think that I may need to tweak my project a bit. I am finding that the influence of Black American culture is not really that strong. Even though I have not yet interviewed my initial subjects, I am finding that the Rastafarian and hip-hop influences may be superficial. However, if I can find a few parallels between Black American culture and Moroccan youth culture I would have some interesting results.

Before interviewing the Mohammed V students yesterday, I intended to ask them, as a side note, what they thought about the recent riots in France and I forgot. I did ask one girl how she felt about the issue and she responded by saying, “I hate the French!” She went on to say that they have been provoking immigrant communities in France for years. I wanted to interject that some African Americans feel the same way about White America, but she was on to another conversation with someone else. I will ask others about this, inshaa Allah.

On another note, I am finding that I should also look more into Gnawa music and culture. After talking to people, reading an article called “Possessing Gnawa Culture” (by Deborah Kapchan), and listening to some Gnawa music I am realizing that Gnawa is parallel to African American culture. The Gnawa were Sub-Saharan Africans enslaved in Morocco while African Americans were Africans enslaved in the Americas. Under their respective conditions they formulated similar forms of music. Black culture in the U.S. has been marketed to White youth (and subsequently youth around the world who can afford it) by non-Black-owned companies, while Gnawa is usually marketed to tourists from Europe and the U.S. I do not know by whom, but this is a very interesting parallel.


November 25, 2005

Once again I was walking through the streets of Rabat hoping to see the persons I needed to talk to, either Zak or Mehdi. I had been hesitant to call Mehdi because I am not confident in my Arabic skills yet. I saw him anyway. He was with some of his friends. They had a lighter complexion than his, they had greasy hair, wore flashy hip-hop fashion. Some of them left to make the ‘isha prayer, I believe. Mehdi asked if I prayed. He said he was Muslim and he prays. So he turned around and I went with him. The plan was to go to his house to pray. I made sure to stop by the hotel room and pick up my dictionary.

Hip-Hop Mehdi

Mehdi, in hip-hop garb, showing off some home decorations.

So he took me to his place behind the train station. It was a simple home. He introduced me to his sister and brother. Just like I thought, they were the “black Moroccans.” I do not remember his sister’s name, but his brother’s name was Yunus. He was 21. He was watching some type of soap opera that was supposed to be based in the U.S. (it obviously was not, but he insisted it was). Mehdi told me that Yunus knew fusha better than he did. Then he asked me if I wanted to listen to some hip-hop, so he turned the channel to some rap videos. There was a cheesy party song by Stickyfingaz, then some Nelly, Jah Rule, and so on. I told Yunus a little about the SIT program and my research project. After he gave me an egg sammich and some tea, he prayed, then I prayed after him.

After that we talked a little more and listed to music. I cannot remember what we talked about, but he let me borrow some of his music: a Jay-Z mixed-tape and Rakim’s last album. I told him that Jay-Z used to identify as a Muslim. I believe they were intrigued and maybe a bit puzzled. In exchange, I let them borrow two CD’s of my music. After listening to a few tracks we left.

He told me that he had a “dog.” He said dog in English, so I thought he was referring to a friend in hip-hop slang. He said that his “dog” was a “killer”- mmm… – and he killed “qitat” (cats). More mmm… So I tried to ask if his friend was a butcher, but I could not remember the right word. So we arrived to a building and he told me to stay outside until he came back. After a few minutes he came out with a huge pit bull. Oh! Now I understood. He had a dog named Killer and he was going to take him for a walk. All this time I thought he had a friend who liked to kill cats.

We walked and a drunkard stopped us. He wanted to pet the dog. We went around a corner and saw three more drunkards. One ran up to us saying some stuff about the dog, then he saw my dictionary. “Oxford” something something something… “Injlizi.” He tried to grab it and I would not give it to him. Mehdi grabbed the book and told the drunkard to leave me alone more or less.

We walked around with his dog. I attempted to ask him questions about hip-hop and what not. I asked what he liked about hip-hop. He said the fashion and the images of people with a similar skin color [is inspiring]… something to that effect. I accidentally asked what he thought the differences between America and Morocco were. He said that everything was better in the U.S. I meant to ask him what he thought the differences were between American and Moroccan hip-hop. I believe he said that the style of dress was the same, but hip-hop had to be different in the U.S. because Moroccans do not understand the lyrics.

