“It’s a good way of letting of steam” said Reda Allali from Morocco’s leading rock band Hoba Hoba Spirit, referring to the the Timitar Festival “It’s a step in the right direction anyway – although there are many steps ahead”. The Timitar Festival in Agadir, which finished last night, is at the root a celebration of Berber culture, a culture that has been historically undervalued in these parts, even though the majority of Moroccans are Berbers and are the indigenous population, the origins of their music and artistic expression going back millennia. There have been Berber rebellions in Algeria and elsewhere, and even last year the Touregs, who are mainly Berbers, attempted to establish an independent state (which was hijacked by the Islamicists) in Mali.
The Festival may be as some see it like Saharan-Berber singer Malika Zarra, now based in New York, a bread and circus distraction (“They had to do it” asserts Zarra) but it’s also true the authorities here are cannier and more flexible than their more blatantly repressive regimes elsewhere and one reason why the country seems so much more stable than its North African neighbours (another reason is the unifying force of the seemingly universally revered King).
Now in its 10th year, the Festival with up to 500,000 spectators over four days has been part of a welcome accommodation, acceptance and finally celebration of Berber culture that has been developing in Morocco in the last decade. There is finally a Berber TV channel, the language is being taught in schools and the new constitution in 2011 recognised Berber as an official language.
Other songs are about the identity confusion of young Moroccans caught between traditional, Islamic and modern European and American influences
As Allali, the lead singer of Hoba Hoba Spirit (see video, next page) said backstage after they had rocked the huge crowd at the beach-side Place Bijaouibe venue – they were in a country where rock could still really change things. The singer was hugely influenced by French band Mano Negra’s Clash meets Hispanic and Arabic subversive rock (Manu Chao’s first breakthrough band). “In London now, unlike in the 70s, everything seems to be permitted, so nothing can shock people”. He admits it’s an enjoyable game “walking a line” – but “I was surprised to hear us singing a song “Will To Live” which is a setting of a poem written in the Forties” – the song became an anthem for the demonstrations in Moroccan which occurred a couple of years ago. Other songs, like “Marock’n Roll” (inevitable title) and “Gnawa Blues” show the influence of local music, while others talk of the identity confusion of young Moroccans caught between traditional, Islamic and modern European and American influences.
Elsewhere, in the large open air Theatre De Verdure the great Lebanese oud player and singer Marcel Khalifé and his group were singing songs which have become associated with the struggle in Palestine, revolutionary songs of dignity, and assertion which the Moroccan crowd knew. I’ve never actually never seen such audience participation – often the audience would realise what the song was and sing a verse or two before Khalifé and his band joined in.