Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hip Hop in Morocco

Men were screaming at me. They were pulling me and following me around. They were too close. I didn’t want their Morocco magnets, snakes, monkeys or jewelry. I was looking for music. I needed to find a hip-hop shop.

Before I stepped foot inside Morocco, I planned how I would find a story there. I wanted to find something special to the culture and the people — something that wasn’t well known, but was important to Moroccans. Through my Video Journalism class, I learned about a subculture that was using rap music as a medium for freedom of speech. My professor said the music has gained popularity among local youth over the past few years.

In America, hip-hop music is about sex, clubs, bad relationships, bad situations, love and money. My friends play it from their iPods at parties. I dance to it. I sing the lyrics when I’m driving with friends.

But, in Morocco, hip-hop music is serious. It’s underground. It’s powerful. It shakes and moves people not only on the dance floor, but also within themselves — their ethics, beliefs and life views. Hip-hop music speaks. It is the free medium by which Moroccan youth can publicly declare their opinions about politics, government and quality of life.

After watching a documentary on hip-hop in Morocco, I learned that rap music stores are not the most glorified Muslim places. In fact, most Muslims think it is sinful to listen or create rap music. The second day I was in Morocco, I asked my cab driver where to find a rap CD and he told me Morocco doesn’t have hip-hop music. So, I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to stumble upon this music, but I was hopeful.

My hopes became a reality when I spotted a CD vendor on my way out of the market. His stand was full of “Best of Morocco” CDs and other more traditional playlists.

I didn’t want that. I asked him if he had any rap and I named off some of the popular Moroccan artists, like H-Kayne, I had learned about. He threw down a few cases in front of me. He had them. There they were. They were real. Rap music exists in an Islamic Country.

They weren’t the most professional looking CD cases. The cases were cracked and the cover looked like it was created in Microsoft Word. Honestly, I had my doubts that the broken CD cases I was holding were meaningful to Moroccan youth at all, but I bought them anyway. They were cheap and they sounded authentic.

That night, Moroccan hip-hop came alive.

I was meeting my friends at our hotel pool and when I arrived, I saw that they were engaged in a conversation with one of the hotel workers. All of the sudden, I found myself listening to a Moroccan man talk about hip-hop music. Aman, the hotel groundskeeper, had seen one of the CDs that my friends and I had purchased earlier and he was excited. He dove into a serious description of what rap music means to Morocco.

Aman’s thoughts were moving faster than his words because he was passionate about this music. Through this music, he said youth voices were heard. He kept repeating that the music held political opinions. After talking with Aman I realized that while the CDs might not look like much to an American, fans like Aman see them as a way to have a voice in Morocco. Aman told me to translate every word. He said this music is special to him and the youth of Morocco.

Aman wanted me to listen, analyze and appreciate the music. No one has ever told me to closely listen to the words of a rap song.

Pieces of a culture are hard to find. They don’t always come wrapped in neat packages, look particularly colorful or shiny. They can be dirty, ugly and strange.

While the CDs didn’t at first seem like much to me, I soon realized that I had just bought something that is valuable and sacred to the youth of Morocco.

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