He asked me about dressing hip-hop. I told him that not everyone who listens to hip-hop dresses “hip-hop” so to speak. Often because not everyone in the U.S. could afford to buy necklaces, rings, and other jewelry, especially not in the Black communities that gave birth to these styles. Strangely enough, he used the pseudo-words “bling bling.” He told me that he too did not have a lot of money, but he owns two earrings, which he wears all the time. I think people knew him for his earrings and looking American, except when he prays.


November 26, 2005

The conversation later turned to Islam. He asked me about my beard or lack thereof. He asked if there were people in America with long beards and jalabiyas who judge people who dress hip-hop. I said yes. He said that Islam is in the heart. Then, just before we got to the beach, he let his dog run loose. The next thing we knew, Killer was barking and growling and a cat was screaming for his life. Killer was killing a cat. It was kind of sad. Mehdi was able to pull him off the cat. Some guys who were watching came up to us. They appeared to be a little buzzed. Mehdi always introduces me as a Muslim from the United States. So one of the guys asked me if I was Muslim. He asked where my family was from: Nigeria? Senegal? None of the above. I told him they were from America and that my ancestors were brought as slaves. He told me that in the Muslim world there was no slavery, no racism… Every time I hear something like this, all the things I heard about racism in the so-called Muslim world rushes to my head… But my grasp of the Arabic language limits me. I tried to tell him that there was most definitely slavery in Mauritania, but he said “No!” I said “na’am.” I wanted to tell him about the Gnawa, the ill treatment of the Sudanese at the hands of the Egyptians, and how active the Arab slave trade was and how it never really stopped… But like I said, my knowledge of Arabic is limited and he was buzzed. He said that Morocco was a Muslim nation and that there might be people who love alcohol, fahshaa (sex outside marriage), etc. but they are still Muslims. I think the other guy wanted me to say the shahada, but I just knew he was not going to do that with khamr (alcohol) on his breath. That was most of what happened that day except the dogs trying to get it on.

Moroccan Mehdi

Mehdi, in traditional Moroccan garb, posing on one of the main strips of Rabat.

Before we parted, he expressed his desire to marry an American girl in order to go to America, because there were no jobs and no future in Morocco. He wants to go to America to work. I tried to explain how much of a struggle it would be to live in America if you had nothing. I do not know if he understood, but then some English speakers came. We decided to meet the next day at Masjid Sunnah after Zuhr time.

I did not realize that the next day was a Friday. I went to Masjid Sunnah and saw all those people gathered, then I realized it was Jum’ah. After Jum’ah I tried to wait for him around the masjid. When I did not see him, I went to his house. His mother (who resembled my friend Theresa) invited me in. His brother told me to go into the living room, where his sister was watching cheesy Egyptian soap operas. She left to prepare lunch. I called Mehdi while I was waiting to let him know I was at his house. I stayed for lunch. I had to explain that I did not eat meat. They had no problem with that. The eggplant was delicious. I had just completed praying ‘Asr when Mehdi showed up. Apparently, people stopped by his place a lot just to pray. So I left with him and some his greased up hip-hop friends. I stopped by the hotel to get my bag to let them see my sketchbooks as we walked down the street. While crossing the street, Abdullah from the CD store and some other guys saw us and everyone was looking through my sketchbooks almost in the middle of the road. The DJ guy spoke a little English and he took my number. We parted ways at the medina and scheduled to meet again at 6pm.

I went to my homestay family’s place for a while and asked Saad to translate for me later. We tied to meet Mehdi at 6. He was not there. We called him and decided to meet at Hotel Balima at 6:30. He finally came by 7. We saw Zak, Zak, and Sam and talked to them for a while. As we were standing around talking with Mehdi, Micheline and Nurjahan (two women from my cohort) came up. We all talked about our projects. I told them I was kind of doing an interview. I asked them if they wanted to marry a Moroccan guy… Apparently, as I was talking to them (as Saad told me later) Mehdi was eager to meet them. I introduced them and had a little small talk. Then Nur and Mich left in their respective blue and red Moroccan jalabas with the hoods. Saad later told me that Mehdi could not stop talking about them. I will discuss the subsequent interview later. I ended up going to Mehdi’s house for a while, watched 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop” video and left.

