Moroccan fusion bands mix musical elements from a variety of popular and traditional Moroccan genres with musical elements from transnational and international genres, such as rock, reggae, salsa, hip-hop and jazz. Fusion emerged as a distinct genre of Moroccan music during the first few years of the twenty-first century and within a decade became popular and commercially viable.
Fusion asserts a pan-Moroccan musical identity by blending musical material from various musical traditions. This is in clear contrast to the senses of local identity asserted by the different regional styles of shaʿbī. In creating a nationally based genre of popular music, fusion musicians draw inspiration from the Folk Revival bands of the 1970s, such as Nass el-Ghiwane, that blended musical elements from various Moroccan traditions. Like the Folk Revival bands, fusion also elevates marginalized regional and sub-group musical traditions, such as Amazight (‘Berber’) music and the music of the gnāwa (a ritual community of sub-Saharan ancestry), to the status of markers of national identity. A recent sub-genre of fusion, Amazight fusion, is an exception to this practice. Closely tied to a movement to revitalize Amazight culture, bands have formed which blend Amazight music with jazz and rock. While sharing the cosmopolitan focus of other fusion bands in their use of transnational musical material, these bands assert a distinctly Amazight, rather than pan-Moroccan, sense of musical identity. Most Amazight fusion bands come from southern Morocco; the most influential is Amarg Fusion.
In the mid-1990s an increasing number of Moroccan musicians began to experiment with blending traditional Moroccan genres with a variety of transnational and international genres. The most influential of these musicians were those who pioneered the development of gnāwa fusion as a distinct musical style. The gnāwa are practitioners of a trance healing tradition founded by the descendants of West African slaves whose musical and spiritual practices clearly reflect their West African roots. Gnāwa fusion artists incorporate jazz and blues elements into songs taken from the gnāwa repertoire of music used in healing rituals and as entertainment. Blues and jazz, which are also indebted to West Africa, share numerous timbral, rhythmic and melodic elements with gnāwa music. Two musicians played a pivotal role in pioneering gnāwa fusion: Mâalem Hamid el-Kasri and Abdelmajid Bekkas. Hamid el-Kasri of Rabat is a respected gnāwa maʿllem (master) who is fluent in the traditional repertoire of the gnāwa. In the mid-1990s Kasri collaborated with Moroccan jazz keyboard player and producer Issam Issam under the name Saha Koyo. During the 1970s Abdelmajid Bekkas of Salé played banjo in folk revival bands and later played guitar and sang in bands that played rhythm and blues, soul, blues and jazz in local hotels. Bekkas made the acquaintance of a gnāwa maʿllem in Salé who taught him to play the gnāwa sentīr (bass lute also known as a hajhūj) and in 1990 began blending gnāwa music with ‘new sonorities,’ such as jazz and blues (Matthyssens 2002). The Gnawa Festival of Essaouira, held yearly since 1998, prominently features performances of gnāwa masters with musicians from the United States, Europe and West Africa. The most popular music festival among Moroccan youth, the Gnawa Festival of Essaouira was a major contributor to the rise in popularity of gnāwa music and gnāwa fusion during the first decade of the twenty-first century.
Two other musical styles developed in Morocco during the 1990s that influenced the emergence of fusion: jazz fusion and electronica. The two most influential jazz fusion ensembles, Caravane and the Soussi Trio, were both formed by conservatory-trained musicians. Caravane performs music on traditional Moroccan instruments that creates a synthesis of jazz, blues, country and western and different forms of Moroccan music, including gnāwa (see above), ahidus and ahwash (Amazight genres). This quartet is best known for its interpretation of the Dave Brubeck jazz recording ‘Take Five,’ with the melody line performed on a Tamazight kamānja (one-stringed fiddle). The Soussi Trio performs improvised music on a diverse array of acoustic instruments including the ʿūd (fretless lute), guitar, guembrī (three-stringed gnāwa lute), nay and kawāla (eastern Arab flutes). In the early 1990s a small number of electronic musicians blended Moroccan musical styles, sonorities and street sounds with dance club beats. The most influential Moroccan electronica artists were Aisha Kandisha’s Jarring Effects of Marrakech and its offshoot, Amira Squatti.
