Morocco Loses Two of its Musical Legends

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Mohamed Sousdi voice inspired the 1970s generation, which rebelled against injustice under dictatorial rule. (Photo: Al-Akhbar)

By: Imad Estito

Published Sunday, January 29, 2012

Morocco’s musical legends, Mohamed Sousdi and Mohamed Rouicha passed away on January 17. Al-Akhbar celebrates their contributions to North African music of the marginalized.

Mohamed Sousdi: pulse of the oppressed

The legendary leave silently, disdaining life, believing that it is nothing but a “truce with death,” as Palestinian novelist Ghassan Kanafani said.
With the death of singer and composer Mohamed Sousdi (1952-2012) on January 17, Morocco lost one of its popular music legends.

The man with the miraculous voice left us and went to the “other place,” as the song Hadchi Maktoub that he sang to successive generations says.

With his companions, the late Mohamed Batma and Cherif Lamrani from the famous Lemchaheb (The Torches) band, Sousdi provided a unique musical experiment that left an indelible mark on the memory of Moroccans.

His voice inspired the 1970s generation, which rebelled against injustice under dictatorial rule. “We used to engage in issues that political parties could not broach,” said Sousdi in one of his last interviews as he watched the Arab Spring unfold.

“We were one of the first to demand the advent of spring with the song M’jmaa L’arab in 1977, which called for revolution,” he said.

Today, protesting Moroccan youth and activists in the February 20 Movement evoke his famous songs like Fikrak, Safa, and Dawini in which he utters his famous line: “remove him.”

The late king, Hassan II, asked to meet with the members of Lemchaheb once and they even played their revolutionary songs for him.

Lemchaheb’s work brought the wrath of the authorities down on them and they were persecuted by the security services, which feared their songs, combined with Sousdi’s melodious voice, would feed the rising revolutionary tide.

“We knew we would be arrested after every concert,” Sousdi said once. Lemchaheb’s songs were infused with politics. Who could forget the song Palestine, sung by Sousdi in Moscow, during the conference of the Socialist International in 1978?

Some of his most famous songs are Lghadi Baid, Ellil, Ya Latif, and his masterpiece Bghit Bladi, (I loved my country), which ironically was one of King Hassan II’s favorite songs.

Sousdi grew up in Quartier Al Mohammadi, in Casablanca, the birthplace of the band Nass el Ghiwane. He began working in the theater as a child and joined a group affiliated with known Moroccan playwright Tayeb Saddiki. In the early 70s, he became a professional singer and musician. With Mbarek Chadli, he started two groups – Ahl al-Jouda and al-Diqa – before joining Lemchaheb in 1974.

The band achieved resounding success. Sousdi used to write colloquial poetry, compose music, and sing. His words reached a wide range of working class people for four decades before he passed away at the age of 60 due to respiratory problems.

Sousdi lived as a hermit, disdaining fame, with his finger always on the pulse of the oppressed.

Mohamed Rouicha: the fourth string broke

Days ago, Mohamed Rouicha fans gathered at Mohammed V Theater in Rabat carrying candles and roses to pay homage to the another politically engaged artist who passed away on January 17.

On the day Mohamed Sousdi died, Moroccans also bid farewell to the “Amazigh Farid al-Atrash,” Mohamed Rouicha (b. 1952). He died at his home in the Middle Atlas town of Khenifra in the Meknes-Tafilalet region following a sudden deterioration in his health.

Many did not understand the words of his songs in the Amazigh language of the Atlas mountains. Nevertheless, the king of ouatar – a rare Moroccan instrument similar to the violin – managed to create a popular base from the south to the north of the country, becoming an icon, nicknamed by many the Moroccan Bob Marley.

The musical talent of Rouicha (his real name is Mohamed Lhwari), whose mother was one of the fighters in the battle of Ait Atta – a Berber tribal confederation in northeastern Morocco – against French colonialism, was apparent early on.

Despite his academic success, he left school to focus on music full-time. He recorded his first song Abibi Osghouy in 1964 at the tender age of 14.

Rouicha was known for his interest in percussion and poetry. He employed his knowledge in infusing various music genres to create his own, which led to the revival of Amazigh songs. Thus the singer earned his nickname “Rouicha,” which means mixing and blending in Amazigh.

His genius led him to add a fourth string to the ouatar, making him the king of the instrument. His golden fingers also added a new and special Sufi character to the instrument.

He left behind a number of timeless masterpieces like Inas Inas (“Tell Her” in Amazigh), Chehal Men Lila (How Many Nights), Goulou lmimti (Tell My Mother), Allah Jmaa Lmoumnin, and other songs adopted from the Tuareg heritage dealing with many themes, including the homeland, peace, love, nature, and the suffering of the oppressed.

Disdaining tributes and honors, Rouicha died only days before the ceremony was going to be held for him at Mohammed V Theater in Rabat. That is how he desired death, in the embrace of his Atlas mountain, his major source of inspiration.

Until his final hour, he remained true to the shy man behind the artist – to his introversion and solitude. The touch of sadness that appeared on his face and enveloped his songs never left him.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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