Paris riots like African American riots


November 27, 2005

I am beginning to realize how intensely Muslim many Moroccans are. Even though I am interviewing people about culture, the conversations often veer towards Islam. This is a phenomenon I realized with my people in U.S. Not only are Moroccans spiritual they are also very musical. Even at my homestay family’s house there is always singing.

I have been asking people why they like hip-hop. Responses vary. My observation is that most young people listen to some type of American music. Some say that the style and production of American music is of better quality. Most, however, tend not to be attracted to it because of its message. The most important factor is its aesthetic.

Some points worth noting are that:

  • Saad does not like Marilyn Manson because (first) he is not a “real singer” and (secondly) he is a homosexual.
  • When I asked hip-hop heads about raunchy rap videos, they told me that it was not a problem. Sexual desire was not forbidden in Islam. One young man stated that you can see a girl on TV and you are like “Oh my God!” But you can also see the same thing on the streets of Rabat. One person said that he is “weak” in front of girls. I guess all this means that they would rather see pretty girls on TV than in real life since they are not really there. I will need to do more research on the differences between males and females and how they apply youth culture. I get the feeling that Moroccan women are more like African American women.
  • I had an interesting conversation with someone named Munir, who worked at the hip-hop CD store. He told me that he never saw Black (Moroccan) kids buying rock or country, only hip-hop and R&B. He spoke a little English. He appeared to be an older person who listened to hip-hop. He also appeared to have a keen knowledge of hip-hop and African American culture. He was one of the few people I met who knew about Malcolm X. He knew that some rappers and singers were Muslims. He also stated that most Muslims in the U.S. were Black. He mentioned a statistic where he said 20,000 or 200,000 people embraced Islam every year in the U.S. I do not know the accuracy of this statistic, but I told him that I see at least one person a month take shahada where I am from. He heard hip-hop for the first time about eight years ago and was captivated by it. He does not like Eminem because he is only putting words together. He also knew Josh Asen. I think Munir is the sort of “expert” I have been looking for.
  • One thing that challenges a theory that Dr. Said told me was the fact that not everyone who listens to hip-hop or dresses in that fashion are middle class or well off. Mehdi took me to the internet café, but did not seem to know much about computers. In fact, he spelled his MSN screenname incorrectly and had trouble with his IM. He did not know many websites either. I believe that people’s adoption of American music is part of the hoop dreams to escape Morocco; to find jobs, pursue dreams, and have a meaningful life. Two young men, Mehdi and another guy, said that they recognize that a lot of the rappers they see used to be poor. After they made some comments idealizing America, I asked them why do they think rappers rap about problems in America if it is all good? They said that the people from which the rappers came from were treated differently from the rest. But I think they still realize that the opportunity for upward mobility in American society is more likely than in Morocco. Their aspirations did not seem entirely different from the aspirations of poor African American youth; the desire to “get out of the hood.” They see the whole country of Morocco as the hood. There is an idea that there is nothing to do here and the way out of this rut is to go to Europe or the U.S.

In the U.S., it is not the case that Black youth living in ghettos across the country want to leave the country, but they see a way out through rapping/singing, sports, or the impossible task of being successful leading a life of crime.  They are allured by the same glossy images of girls, jewelry, and money seen in rap and R&B videos. Like Munir said last night, everyone in the world has problems, even if you have money, there is more to life.

So this is where Islam comes in. Poor Black Muslims in the U.S. have the same problems as young poor Muslims in Morocco who want to balance material contentment with spiritual commitment. The difference is that Moroccan youth for the most part do not turn to crime or lofty hopes of rapping or becoming an athlete. They would be satisfied working in a restaurant in New York, seeing the lights and sending money back home – a simple life.