The success of French North African fusion bands, such as Gnawa Diffusion and Orchestre National des Barbès, was a significant influence on the development of fusion in Morocco in the 1990s. Like Moroccan fusion bands, these bands take a cosmopolitan approach to both their music making and their sense of identity. They also offered Moroccan musicians a template for fusion, which they could adapt to create Moroccan fusion.
In the late 1990s a number of bands in urban centers, particularly Casablanca, began to create a new style of music that by the end of the decade would be labeled ‘fusion’ by Moroccan journalists, festival promoters and musicians. Fusion blended various styles of Moroccan music with each other and with transnational musical styles. The predominant non-Moroccan musical styles were rock and reggae and, to a lesser extent, salsa, jazz and Algerian raï. The Moroccan musical sources most frequently used to create fusion were gnāwa music, shaʿbī rhythms and Amazight music (most frequently Taselheit music from southern Morocco). The first nationally known fusion performer was Tarik Batma who released the first Moroccan fusion album, Sahara Bladi, in 2000 and was the first fusion performer to appear at the influential Gnawa Festival of Essaouira in 2001. The first well-known fusion ensembles were the Casablanca bands Afouss (disbanded in 2002) and Hoba Hoba Spirit. In the first decade of the twenty-first century they were joined by a number of other ensembles and fusion bands began to become featured at music festivals and in concerts in urban areas, most frequently in Casablanca. In addition to the Gnawa Festival of Essaouira, Le Boulevard des jeunes musiciens, a festival of alternative music held yearly in Casablanca since 1999, helped bolster fusion’s popularity. By the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century fusion groups had become commercially viable and popular among a broad spectrum of Moroccan youth and made frequent appearances at festivals and concerts in Europe. The two most popular fusion bands were Hoba Hoba Spirit and Darga; other prominent fusion ensembles include: Aba’raz (disbanded in 2004), Haoussa, Mazagan, Askouri (led by singer Younes Askouri) and Barry (led by singer Mohammed Bahri).
Reflecting the heavy influence of rock, fusion is typically performed by electronically amplified ensembles. Almost all fusion bands include the archetypal rock line-up of electric guitar (sometimes lead and rhythm guitar), electric bass and drum set with the frequent addition of keyboards, Cuban and West African hand drums (conga and djembe) and horns. Some fusion bands, such as Barry and Haoussa, incorporate a DJ, sometimes in the place of a drummer. The most frequent Moroccan instruments used by fusion bands are the gnāwa hajhūj (which is easily amplified) and percussion instruments that can be easily heard alongside electric instruments, most typically qraqabāt (large metal hand cymbals used in gnāwa music) and bendīrs (large hand-held frame drums used in most traditional Moroccan genres). In the last few years amplified Amazight ribābs (fiddles) have begun to appear in fusion bands, mostly due to the emergence of Amazight fusion bands, particularly Amarg Fusion.
Different variations on fusion are created by different groups of musicians. Bands such as Hoba Hoba Spirit and Haoussa are heavily influenced by rock. Others, such as Mazagan, Askouri and Zazz Band, owe more to jazz. Hip-hop is an important component of the sound of bands such as Barry and Haoussa. The very popular band Darga originally specialized in fusion treatments of gnāwa songs and original compositions in a gnāwa style. After several years, Darga transformed its sound, adding a horn section and original compositions in a ska style. A new development is the formation of Amazight fusion bands as part of an Amazight cultural revival centered in the southern city of Agadir.
Arraz Adel. 2003.
Hoba Hoba Spirit, Casablanca et la Hai Ha Music (Reprinted from La Vie Economique). Maroc Tunes undated. Online at:
Matthyssens Xavier. 2002. ‘Abdelmajid Bekkas. Inspiration Gnaoua.’ Online at:
, ed. RFI Musique – Vibrations. RFI Musique: 13 June 2002.
Swedenburg Ted. 2001. ‘Hamid El Gnawi/Saha Koyo.’ Online at:
, ed. PopMatters. PopMatters Media Inc.: March 2005.