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Berber music: Wikis


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The Berbers are an ethnic group in North and West Africa. Those who lived in northwest Africa were called Lybian by the Greek, Africans, Numidians and moors by the Romans and dubed Berbers by the Arabs. The Berber culture probably dates back more than 4,000 years and the Berbers were inhabitants of North Africa long before the Arabs arrived. Berber belongs to the Afro-Asiatc gronp, linquistically and has many different dialects. Their music is widely varying across the area they inhabit, but is best known for its place in Moroccan music, the popular Kabylian and chawi music of Algeria and the widespread Tuareg music of Algeria, Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali. Ancient Berber culture is stylistically diverse with music ranging from oboe and bagpipes to pentatonic music and all these combined with African rhythms and an important stock of oral literature.[1] These ancient traditions of music have been kept alive by small bands of musicians travelling from village to village to entertain at weddings and other social events with their songs, tales, and poetry. The real core of Berber music remains within traditional, community contexts. «Berber» is related both to Semitic languages, among them Arabic, Hebrew, and Aramaic, and to ancient Egyptian, Coptic, and the Cushitic dialects spoken in Ethiopia. The Berber people are known as "Imazigen" (meaning "free people" in Berber. Much of the most interesting Berber music is not pop at all, but rather village and urban folk music. Aesthetics and style aside, it is important to understand that the whole subject of Berber music and culture is inevitably colored by Berber people’s longstanding struggle to achieve basic language rights in modern North African societies.[2]


Musical/Vocal Styles

Berber music is well-known for its use of folk oral traditions, as well as particular scales and rhythmic patterns, which include pentatonic music and African rhythms[3]. All these tunes are combined together to form one of the main sources of entertainment in Berber social ceremonies like marriages, verses, tales and songs.

The region of Kabylia in Algeria has a very large Berber population. Vocalists are usually accompanied by a rhythm section, consisting of t'bel (tambourine) and bendir (frame drum), and a melody section, consisting of a ghaita (bagpipe) and ajouag (flute).

The Berber music of the Taureg region uses rhythms and vocal styles similar to the music of other Berbers and Arab music, while West African call-and-response-style singing is also common. In contrast to many of the region's peoples, among the Tuareg, music is mostly the domain of women, especially the imzhad, a string instrument like a violin. Tuareg weddings feature unique styles of music, such as the vocal trilling of women and special dances (ilkan) of slaves marking the occasion.

Berber vocal styles in Morocco consist of two main types. The first, called Ahwash, is exclusively village music, probably unchanged for centuries or longer. Ahwash texts emphasize the submission of the individual to the community. Typically, it consists of two large choruses engaging in call-and-response vocals, accompanied by instrumentalists and dancers. Since this music requires anywhere from 20 to 150 participants, it is not easily portable and so rarely heard in the cities. The second, called Raiss, is performed by smaller groups of professional musicians who blend dance, comedy, and sung poetry. Raiss songs tend to honor orthodox Islam, but with notable dashes of syncretist belief. In these songs, things like sacrifices and evil eyes are justified in terms of Islam. Instruments typically include the rebab, a one-stringed fiddle, the lotar lute, hand drums, and a bell. One notable feature of Raiss melodies is the way they leap up and down in large intervals[4].


The Berber people are spread out over a large part of Africa, but seem to have a dense concentration within the North Western part of Africa. The people have a vast array of instruments, both melodic and percussive. The following instruments take part in the accompaniment in dance and song both secular, and sacred.

The Qasabah is an end-blown reed flute. Used mostly to accompany songs rather than dance, the Qasabah is said to have a rich, breathy texture.

The Mizwid is like a set of bag-pipes seen in the western world. The word literally means bag or food pouch. It has a higher pitch than western bag-pipes, but is said to have a wider pitch range.

The Zukrah of Tunisia has a large role in societal performances along with the Ghaytah of Morocco. In both countries, these instruments are combined with several percussive instruments to create large ensembles which may perform at public festivals or such occasions.

The Nafir is a long and natural horn similar to the western trumpet. This instrument is used mostly as a signaling instrument to send out messages to large masses. Although it has some value in performances, it serves mainly this purpose.