Munir was also one of the first to mention racism in America and differences between dark and light-skinned Moroccans with the exception of someone the other day who asked about interracial couples in the U.S. She said that dark-skinned people placed too much emphasis on marrying someone with lighter skin. Mmm. I asked Munir if there was racism in Morocco. He said no.

Later at the club, I did not learn much about Moroccan clubbing except that there was a high concentration of foreigners, Europeans, Sub-Saharan Africans, and Americans like myself, but still a lot of Moroccans. The club was not like most places in Morocco. Instead of the traditional motif (geometric designs characteristic of Moroccan antiquity) the club was futuristic. They mostly played House music, some Dancehall, but mostly House. There were older European people there. The club, of course, sold alcohol. It did not appear to be a very popular spot. It was only for people who had a propensity for clubbing. It did not seem like it was trying to attract attention to itself.

You could recognize the Moroccans because they usually danced female-female and the men did not dance with the women unless they appeared to be a couple or if the woman was not Moroccan.


November 28, 2005

I asked Mehdi and the other guy if there was any stigma attached to their choice of dress. They said that a lot of people dress this way. Even if people had a problem with it they did not care because they dressed how they liked. As far as their parents, they felt that their parents were pretty open-minded. Even if their parents are traditional, it was not much of a problem when they decide to embrace another culture.

One thing that struck me is how much Mehdi was/is on his din. His two friends who went to the club with us did not speak any fusha. For him to speak to me and understand what I say means that he is either highly educated or her is on his din. He does not go to university. He knows French, but his spelling is a bit off. He told me that his older brother was a really spiritual person who knew a lot about the Qur’an and such.

However, there are a couple of things I was going to ignore before, but I feel I should speak on them now. I am staying at Hotel Central, right next to Hotel Balima, the young people hang-out spot. The other day I first began to interview Mehdi, I came to the hotel to pick up my dictionary. The old guy with a beard who works at the counter made Mehdi stay downstairs rather than allowing him to come up with me. I thought that was strange. Maybe there was some type of no-guests policy. Or maybe it was because my roommate was a girl from my program – I do not know.

The night when I came back from the club it was around 3am. The man was angry that he had to unlock the door. He said something like this is the last time or the first time… I did not really understand why. European people stay in these types of hotels all the time and they might stay out later. Plus, I have not had any problems in other cities. Maybe it was because I was Muslim. He noticed that in the mornings, I would pray in the hallway and he had a problem with it. At one point he made me do that thing that I hate (but I love under normal circumstances); he asked me to recite al-Fatiha.

Last night before Tania, Tchika, and I left for dinner at my homestay family’s house, he stopped us and told us that the door locks at 1am. I asked him what the problem was. I tried to explain that we were students doing research projects and sometimes we needed to stay out late. He asked me what type of research could we be doing late at night with a little… (head and feet gesture) alluding to Mehdi and his hip-hop style. I tried to explain my project to him, but he interrupted me. Nevertheless, we told him it was not every night. We spoke to Zak about two minutes later about it and he said that he was just being an @$$hole and that he had problems with this guy before as well. There is no rule saying that residents at a hotel have to be back at a certain hour or that they cannot have guests. If he does not let me in, I just will not pay. Zak said if he does not let me in just find a cop and he will let him know. This is one thing I want to run by Mehdi, some of the Rastas, and other hip-hop heads.


November 29, 2005

I met some new people to help me on my project. Adil is a MoRasta, age 30, who is proficient in English. Last night around 8pm, Currun called me and asked me if I wanted to eat dinner with him and Ally. We met at the Sidi Fath internet café and went to a small restaurant in the medina on Mohammed V Street. This is a restaurant I have seen a number of MoRastas at before. There was a table full of Rastas and I wondered if they spoke English.

As we were sitting we saw Rachid (Zak’s father) come into the restaurant and talk to the MoRastas. I got up to give salaams to him and had a chance to meet the MoRastas. One of the guys, Adil asked me if I spoke English, where I was from, which state, and they all suggested that I pull up a chair. I told them I would after I ate with my American friends.

