• Cheb is modernising Moroccan chaabi

    At first I was going to write this post in French, as usual, but I changed my mind because I am going to talk about a chunk of Moroccan culture and I want more people to hear about it.

    The thing is: English is hard and I am still not comfortable with my English writing skills even though I've been practicing since I was around 16 years old. But let's not get too anxious about that!

    Basically, I am going to talk about Moroccan chaabi music and Cheb. I was planning to do it for months, when I was in lockdown at home.

    ‘Chaabi’ is Arabic for ‘popular’. Moroccan chaabi music is a kind of music that I did not use to listen to—not even on the radio. I come from a family that does not like to listen to chaabi. Usually it is enjoyed by the Moroccan working class. Rich Moroccans rarely listen to chaabi, I think.

    Years ago, I would think of chaabi music as a plebeian kind of music (which is a really awful opinion). I believed my tastes were very refined so accordingly I despised what I would call ‘badly-produced’ music with autotuned voices and ‘poor’ lyrics (whatever that meant), and chaabi music fit this description. From my current point of view, these arguments are irrelevant because they were fueled by classism.

    I am glad I have changed. I try to listen to everything and I do not need to prove I have good tastes anymore.

    Cheb is a Moroccan artist I don't know much of. A good friend of mine in medical school recommended him to me and I'm very grateful. She said she was going to write a blog post about him as well—Ikbale, if you're reading this, please write it soon, I cannot wait to read your opinion!

    Cheb is a chaabi singer. All his songs are in Moroccan darija, arranged mainly with traditional instruments (bendir, darbouka, oud, gembri...) and modern instruments such as electronic keyboard and electric guitar. Some of his songs contain sounds of kitchen utensils.

    It is very unusual for an artist to be called just ‘Cheb’. Normally, ‘Cheb’—which is Arabic for ‘young’—is a title that is placed before a famous singer's name, like ‘doctor’ or ‘professor’. That is the case for Cheb Hasni, Chebba Zahouania, Chebba Warda Charlomanti, Cheb Bilal, etc. Meanwhile, Cheb is just Cheb. No first name, no last name, no stage name. He's only known as Cheb. To me this is a power move.

    However, on each of his videos, he bears a different pseudonym alongside ‘Cheb’, and it's always written in capital letters with a gap between them: ‘Cheb P L A S T I C’, ‘Cheb K I T C H E N’, ‘Cheb S P L A S H’, ‘Cheb K O’, etc.

    That is because Cheb does not only sing. He also puts a lot of effort in the way his songs are visually represented. His music videos consist of extracts from movies, documentaries, TV shows, advertisements; sporadic images of him singing or playing instruments; as well as texts and photos scattered here and there. Each of these homemade videos conveys a distinct atmosphere, and are in my opinion very fascinating.

    Cheb calls his music ‘post-chaabi’ or ‘neo-chaabi’, which are designations that do not really convince me. Time will tell if post-chaabi is a whole music genre that we can distinct from ordinary chaabi. Nonetheless, I am convinced Cheb is modernising chaabi music.

    Although his musical arrangements are not too far from tradition, there are swear words in his lyrics, casual dialogues, stories, political opinions and rants. From what I've heard, that is the reason why none of his songs are played on Moroccan radio. Thankfully for him, it is not really a problem since he found success on YouTube.

    I put below a selection of my favourite songs by Cheb. The lyrics are translated in English and you can find the translation in the videos' comment section.



    "فين آ سماعين؟"



    "حنا الكراميل"

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