The Moroccan Ginbri is a stringed instrument without frets but rather a long neck. The box of the instrument is covered in skin, and is used in several varying occasions. Most ensembles have at least one Ginbri, although it is not always limited to one. In addition to the Ginrbri, is the Rabab, a long necked-fiddle with a large box which is covered in skin. This instrument has only one string made normally by horse hair. It is commonly used alongside the Ginbri, as the voice of the group.

In percussion, the Tabl is a cylindrical double-sided drum. Although it has similar use and spelling to the Tabla of India, there is no direct correlation found between the two. The Qas'ah is a large shallow kettledrum found mostly in Tunisia. Similar to the Qas'ah is the Naqqarah, two ceramic kettledrums played simultaneously by both hands.

In Moroccan Berber music, a series of snare frame-drums of Bandirs may be played simultaneously. These provide the main percussive rhythm for Berber music as the above mentioned drums are more artistic than Bandirs.

Last, but not least, is the Qaraqib. This is a metal clacker which has resemblance of a castanets. There is one in each hand and may be used to mark rhythm or may also have it's own type of melody.[5]


The region of Kabylia in Algeria has a very large Berber population. Traditional Kabylian music consists of vocalists accompanied by a rhythm section, consisting of t'bel (tambourine) and bendir (frame drum), and a melody section, consisting of a ghaita (bagpipe) and ajouag (flute).

Kabylian music has been famous in France since the 1930s, when it was played at cafés. As it evolved, Western string instruments and Arab musical conventions, like large backing orchestras, were added. After the independence of Algeria and Kabylian culture was oppressed, many musicians began to adopt politicized lyrics. The three most popular musicians of this era were Ferhat Mehenni, Lounis Ait Menguellet and Idir, whose "A Vava Inouva" (1973) brought international attention for Kabylian music and laid the groundwork for the breakthrough of raï.

By the time raï, a style of Algerian popular music, became popular in France and elsewhere in Europe, Kabylian artists were also moving towards popular music conventions. Hassen Zermani's all-electric Takfarinas and Abdelli's work with Peter Gabriel's Real World helped bring Kabylian music to new audiences, while the murder of Matoub Lounes inspired many Kabylians to rally around their popular musicians.

Modern singers include Djur Djura and many chawi singers and groups as: Houria Aichi, Les Berberes, Ithran, Amirouch, Massinissa, Amadiaz, Numidas, Mihoub, Massilia, Merkunda, Thiguyer, Salim Souhali (Thaziri), Dihya, Messaoud Nedjahi and others.


File:Berbermusicceremony CC.jpg
Berber musicians from the Ourika valley

Berbers are a solid majority of Morocco's population, but are nevertheless politically marginalized. Their most famous musical output is likely Najat Aatabou, a singer whose debut cassette, "J'en ai Marre", sold an unprecedented half a million copies in Morocco. Internationally, the Master Musicians of Jajouka are also well known, as a result of their collaboration with Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and poet William Burroughs. Another recording group from Jajouka is Master Musicians of Joujouka, formerly managed by the late painter Mohamed Hamri. In 2009 the first R'n'B songs in a Berberian language were realased by Ahmed Soultan in his second album Code.


Main articles: Music of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso

The Tuareg who live in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso have produced internationally renowned bands in Tartit and Tinariwen. Their traditional music uses rhythms and vocal styles similar to the music of other Berbers and Arab music, while West African call-and-response-style singing is also common. In contrast to many of the region's peoples, among the Tuareg, music is mostly the domain of women, especially the imzhad, a string instrument like a violin.

Berber Dance

Ethnic dance is becoming increasingly uncommon in Morocco. When it was active, it could be seen at the Marrakesh Folk Festival.

Within the past 4 years, Morocco has seen a lot of change. Most of that change has come with the use of the satellite receiver. It has been added to almost every household in Morocco. Out of 300 channels, 30 of them are religious. Because of these religious channels, women are no longer permitted to dance in public. In their religion, this is considered to be dishonorable to herself and her family. [6]

Some parts of North Africa, near Eastern, still have some Berber Dance traditions.

Guedra is the form of Berber Dance in Tuareg. Guedra is what they call the ritualistic dance only when the woman is doing the dance on her knees. If she stands up at all during the performance, it's called T'bal. The reason for the different names, even though dances are done very similar is unknown. In this culture, Guedra is not just a dance, but a ritual that everybody can participate in. It is mostly done by women, but sometimes men and children also participate. Guedra is performed to create good energy, peace and spiritual, not carnal, love.


See also

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