When we finished eating, persuaded Ally and Currun to join me in talking with the MoRastas. We spoke mostly to Adil because he spoke English fluently. When it came out that we were doing research projects, he was more than willing to help and answer any questions we wanted to ask. I asked him how he learned about Rastafarianism. He said from listening to “Bob.” This is how he learned English as well; picking up words here and there, reading a little bit, nothing formal. He also said he had books on Rastafarianism that he reads in English.

He seemed to know that locks were not just a style and that they had a meaning for African people. Locks are something unique to African people. They can grow their hair to look like trees. He knew that all the Biblical prophets had locks. It was natural spiritual growth.

Adil the MoRasta

Adil, the MoRasta.

We started talking about our origins. He said that his grandfather was from Black Africa and his friend sitting next to him traveled to Mali, Senegal, Guinea, Gambia, and Mauritania on foot. He said that a lot of Moroccans have Black African ancestry and that there were Black people all over the world. He looked like he could be from Jamaica, accent and all… or maybe Britain.

When we asked about the perceptions of Rastas in Morocco, he said that most young people are open-minded. There are only some older people who are critical of them because they do not understand it. He had been growing his locks for twelve years. He, in fact, claimed to be Rastafarian and Muslim. In addition to that, he started singing a bit of Gnawa music and said that some of them had a band that plays Reggae and Gnawa. He talked about its African roots and later we began to discuss African Sufi practices… “like magic” he said. I asked him if he knew some of the healing practices he mentioned. He said “yeah, a little.” For instance, many people wear Ayat al-Kursi around their necks when they feel mentally or physically sick. A “faqayh” puts his hands around the person’s head and recites the verse, then the person is healed.

More about the perceptions of MoRastas:

Adil said that he did not really smoke keef (marijuana) and that he was not addicted to it. He only smoked it at parties and social gatherings. He said that a lot of people get the wrong idea because they see that Bob Marley was a smoker and they think that is what Rastafarianism is all about. He contended that not all Rastas smoked. Some people are shocked when he tells people that he does not smoke much.

Ally asked if he drinks alcohol. He said, “Of course! It’s like tea!” He did not think it was forbidden for Muslims to drink alcohol. It was only that some people got drunk and walked around and caused mayhem in the streets, fights and the like. He felt that if you did not get drunk, it was not a problem.

One thing I have been thinking about which I have not mentioned previously is how Pan-African African American culture is. Mehdi asked me on a few occasions “Limadha la ta’kul jayyidan?” (Why don’t you eat well?) When we were coming from the club, he asked me this and said that when he saw rappers and singers on videos, they were always big and muscular, but I obviously am not. I believe that people like Mehdi are inspired when they see these images of black men (and women) being strong, cool, attractive, and rich. This is especially true of people who identify as Black.

Onto my future questions for Adil, I was wondering if he ate ital. I was trying to explain to Mehdi that I do not eat the foods that these rappers probably eat. Perhaps the Rastas will understand or “overstand” as they say.

Adil also caught on to the fact that some Black people in America referred to each other as “nigger.” He kept patting me on the back and saying, “That’s my nigger!” while exchanging strange glances with my Indian American and White American colleagues. I ended up explaining to him that the Ethiopian kings were called Negus, meaning king or malik in Ge’ez.


November 30, 2005

Another thing that I neglected to mention before is that people ask me if Americans have heard Moroccan hip-hop. I explained to a Mohammed V student that the things we are exposed to in the U.S. are based on the profits that can be made from it. If they found a market for Moroccan hip-hop in the U.S. then it would be more popular. Another student, who liked heavy metal, asked me why more Black people did not listen to heavy metal. I told him that while there are some that do, it is most likely because many Black people cannot relate to it and the sound of it is not a sound that many African Americans are used to hearing. The aesthetic, satanic messages, and the like are also things that Black people may want to avoid. He said that he does not care about the message, he just likes the sound. Then he said that “Marilyn Manson is so f**king cool!”


