"A 4000 year old rock'n'roll band..." That's how the American beat writer William Boroughs described music of the Morocco Berbers. B'net Marrakech consists of 5 powerful women from the High Atlas hinterland singing, screaming and banging a vast collection of percussion.
Berbers, the original inhabitants of Morocco, are world famous for their biting and stimulating rhythms, which inspired today's trance music. The Hungarian composer Béla Bartók went to Morocco to make field recordings, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin made albums with local musicians. But it was not until the past decade when Moroccan bands came to Europe to perform on their own. The all-women band B'net Marrakech was one of the best kept secrets of the local cuisine until 1998 when they enchanted the midnight audience at the WOMAD festival.
The five women of the group have learnt singing since childhood and have been performing mostly for festive functions like marriages and births as B'net Houariyat, which means The Daughters of Houara, after the fertile plain between Marrakech and the High Atlas. Seven years ago they decided to add other Moroccan styles to their Berber repertory and changed their name to B'net Marrakech.
Their traditional Berber songs are based on call and response vocals and mesmerising percussion. In the more contemporary styles of rai and chaabi (the urban pop sound of Morocco) they add string instruments like oud and kemenche (spike fiddle). Another addition are the spiritual laments of Gnawa, descendants of former black slaves, using the bass lute guimbri and a set of metal castanets.
The rhythm foundation of their music works like a sophisticated puzzle that could be solved only by a team of musicologists and psychologists. The songs build up, change tempo, each time adding another layer of percussion and finally accelerating into brief but intense and passionate "mizan" section.
The Berber music draws from the deepest bottom of the human memory. While the Pipers of Jajouka grasped attention of the Rolling Stones' guitarist Brian Jones 40 years ago, the mighty women of Marrakech easily do the same to contemporary European audiences.
Chama'a / l'Empreinte Digitale / 2002