Rayssa Fatima Tabaamrant

© Belmenouar

Like almost all Berber rwais, Fatima Tabaamrant carries the name of her tribe of origin, Ait Baamran, a tribe established south of Tiznit and whose warrior reputation was notably acquired when they fought against the French colonisation.

Fatima Tabaamrant was born in Ifran, Anti-Atlas, in the sixties, and she spent her childhood in a rural environment. As a child, she never attended school; she worked in the fields and in the house, getting ready, like so many other girls, to become a wife and mother.

As her own mother had died while she was still a child, Tabaamrant lived as an orphan, and this is probably what has exacerbated her poetic sensitivity. The theme of one of her first poems – which she has jealously kept – was her situation as a vulnerable orphan. In her biography, one can see the almost stereotyped pattern of all singers in the Berber world: immoderate love for singing and dancing at a very young age, an early or forced wedding which turns out badly, followed by the acquaintance with itinerant singers. This may – or may not – end up with the consecration of an artist: it has been the case with Fatima Talgwrsht, Rqia Demsirya as well as Fatima Tihihit Mqqurn before she gave up singing to return to the state of housewife!

As for Fatima Tabaamrant, when she left her native village she found again both her love for singing and freedom, accompanying, as a back-up singer, such rwais as Jamiâ El-Hamidi, Lhoussayn Achtouk and Lhaj Mohamed Demsiri. The two latter ones, both great names of Berber singing, died in 1989.

Tabaamrant revealed herself as a poet-artist in the early 1990s, during a poetic challenge (tinddhamin) with the rais Moulay Mohamed Belfqih. It was a debate confronting male and female opinions on a satirical mode, using the terms of the conflict opposing them in society. With these jousts, her raissa status took shape and she stopped back-up singing to try her luck as a professional singer. With a voice not as high as other Berber singers but lyrics more profound, she has quickly asserted herself as a poet-raissa, all the more so since she is the first woman to have founded and to lead her own troupe, as well as sing her own poems. She hires her instrumentalists herself rather than depend on a rais as is customary.

Indeed, although there are no ancient sources of information, we can probably postulate that in older times rwais were mainly men, their itinerant life being little adapted to the presence of women; the role of women, in songs or dance, was probably given to young boys with a high voice or effeminate men. When women started to integrate into the world of the rwais, they were naturally given secondary roles such as chorus singers or dancers. Hence the originality of Tabaamrant’s advent, which marks a milestone!

Rayssa Fatima Tabaamrant approaches various themes in her songs, all centred on questions of cultural, social or moral order. She hardly evokes sentimental topics and she avoids those she finds ‘shallow’ to the benefit of more thoughtful, constructive themes such as women’s position in society, Berber cultural rights, social and moral critics etc.

She is committed to the continuation of Berber words bearing meaning – awal llma’na – where versifying is a responsible act done in the respect of tradition. Like the rwais of older times, she intends to represent her own time and express her opinion as to what is happening, highlighting an ideal society in her own understanding, which, after all, remains attached to the tradition.

She has made a number of audio and videotapes, appreciated by Berbers from Southern as well as Central or Northern Morocco and even Algeria. She has played the role of the singer in an autobiographical film called Tihya. She has also taken part in several cultural festivals organised by various associations and performed on tours all over Europe.

Lahsen Hira
Translated by Dominique Bach

Available album: Taghlaghalt or The Echo of the Atlas