December 1, 2005

December 1st?! I need to be wrapping this thing up. There has been some really good stuff happening lately. Yesterday I tried to talk to Munir, but he was really busy at the CD shop. He told me to come back in an hour. When I went back to the shop it was packed. Nurjahan and Micheline were there talking with a guy named Amine. He was from Morocco, but he lived in the U.S. and did hip-hop. In fact, he said that he was releasing an album in Morocco called “The Hood and Good” or “The Good and Hood” under his rap name Yaamin. We exchanged numbers. I told him that I also produced music. After we split, I called Mehdi and we met in front of Balima. We walked toward the medina. He told me that he liked all types of girls and the next time I saw Nurjahan and Micheline I should tell them that he wanted to talk to them.

We went to the Rasta spot and talked with Adil a bit more. I asked him if Rastas in Morocco ate ital… After explaining to him what ital meant, he emphatically said no, they do not do all that. He said that Rastas believe in peace and were Rastas, but still Muslims. He said that some Rastas in Mali lived in the mountains and did not like to be in cities. He said that other Rastas believed Selassie to be God, but because he is Muslim, he just believes in one God.

I tried to ask him what Rastafarianism adds to his faith. I tried to ask this in a few different ways, but I do not think he understood what I was getting at. He and Mehdi had a conversation about Islam, I think. I also think they talked about their respective fashions. I also asked Adil about the origins of Gnawa, but he only stated that Gnawa (the style of music) originated from Black Africa and was a spiritual thing for the sick back in the day. Nothing about slavery.

I asked him what he thought the differences between Black and White people were. He said in Morocco there is no difference. Then he mentioned that racism exists in the world, but not in Morocco.

I also asked him what he thought of the uprisings in France. He thought that it was not right to burn things and cause mayhem in the streets of France. He said that if he went to France or any other country and could not find a job then he would come back home to Morocco. I explained the situation in a slightly different way. I described the situation in the U.S. When Black people cannot get jobs in the U.S. they cannot go back to Africa because they are not citizens of another country, they are only citizens of the U.S. Therefore, they should strive for change where they are. His comment: “Sh!t!”


December 2, 2005

Yesterday I met with Amine. I caught the bus to Hayy Riyad where he stays with his parents. He let me hear some of the stuff from his up and coming album, “Hood and Good.” He raps in English, French, and Darija. There are seven tracks on his CD for which he said he spent close to $4000 (USD) producing. He said that all the tracks were recorded in Morocco. His flow in different languages was obviously inspired by American rap. His English flow was kind of choppy; not as strong as the rest. He seemed to be feeling himself on a lot of his music. He reminded me of a Chapel Hill rapper I know.

I asked him when he planned on going back to the U.S. He said that he and been in Morocco since January and he felt that he lost part of himself in the U.S. even though he loved it. Maybe “losing his religion.” He said that when he first returned to Morocco he got into a lot of fights because he had adapted to life in the U.S. It was hard for him to get back to his people, his home.


Amine, the Moroccan re-patriot.

His cousin or mother made us lunch and we ate. I asked if he listened to hip-hop and understood it before going to the U.S. He said he listed to 2Pac, Wu Tang, etc. before he left, but he only understood a little because he only knew standard English. Later on, he told me that he had gone to NYC without his parents one of his first times there circa 1993. He hooked up with some hip-hop heads who taught him bombing (graffiti), how to smoke weed, hip-hop culture, he had a “shorty” that was…

I expressed that it seemed like Moroccan hip-hoppers did not understand hip-hop or Rastafarianism the way I understood it. He said that he too really did not understand it until he got to the U.S.

It came out that I was Muslim, so we talked about Islam a bit. We went back to the living room to listen to more of his album and for him to hear some of my beats. He said that he was getting back on the din because he had been living wild while in the U.S. He drank, smoked, held guns, “did stupid things for money,” and that was not how he wanted to live. He thanked God for bringing him out of that. He let me hear a song about the Shaytan and staying away from evil.

When he heard some of my music, he immediately wanted to work with me. He said that he had some business to take care of, so I hopped on the bus.

