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Traditional Music in Morocco Series (Episode 4 of 7): Ahwash

posted on: Nov 3, 2021

Traditional Music in Morocco Series (Episode 4 of 7): Ahwash
Moroccan men perform the traditional music and dance style of Ahwash. Photo: Wikipedia

By: Claire Boyle / Arab America Contributing Writer

Introduction:

The country of Morocco is one of many cultures, beautiful architecture, amazing cities, and it also has its own unique musical and dance genres that are borne out of numerous traditions. These traditions stem from many influences including the cultures of the Amazigh, Arabs, Berbers, Gnawa, Islamic syncretism, Sufism, and Europeans, and so many more. Morocco has the world-famous traditions of Chaabi/Fusion, Gnawa music, Arab-Andalusian Classical, and so many other genres. This seven-part series will explore the cultural, geographic, and historical backgrounds of these amazing genres and readers will get to experience some samples of each musical style as well.

In this fourth installment, we will be traveling to southern Morocco, specifically, to the town of Telouet, to experience the exciting sounds and rhythms of Ahwash.

Geographic Origins of Ahwash:

Traditional Music in Morocco Series (Episode 4 of 7): Ahwash
A map detailing the various land usages in Telouet, Morocco. Photo: ResearchGate

Ahwash has an interesting geographic background given that the traditional music and dance style is found in a couple of different cities and villages in Morocco. Ahwash is most famously found in southern Morocco, particularly in the city of Telouet. Furthermore, Ahwash is also performed in Ouarzazate and the High Atlas Mountains. Southern Morocco is a beautiful region of the country because it has so many famous cities, amazing architecture, and the area is blessed by the serene blue seas of its Atlantic Ocean coast. So, what does this exciting geographical background tell us about the historical and cultural origins of Ahwash?

Historical and Cultural Origins of Ahwash:

Traditional Music in Morocco Series (Episode 4 of 7): Ahwash
Moroccan women perform the music and dance style of Ahwash. Photo: Wikipedia

Ahwash is unfortunately like Ahidus in that we do not know very much about the historical and cultural origins of the traditional music and dance style because there are not many surviving sources that could evidence how the genre is performed. With that issue of historical accuracy in question, what can we learn about Ahwash? Perhaps, we can find it in other sources such as writings, folklore, and other cultural productions that might signal us to Ahwash’s origins. We can find those by examining sociological aspects such as religion and spirituality.

It is thought that Ahwash comes from the “pre-Islamic components of traditional Berber religion, and it also makes use of poetry that involves a communal form of singing and dancing which involves members of the community of both sexes.” Other interpretations of Ahwash state it is used to commemorate a “saint’s tomb during religious holidays,” and depending on personal beliefs, Ahwash may not be performed if some community individuals are very devout because it is thought that the devil may be involved in the ritual. In Moroccan culture, the definition of the term, ‘saint’, usually refers to a “respected Muslim scholar or religious leader who is also sometimes called a Marabout.” Finally, Ahwash is also associated with communal “supernaturalism and clairvoyance as some performers are considered to be clairvoyant.”

Traditional Music in Morocco Series (Episode 4 of 7): Ahwash
The Telouet Kasbah, a famous landmark in southern Morocco. Photo: Wikipedia

So, what do these beliefs tell us about traditional Moroccan culture, music, and dance? Well, for one, it describes the numerous syncretic belief systems that are prevalent throughout the country including the mixing of Islamic tenets with native spirituality, the influence of the Berber faith in Moroccan culture, and the beauty of religious diversity that is seen throughout all these groups.

Finally, what musical instruments are used to perform Ahwash? Well, they tend to be “hand drums, clapping, flutes, female ululation, chanting, singing, and even a drum set.”

Samples of Ahwash: A Traditional Music and Dance Style of Morocco:

So, it is now time to experience the wondrous genre of Ahwash, it is one to surely get you on your feet as the rhythms are lively, stirring, and beautiful! Enjoy the samples below!

Moroccan women use Ahwash as a means to empower their female communities. Video: Marocopedia English

Laawwad, the Ahwash Flutist. Video: Marocopedia English

The beautiful sounds of Ahwash from Morocco. Video: Tok Yo

Conclusion:

Traditional Music in Morocco Series (Episode 4 of 7): Ahwash
Moroccan women in traditional dress perform Ahwash. Photo: Marrakech Riad UK

Ahwash is such a beautiful musical, dance, cultural, and religious style because it is lively, looks and its rhythms are rousing. Ahwash also has a lot of cultural and geographic history behind it because of its origins in southern Morocco. The Ahwash musical style has a wonderful tradition because it is meant to bring people together and promote unity. These traditional musical styles elicit feelings of passion, and the reason listeners get these senses is that these sounds and rhythms are the amazing cultural expressions of humanity worldwide. It is the author’s hope that everyone got the opportunity to learn a little bit more about the enthralling style of Ahwash, and perhaps, that you were able to tap your feet to the fun and rumbling sounds of traditional Moroccan music and dance! 

This is the fourth episode in a series of seven about some of the traditional music and (oftentimes) dance styles in Morocco. This series explores the cultural, historical, and geographic backgrounds of the musical and dance styles themselves and the group of people who brought these traditions to the forefront in Morocco. Keep an eye out for the next article featuring the intriguing sounds of Chaabi music!

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