Berber music

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The term Berber music generally encompasses several musical traditions from North Africa - especially the Maghreb - which are played in the broadest sense by members of the various Berber peoples and due to their limitation to a few instruments (long-necked loutar , frame drum tar , beaker drum darbuka , double-reed instrument rhaita , wooden flute gasba ) and can be described by their more rhythmic, mostly cyclical and therefore partly trance-like character, which also includes improvisational parts .

Chleuh musicians and dancers on Djemaa el Fna Square in Marrakech

Cultural background

Music was a rather rare occurrence for most of the residents of the Maghreb and mainly took place at celebrations such as weddings, circumcisions and other larger gatherings such as pilgrimages ( moussems ), cattle markets ( suqs ), etc. Religious holidays such as the festival of the breaking of the fast ( ʿĪd al-Fitr ) at the end of Ramadan or the Islamic New Year festival ( achoura ) were accompanied by music. In a smaller but very significant context, it also served to support the - sometimes danced - meditation exercises of the various Sufi brotherhoods ( zaouias ). Many of these old traditions have since been lost and so Berber music has become more of a commercial event overall.

Gimbri players in Marrakech


In the Berber regions, which are largely characterized by agriculture and cattle breeding (goats, sheep, donkeys) - in comparison to other cultural areas - there has been hardly any development of living conditions over millennia and the associated cultural refinement of customs and tastes. In addition, there was no development towards an urban way of life or even to larger rulers and so the family and the tribe or the village remained the basis of coexistence and individual and collective thinking. Nonetheless, the Berbers came into contact with other peoples repeatedly in the course of history and thus with the music of Arabia , Black Africa , Andalusia and - since the second half of the 20th century - also with western rock and pop music and thus above all the blues , whose basics are based It is widely believed that slaves were brought to North America and developed there first on the sugar cane plantations of the south, and later in the cities of the north ( Detroit , Chicago ).

Rock and jazz musicians such as Jimi Hendrix , Brian Jones , Ornette Coleman , Jan Garbarek and others. a have been inspired by Berber musicians and the sometimes psychedelic sounds of their playing; some even played with them.



The Berber music of Morocco can and must be divided into different regions, in which different traditions and thus different sounds have developed, all of which await further investigation.

  • Rifgebirge : The people and the music of the Rifgebirge came into contact with Phoenician , Roman, Arab and Andalusian cultures early on , although it is no longer possible to determine how high the respective proportion of indigenous and foreign influences is in today's music. The main instruments used are larger cylinder drums ( t'bol ), smaller arm drums ( darbukas ), frame drums ( bendirs ) and wind instruments ( ghaita or gasba ); String and string instruments are rather rare. Internationally best known music ensemble of the Rif are the Master Musicians of Jajouka .
  • Middle Atlas : The regions of the Middle Atlas came into little contact with the outside world (e.g. through participation in the Almoravid , Almohad and Merinid wars and raids). The string instrument typical of music, the loutar carved out of a piece of wood and covered with a - previously untanned - goat skin , is probably of Black African origin (see gimbri ) and could have been introduced to southern Morocco by slaves from Guinea ( gnaoua ). In addition, simple frame drums ( tar or bendir ) and the accompanying vocals - which are mostly played by women today - play an important role. Well-known musicians beyond Morocco were Mohamed Rouicha and Mustafa El Akri . The Ahidous is a regional dance.
  • High Atlas : The living conditions of the people in the High Atlas are significantly more backward than in the other Berber regions of the Maghreb. The music is also much simpler, both in terms of its instrumentation and the sounds produced. There are no nationally known music ensembles or singers.
  • Anti-Atlas : Little is known about the music of the Anti-Atlas, which is extremely sparsely populated with the exception of the area around Tafraoute .
  • Sahara foreland : Large areas of the Maghreb are desert-like in character. Apart from the oasis settlements, the people lived mainly as nomads with their herds of cattle. In summer they often moved as transhumants to the cooler mountain regions of the High and Middle Atlas, which are rich in water and plants, which repeatedly led to conflicts with the local population. Research into the musical traditions of the various tribes still needs to be done.


The musical traditions of Algeria also differ from region to region. In the north, d. H. in Kabylia , Berber, Arabic and - in the music of Raï - also western elements of pop music mix . Singers such as El Hajj Muhammad El Anka , Cheikh El Hasnaoui or Abdelkader Chaou were known around the middle of the 20th century . The Aurès Mountains also have their own, but so far hardly noticed, musical tradition. The south of Algeria, on the other hand, is under the influence of Tuareg music.


The Tuareg , who live as nomads and caravan traders in today's states of Algeria , Mali and Niger , represent a special case, whose way of life and thus their culture are affected by both Berber and black African influences. Due to their wandering life, they came into contact with almost all regions of North Africa, for whose music they were quite receptive. Today's music by this ethnic group, many of whom are striving for their own state, is heavily influenced by Western influences - especially the blues . Groups like Tamikrest or Tinariwen or singers like Bombino combine African-Berber and Western musical elements to a high degree in their instrumentation (electric guitar etc.) and create a truly unifying atmosphere in their performances.

Audio samples

Master Musicians of Joujouka
Mohamed Rouicha
Mustafa El Akri
  • ? (Singing in Tamazight)
  • ? (Singing in Tamazight)

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