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The Berbers are an ethnicity indigenous to North Africa west of the Nile Valley and parts of West Africa. Berbers refer to themselves as i-Mazigh-en (singular: a-Mazigh), possibly meaning "free people" or "free and noble men".
Berber culture dates back more than 5,000 years and the Berber people lived in North Africa long before the arrival of some Arab tribes. Linguistically, the Berber language descends from the Afro-Asiatic group, most likely from the Semitic or Chadic branches, and contains many closely related dialects and accents. Berber music varies widely across North West Africa and some of the best known variations can be found in Moroccan music, Kabyle, Chawi and Gasba music from Algeria and Tuareg from Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali.
Ancient Berber culture is stylistically diverse with music ranging from such instruments as the oboe and the bagpipes to pentatonic music and all of these variations combined with African rhythms as well as singing. These ancient musical traditions have been kept alive by small bands of musicians travelling from village to village entertaining at weddings and other social events with their songs, tales and poetry. The heart of Berber music is still that of community and tradition.
Most Berber music is of the village and urban folk musical variety. Aesthetics and style aside, it is important to understand that Berber music and culture is inevitably influenced by the Berber people’s long-standing struggle to achieve basic language rights and identity recognition in modern North African societies.
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. 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.
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 rwais (rais, singular) melodies is the way they leap up and down in large intervals.
The region of Kabylie in Algeria has a very large Berber-speaking population. Vocalists are usually accompanied by a rhythm section, consisting of "tbel" (tambourine) and "bendir" (frame drum), and a melody section, consisting of a "ghayta" (bagpipe) and "ajuag" (flute).
The Berber music of the Tuareg region uses rhythms and vocal styles similar to the music of other Berber, Iberian, 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.
The Berber people are spread out over a large part of Africa, but seem to have a dense concentration within the northwestern 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 taghanimt is an end-blown reed flute. Used mostly to accompany songs rather than dance, the taghanimt is said to have a rich, breathy texture.
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 natural horn, a type of valveless trumpet. This instrument is used mostly as a signaling instrument to send out messages to large masses, although it also has some performance value.
The Moroccan ginbri is a stringed instrument with a long fretless 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, usually of horse-hair horse hair, and is commonly played alongside the ginbri.
In percussion, the tabl (Berber: e'ṯbel) 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.
The region of Kabylie in Algeria has a very large Berber population. Traditional Kabyle 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).
Kabyle 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 Kabyle 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 Kabyle 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, Kabyle 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 Kabyle music to new audiences, while the murder of Matoub Lounes inspired many Kabyles to rally around their popular musicians.
Modern singers include Djur Djura and many chawi singers and groups as: Houria Aichi, Les Berberes, Amirouch, Massinissa, Amadiaz, Numidas, Mihoub, Massilia, Merkunda, Thiguyer, Salim Souhali (Thaziri), Dihya, Messaoud Nedjahi and others.
Kabylie is a region east of the capital Algiers, inhabited mostly by speakers of Kabyle, first régional language, and one of the indigenous languages of North Africa. Kabyle folk music has achieved some mainstream success outside of its homeland, both in the rest of Algeria and abroad.
In the 1930s, Kabyles moved in large numbers to Paris, where they established cafes where musicians like Cheikh Nourredineadded modern, Western instruments like the banjo, guitar and violin to Kabyle folk melodies. Slimane Azem was a Kabyle immigrant who was inspired by Nourredine and 19th century poet Si Mohand Ou Mohand to address homesickness, poverty and passion in his songs, and he soon (like many Kabyle musicians) became associated with the Algerian independence movement.
By the 1950s, Arab classical music, especially Egyptian superstars like Umm Kulthum, had become popular and left a lasting influence on Kabyle music, specifically in lush orchestration. Cherif Kheddam soon arose with the advent of a Kabyle branch of Radio Algiers after independence in 1962, when France called a cease fire on March 19 and enacted the voting upon an agreement during a referendum in June. Included here were the Evian Accords which, for three years with all Algerians gave certain legal protections to colons equally. After the three years however, all europeans would have to become Algerian citizens or risk being classified as aliens, which would then make them lose rights. Some of the rights discussed in the Accords were the right to participate in public affairs, the right to a full range of cultural and civic rights and the right to own property. Female singers also became popular during this period, especially Cherifa, Djamilla and Hanifa.
Algerian independence did not lead to increased freedom for Kabyle musicians, and these Berbers soon included often covert lyrics criticizing the Ben Bella government, which had little repurcussion due to the Evian Accords. Many of these musicians were inspired by othersinger-songwriters, including Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, Víctor Jara and Silvio Rodríguez. Abranis ( pop rock amazigh music concept) Idir, a Kabyle geology student, sang Kabylie's first major hit, which sold an unprecedented amount in Algeria and abroad, "A Vava Inouva" (1973). Ferhat, known for his politically uncompromising lyrics, and Aït Menguellet, known for his poetic and inspired lyrics, also became popular during the 1970s.
Modern singers include Djur Djura and Houria Aichi.
The majority of Morocco's population is of Arab-Berber descent. Famous Moroccan Berber musicians include Ammouri Mbarek, a singer and songwriter active since the 1960s and considered[by whom?] the "John Lennon" of the Berber world, and Najat Aatabou, a singer whose debut cassette, "J'en ai Marre", sold an unprecedented half-million copies in Morocco. The Master Musicians of Jajouka tour internationally and have collaborated with Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and William S. Burroughs.
Non Algerian Tuaregs
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.
Some parts of North Africa, near Eastern, still have some Berber Dance traditions. Over the past four years, however, Morocco has seen a lot of change regarding this style of dance, as well as others, as ethnic danse has become less popular and more uncommon. While active, however, the style could be seen performed at the Marrakesh Folk Festival.
Most of change surrounding this style of danse has come with the invention of the satellite receiver, having been added to almost every household in Morocco. This increased the power of certain religious authorities, as broadcasts reach a much larger audience, with ease. Out of the original 300 channels, 30 of them were religious. A prime example of this exerted power is women no longer being permitted to dance in public as Islamists consider it to be dishonorable to herself and her family, thus imposing fundamentalist Arab Muslim beliefs on the Berber peoples.
Guedra is the form of Berber Dance with the Tuareg. Guedra is what they call the ritualistic dance only when perfomed by a woman on her knees. If she stands up at any point during the performance, it's called T'bal. The reason for the different names, even though dances are done very similar is not difficult to speculate, though no formal reason is addressed. 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 stated to be performed to create good energy, peace and spiritual, not carnal, love.
- Muhammad Aurang Zeb Mughal (2012) 'Tunisia'. Steven Danver (ed.), Native Peoples of the World: An Encyclopedia of Groups, Cultures, and Contemporary Issues, Vol. 3. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, pp. 688-689.
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