I met with him later. He picked me up in front of the train station after I came from meeting Nurjahan and Tchika at McDonald’s. Interestingly enough, he did not have a car earlier in the day, but he had one at night. Did anyone say cha-ching? We went out to a little shopping center in Hayy Riyad where he hangs out sometimes. There was a barber shop where he and his friends hang out. He invited a guy named Joey who knows English form living in South Africa. He was Amine’s album cover designer. I let both of them see my sketchbooks. Joey changed their previous concept for the album cover completely and decided that I should draw a picture for Amine.

By the way, one of the ill things Amine believed he was into while living in the U.S. was being a tattoo artist and getting tattoos. He does not draw anymore due to his reading of the hadith against people who draw living images. He said that he wants to get back into drawing again, but only non-living things.

So I told him what I thought about it. We agreed that it was all about the intention behind it. His friend Sayyid got drunk. He took as all home. They had a big thing when he dropped off two of his friends. They were all good friends I could tell. Amine is truly torn between two cultures. He told me that when he was in the U.S. he tells people about “Muslims.” In Morocco, he tells people about Americans. He said only its government is messed up, but the people are kind and caring.

He has the perspective of an outsider looking in for both cultures. As I have noticed with others who have seen both sides, Moroccans tend to be very critical of their own who have never been outside of the country. He thinks Moroccans are lazy.


December 3, 2005

More on that last point later… I went to my homestay family’s place in order to take a shower and send an email before jum’ah. Shortly after getting out of the shower I got a call from Amine to see if I wanted to go to jum’ah with him. We planned to meet in front of the police station outside the medina. We went to jum’ah at a mosque outside the medina, but not quite in Agdal. The mu’adhin called the adhan in a clear Saudi style. He called the takbir four times. Clearly his style of reciting and the tone of his voice was not characteristic of Moroccans, who usually call the takbir only twice aloud. Later, I mentioned to Amine that the mu’adhin appeared to be from Saudi. He disagreed and said that this was the traditional Moroccan way. The khutba was about zina.

After jum’ah we visited his father’s office across the street from the mosque. His father is a big shot lawyer. He wears a suit and tie, has secretaries, and speaks fusha. Amine picked up some cash from him and we left. He is, as Dr. Said stated, from the upper middle-class and truly devoted to hip-hop. This will be seen later as we cruised the upscale part of town. We hung out in the café at the small plaza we took me to the night before. We sat next to the balcony. He told me that this spot had a nice view. So I asked him why he chose that particular spot. He began to explain why he came to the plaza, but I clarified that I meant the spot next to the window. I made the observation of how only men seem to sit in the balconies of Moroccan cafes and restaurants. He told me that he knew what I was…


December 4, 2005

…talking about. He said that a lot of women who work in prostitution do not want to be in the open or the fact that a woman might be meeting a boyfriend in a café is disapproved of. They do not want their family members and friends to see them, so they usually go inside. Strangely enough, I am in a café right now and no men appear to be outside. They are all inside, many of them facing two pretty women sitting together.

We talked some more about Islam and other things until the Asr prayer. As we made wudu, he asked if I knew how to call the iqamah. I told him of course. Afterwards, I think we were discussing the MoRastas and how I wanted to see how they balance Islam and Rastafarianism. I told him that my perspective was that Islam was not a religion, but the way of the universe.

On a side note, I just noticed something. The two girls sitting in this café could very well be prostitutes. One of the men who was eyeing them just walked up to them, took their number, and walked back to his table. I have seen this on a few occasions, but I did not really think much of it. I think this might be the game.

Later on, we just cruised the city. He seemed very interested in meeting Nurjahan again. He was trying to possibly hang out at the American College or the mall. He saw his brother on the way, so he picked him up along with his friend. I got him some gas and we went to the mall. It was empty and expensive. The American College was right across from the so-called “Mega Mall,” which was actually pretty small compared to the average American malls. The American College was very spiffy. It had grass, computers, western-style toilets, vending machines (with coffee in them), and everything was in English. He kept telling me that Morocco is more than just the medina, but I guess he did not realize that I knew that already.

