The call of the oases

The call of the oases

Compagnies musicales du Tafilalet

An oasis located in the Sahara desert at the junction of the Ziz and Rheris wadies whose sources lie in the Great Atlas mountains, Tafilalet was the last stopping point for the caravans coming from the south during eleven centuries.
At the crossroads of Berber, Arab, African and Andalusian civilisations, Tafilalet music displays this cultural mix, notably in the variety of instruments used, traditional string instruments and lutes, mandolins, violins, guitars, banjos and accordions, along with a variety of percussion. Its most representative music is a sung genre known as baldi, about love, faith, celebrations and memory.
This album features four musical groups from Tafilalet, who draw their inspiration from both the tradition and the modern world.


Cie Jellouli & Gdih
1Al jbal li dargoug aaliya/These mountains hiding you from me – 7’47
2Al-Maya/Instrumental piece – 5’48

Cie Meskaoui
3Ayami Yami/That’s the way life goes – 9’36
4 – Instrumental improvisation – 9’02

Cie El Hashemi Nhass
5Al Kaouini/Consumed by love – 9’47
6 – Intrumental improvisation for flute and violin – 5’02

Cie El Hamri
7Ya rijal l’bled/The saints of the region – 8’29
8Bla seba bla sebab/For no motive, for nothing – 8’29

Interpreters and instruments

Cie Jellouli & Gdih
Mohamed Jellouli (oud)
Hassan Mouloudi, dit “Gdih” (snitra)
Rachid Kassimi (accordeon)
Abderrahim Bouhamidi (taarija)
Abdelouahed Jellouli (tbilat)
Hassan Al Oudi (darbouka)

Cie Meskaoui
Mouloud Amrimi, dit “Meskaoui” (oud)
Mouloud Laarmirni (guitar)
Ali Bouramdan (darbouka)
Ali Bouramdan (darbouka)
Alouazani Hitouri (tbilat)
Hmat Ait Brahim (Jar)

Cie El Hashemi Nhass
El Hashemi Nhass (bendir)
Mohammed Mhida (bendir)
Salem El Jorfi (violin)
Hocine El Gssab (taarija)
Aït Abdenabi (taarija)
Abderrahim Rzouki (darbouka)

Cie El Hamri
Charif El Hamri (snitra)
Mohamed Boughriss (oud)
Ali Tetouch (tar)
Abdelouahed Maskoul (taarija)
Hassan Aalita (darbouka)


The Tafilalet area is like a mini-Mesopotamia; it lies at the meeting point of two oued, the Ziz and the Rheris, both with their source in the High Atlas. In former times crops in this area depended on the sporadic but utterly devastating flooding from the sudden rise in water levels, but today the flow of the Ziz is regulated by the Hassan Addakhil dam at Er-Rachidia, 80 km. further north of the oasis, bringing proper irrigation to this vast palm grove with its million trees tended by the Filalis (inhabitants of the Tafilalet) who grow crops of vegetables, fruit and barley around their base. Every year, the date harvest (including the famous majhoul variety) in October is the pretext for festivities in Erfoud, a large village with 5000 inhabitants, built during the French protectorate, that still has its original neatly squared ground plan with wide streets bordered by tamarisk trees and red adobe houses.

The Tafilalet has played a vital part in the political and economical history of Morocco, as the ruins of Sijilmassa testify. This was once a flourishing city, the capital since the 8th century of a kingdom founded by the Zenet Berbers. For eleven hundred years, the town of Rissani, on the other hand, was the last stop for caravans coming from the south, laden with their cargo of precious metals, ivory, ebony, and spices and accompanied by convoys of slaves. A crossroads region then, fought over by several dynasties laying claim to be the founders of the Alaouites, as shown by the presence of the mausoleum of Rissani’s founder, Moulay Ali Cherif, buried there in 1640. But alas, this illustrious past has been irremediably damaged by flooding, the encroaching sand, deforestation and the rural exodus.

The music of Tafilalet is like a dense historical tapestry woven from the threads of its position at the heart of so many influences (Berber, Arab, Andalusian and African) and embodied in the malhun (sung poetry), a form that was first codified here in the 12th century by its earliest masters, succeeded by later generations who emigrated to the cities in the north. There, thanks to the rise in the craftsmen’s communities and brotherhoods, it came into contact with disciplines such as the Moorish ghazal, or the muwashshah and classical poetry, whose influence helped to establish its status amongst town-dwellers and the erudite population; it acquired new themes, metres, rhythms and a more sophisticated versification too. Its rise to popularity was also furthered by its use in the zawiyas (religious orders and places for those of Sufi faith).

Local contemporary music from the Tafilalet region is called al baldi. It has three main branches – songs with accompaniment by the lute, songs with rhythmic support from the snitra, a local mandolin known as the “Algeria” from its country of origin, often frequented by men from this area who went there to find work in the mines. Finally, there are the songs accompanied by large flutes, including a collection of songs from Jrafa, part of the Jorf area, fifteen kilometres from Erfoud. Other hybrid forms of music exist too, that introduce an oriental lute or ‘ud, for example, alongside the snitra, or even an electronic keyboard, a sure sign of the times.

