‘Moroccan King of Rap” Performs in front of an Enthusiastic Mawazine Audience

‘Moroccan King of Rap” Performs in front of an Enthusiastic Mawazine Audience

Melissa Smyth
Moroccan Rapper Muslim in Sale
Moroccan Rapper Muslim in Sale

Rabat – Mawazine, a festival billed to bring the ‘Rhythms of the World’ to Rabat and project an image of the capital as a multicultural, dynamic, international city to the world, has separated performances on its various stages according to the origins of the artists. Despite some questionable classifications (the French singer-songwriter Ben l’Oncle Soul performed at the ‘African’ stage on the Bouregreg), this system of division has been practical and has ensured a variety of musical styles at each locale.

Before attending Monday night’s rap performances in Salé, the organizational motives for designating the stage in Rabat’s smaller sister city across the Bouregreg as the venue for Moroccan music seemed questionable. The stage in Salé has hosted an array of Moroccan performers this week, from fusion composers Tarik Batma and Said Mosker to vocalists Imane Karkibou and Kawtar Nihad to various adaptors of traditional styles like Larsad and Bnat Lemchaheb.

Moroccan Rapper Muslim in Sale
Moroccan Rapper Muslim during his performance in Sale. Photo by Melissa Smyth

While big name international artists performed in the posh Souissi neighborhood, it seemed as if the local artists were placed as an afterthought in the least accessible performance area. For those coming from Rabat without a personal vehicle, the only way to get to and from Salé after tram service ends at night is by grand taxi.

Additionally, some Rabatis expressed reservations about safety in Salé, a city that is generally less affluent and more dangerous than cosmopolitan Rabat. Many Rabatis who planned to attend the Stromae concert in Souissi on Monday night advised against attending the Muslim performance in Sale because of the rough crowd they imagined would be there. Some were particularly wary of his second Mawazine performance, citing an incident last year in which an ongoing rivalry between Casablanca and Tangier incited fans to throw bottles at the Tangier rapper.

While the concerts in Rabat thus far have proved to be enjoyable community events for Rabatis and visitors alike, drawing young fans as well as families and children to stages across the city for uncommonly large-scale productions, an air of corporatism has pervaded the festival.

A few Rabatis who have been attending the festival for years noted a significant increase in foreign visitors, especially French and American tourists, compared to years past. Many people have criticized Mawazine sponsors for spending millions of dirham on staging extravagant shows, free to the public, while poverty remains rampant and public infrastructure like hospitals and schools remain underdeveloped. Uninspired performances by some of the international artists and a mild ambivalence among many Rabatis toward the shows seemed to confirm the staging of the events as more of a PR stunt for Morocco than a positive cultural event for the community.

However, one of the more positive aspects of the festival is the dispersal of stages throughout Rabat, in addition to the stage in Salé, making the events accessible to a wide swath of the city’s population. While the degree of audience engagement at each show has varied, particularly based on the artists’ abilities to communicate in French or Arabic, Muslim’s performance proved that a genuine form of communication between performer and audience can take place simultaneously to the aloof corporatism of the more internationally acclaimed artists at Mawazine.

Moroccan music fans during the performance of Moroccan Rapper Muslim in Sale. Photo by Melissa Smyth
Moroccan music fans during the performance of Moroccan Rapper Muslim in Sale. Photo by Melissa Smyth

The crowd that gathered at Salé on Monday night was easily as large as that at the French hip hop group IAM’s concert in Souissi the night before. In contrast, this seemed to be an almost entirely local audience. While Muslim may not have a broad international fan base, his fans within Morocco express a passionate enthusiasm for the ‘King of Moroccan Rap.’ His use of Darija in his music, while limiting his potential audience to the Maghreb, forges an expressive connection with the Moroccan audience that no foreign performer can match. The audience was rowdy—waving flags, crowd surfing, and jostling to get closer to the stage.  Warnings about the event, however, proved inapropos. The raucous energy that filled the concert grounds was not a manifestation of violence, but of a passionate connection and reaction to Muslim’s words, which many audience members knew by heart and sang along with him.

While the popular international music performances that make up most of the Mawazine lineup are positive in their communal and celebratory nature, they offer little more than distraction and participation in a scheme of globalization. Muslim’s performance was, for artist and audience, a communicative and cathartic event. Muslim’s style and the social issues that he addresses in many of his lyrics enlivened the audience, as he absorbed their energy in return.

In between songs, he beamed, addressing the audience as his brothers and expressing his sincere humility and love for their energy. It was a reminder that beside the corporatism that has usurped much of the vigor of the industry, the elemental genius and vitality of musical expression still exercises its essential drive. In this sense, while Mawazine’s large budget and media campaign has been directed at bringing in international performers and projecting a particular image of Morocco to the world, its vitality comes from the connection it fosters between local artists and their fellow Moroccans.

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