He appeared more and more eager to meet Nurjahan and Micheline – once I reminded him of their names. I tried calling them and was only able to get ahold of them while we were walking through the medina. Amine and I hung out at the CD store. I tried to talk to Munir more, but I did not get the chance. We eventually met with Nurjahan, Micheline, Tchika, and Ally in front of the Wafa Bank at the intersection of Mohammed V and Hassan II. We went to McDonald’s (of all places) and hung out. Everyone was talking ISP’s and Amine was trying to do something else like go to a club, his place, or even the beach between Casablanca and Rabat. Micheline told him that they did not know him. Nurjahan said that she needed to do some work. After McDonald’s we were walking and we ran into other people from the program, Dana, Sam, Lauren, Zak, Zak, and others. We chatted with them, but I could tell that Amine did not feel like hanging out like this. So after a few minutes we left and I paid for his parking, which I thought would be 100 dirhams or so, but it was only 9. I walked back home listening to some music. On the way, I saw Nurjahan who was breaking her curfew, so I walked her back to her place.

The rest of the night I walked around a bit more thinking about Amine. In ways he is Moroccan and in other ways he is American. His pursuit of women is a mixture of both. He is Moroccan in the sense that he is “on the prowl.” Yet, unlike most Moroccan men he is direct. He knows about the youthful past-time of American mall hunting; that is when guys and gals go to the mall or some other public gathering place in order to show off and talk to the opposite sex in groups. But I think this is lost on Moroccan youth or they have some other ritual.

Another thing about him that is distinctly American is his bravado or rather his self-promotion. This is something I know to be trademark of African American hip-hop culture. There is a sharpness, almost cold attitudes about things sometimes. When we were walking back to his car he said something about the girls making him wait to hang out with them to which he said, “Holla! I got sh!t to do!” Very American. From what I hear, Moroccan men will follow a woman around for hours trying to talk to her.

Last night, rather this morning was big. The MoRastas took me, Scott, and Allison to a Gnawa hoe-down. It really did not get underway until about midnight. When it did start, it was truly inspiring. A young guy had a hujhuj[1] and was playing and singing. The men got up and started doing a line dance similar to the Electric Slide for a while. The young man’s dances and hand motions were reminiscent of breakdancing without the acrobats. He would sing directly to people in the “audience.”

I later told Adil that their dance looked like an African American dance and he and another MoRasta said that it is all African music. Then they affirmed their love for African music and dance. “The Black man is the original,” one man said. Adil said, “Hey niggerrr!” The way he said it (with the rolling r) cracked me up.

Gnawa Ceremony

A traditional Gnawa ceremony.

Scott, Allison, and I planned on leaving soon, but a lady from Canada told us that the best part was yet to come. Some older guys were in the corner smoking keef from a long pipe. The music started again and one of the women came to the floor to do a dance. She ended up trancing. She did an “old-church-lady-dance” and dropped down to her knees and continued to dance. Then they brought out some incense and put it to her face. They did this all night.

Both men and women sang, even though most of the women sat in a different room. They did the zaghruda[2] and had hair styles similar to Black American women. Many of them wore braids, make-up, ponytails, and had similar postures to Black American women.

A lot of people fell asleep, but the ceremony went on. From what I could tell, the lyrics were mostly chanting Allah, the prophet Muhammad, and saints. The house where the ceremony was held was next to a mosque, perhaps Mosquée Moulay Abdellah, which apparently has a shrine in it. Adil told us that people who were seeking healing went there. Saad told me that he and a friend went there and a woman was being exorcised of a jinn. I took some pictures of the mosque.

We ended up staying until fajr time. That was around 6am and they were still doing dances although it had diffused a great deal. I guess because people were tired and others went to pray at the mosque. I made fajr at the masjid and took a few pictures of the city before heading back to the hotel.

[1] A hujhuj also called a gimbri is a stringed guitar-like instrument used in Gnawa music.

[2] A celebratory yodel-like trill often done by Arab women at joyous occasions like weddings.


December 5, 2005


  • Conflicts between tradition and youth
  • Identity in youth and cultural practice


  • Pan Africanism
  • Parallels between African American culture and Gnawa


  • Understanding of African American culture
  • Hold on Islam
  • Subversiveness of African American culture (hoop dreams)
  • Urban culture