Rhythms differ from one type of song to another, but all of them deal with four basic topics: religious faith, social matters, pleasure and merry-making, and history. The lyrics are based on the qasida whose development unfolds as follows: first an instrumental prelude, followed by different parts of couplets sung by a soloist, with the refrain inserted here and there, or a refrain repeated between each couplet. The prelude or taksim is in free rhythm and played by a solo lutenist or violinist, followed by an orchestral version of the song, and at the end there’s a final piece known as al maya.

The first known recordings to refer to music of this type include the work of Moulay Ali Ben Al Masbeh, better known as Moulay Ali Al Filali, whose song Al jbal li dargoug aaliya/These mountains hiding you from me (referring to a Berber woman from the Atlas he was in love with) is absolutely typical of the genre. The spiritual heir to the father of baldi music was the lutenist Mulud Al Kaoui, warmly appreciated at weddings for the timbre of his voice – but not only his voice, for he also had a woman partner, Zegoud, who used to sing and dance but would also smoke and drink with the men without any embarrassment, something astoundingly unusual in such a tradition-loving area. A third personality who made a strong contribution to the general acceptance and formalisation of the baldi songs was a certain Baaout, who created modern versions of a number of old qasidas. He was a great singer and dancer; by general consent, he’s said to have died on stage singing his famous song Li mat b‘il ghiouan kabrou ghiyrouh/He who dies of music should have a distinguished tomb. These three personalities of the baldi remain major references for today’s music ensembles, as clearly shown by the present recording.

Erfoud is a teeming centre, perched 937 metres above sea level, at the foot of the Erfoud djebel on the right bank of the Ziz. It has a central square, with a daily market (souk), thronged with milling crowds mostly wearing an enormous white cotton turban, the Saharans’ favourite headgear. It has become the starting point for excursions into the Tafilalet, to visit its numerous ksour (fortified places), douars (nomad camps), stunning casbahs of remarkable architectural quality, and curved dunes of majestic dimensions. In August 2002 this was the setting for a first musical gathering organized by the Tarik Ibn Zyad Centre and the Mihad Market, represented by Hassan Aourid and Mohamed Aourid respectively, aiming to present the scarcely known treasures of local culture to a wider public, and bring new vitality to the local scene by highlighting its most important artists. The organisers retained four of the music groups, all collectives, gathered for this occasion, and then recorded them: the Jellouli & Gdih Group, the Meskaoui Group, the El Hashemi Nhass Group, and the El Hamri Group, all four being considered representative of the local “soundscape”. They included performers of instruments such as the lute, the kamanja, a spiked fiddle played upright on the musician’s knee, the small lute with a piercing rasp known as a suissen, and the hajhouj, with a deeper sound, from the famous guembri family, all stringed instruments; then percussion instruments such as the darbouka, the tbilat, little copper cymbals, and of course, the taarija, a key instrument for solo singers (munshid) and chorus (sh’ur or reddada). Finally, there were also some contemporary instruments adapted to modern taste and use, such as the guitar, the accordion and the banjo. This festival is likely to become a regular event, the next edition being due in the course of 2004.

Frank Tenaille, journalist

The recordings

1 – Al jbal li dargoug aaliya/These mountains hiding you from me – 7’47

“These mountains hide you from me
Be kind and indulgent,
If I am seized by sudden death,
Bury me at the edge of the road
My beloved takes, she’ll recognise my burial place.”

2 – Al Maya/Instrumental piece – 5’48

3 – Ayami Yami/That’s the way life goes – 9’36

4 – Instrumental improvisation – 9’02

5 – Al Kaouini/Consumed by love – 9’47

6 – Instrumental improvisation for flute and violin – 5’02

7 – Ya rijal l’bled/The saints of the region – 8’29

“Oh Saints of the region, I am under your protection
Oh, if only you’d told me before
It’s not death that disturbs me
It’s the people I’m leaving behind me.”

8 – Bla seba Bla Sebab/For no motive, for nothing – 8’29

For no motive, for nothing
Oh you there, you deserted
For no motive, for nothing
Oh you there, you committed suicide.”

  • Reference : 321.061
  • Ean : 794 881 750 726
  • Main artist : Compagnies musicales du Tafilalet (فرق موسيقية لمنطقة تافيلالت)
  • Year of recording : 2002
  • Year of publishing : 2004
  • Music style : Malhun
  • Country : Morocco
  • City of recording : Tafilalet
  • Main language : Arabic
  • Composers : Collectif compagnie Jellouli & Gdih ; Collectif compagnie Meskaoui ; Collectif compagnie El Hashemi Nhass ; Collectif compagnie El Hamri
  • Lyricists : Collectif compagnie Jellouli & Gdih ; Collectif compagnie Meskaoui ; Collectif compagnie El Hashemi Nhass ; Collectif compagnie El Hamri
  • Copyright : Institut du Monde Arabe

Reference :


Ean :

794 881 750 726

Main artist :

Compagnies musicales du Tafilalet فرق موسيقية لمنطقة تافيلالت

Year of recording :


Year of publishing :


Music Style :


Theme :

poésie chantée / ‘ûd / flûte ; violon

Country :


City of recording :


Main language :


Composers :

Collectif compagnie Jellouli & Gdih // Collectif compagnie Meskaoui // Collectif compagnie El Hashemi Nhass // Collectif compagnie El Hamri

Lyricists :

Collectif compagnie Jellouli & Gdih // Collectif compagnie Meskaoui // Collectif compagnie El Hashemi Nhass // Collectif compagnie El Hamri