The Key to Granada

The Key to Granada

Saïd Chraïbi

In Morocco, which has produced some extremely refined accompanists trained in the Andalusian school and style, Saïd Chraïbi is one of the rare masters of the’ud to have created his own original sound and his own aesthetic as a solo player. His technique is exceptional for the accuracy of his touch, the fluidity of his fingerings, his swift and dextrous use of the plectrum, all qualities that make him a real virtuoso. Anchored in the music of his homeland and steeped in tradition, the artist’s very fibre is made from the dream of Andalusia, but his inspiration is taken from widespread sources, both near and far. He has opened up a whole range of different repertoires, feeding his creativity on Moroccan (Andalusian or otherwise), Near-Eastern, Turkish-Balkan or even flamenco traditions.
He has become a creator of new worlds.


1Andaloussiyyat – 13:02
2Al ‘âshiq – 6:23
3 – Musical embroidery – 11:30
4 – Fadèla – 11:22
5 – Tribute to my Master – 4:42
6Chaama – 4:25
7Longa Hajar – 9:16

Interpreters and instruments

Saïd Chraïbi (luth)
Jamal Rioui (percussion)



One day, an ‘ud player, who has a permanent view of the Andalusian coast from his native city of Tangier, suddenly shouted at me: “Leave us our al-Andalus! Where else would you find such a powerful dream that’s become an ideal and helps us build our future from the past every day of our lives ?”

When Moroccans look at the Kutubia of Marrakesh and the Giralda of Seville they take them as living proof that al-Andalus still exists on both sides of the Strait of Gibraltar. They consider both sides as part of their heritage, they refer to themselves as “we” in both situations. The patio de los leones in the Alhambra of Granada reminds them of the Menara pavilion in Marrakesh.

For a long time the Spaniards thought that Andalusia ended near Gibraltar or Motril, at the spot known as el Suspiro del Moro (The Moor’s Sigh), where Boabdil, the last Moorish King of Granada, set off into exile, turning round as he departed to sigh at the sight of the city he had lost for ever. “We” only exists this side of the Strait; beyond, on the other side, it’s “them, the others”, los Moros or the Moors. As for the French and other Europeans, for them the Orient begins at the Pyrenees and oriental Andalusia takes on gypsy features for them – al-Andalus simply has no place in their thoughts.

Three countries, three different sets of self-identification, three forms of “we”, all distinct and separate from each other, three different imaginations.

Saïd is the only person for whom the key to Granada opens its door.

The ancestral key

Once a year, in Shaouen, my Andalusian grandfather used to take out the key of the house in Granada and weep. We left Andalusia a hundred years after 1492.”

We left… Saïd’s tone is one of quiet statement. The key, that we can easily picture – big, heavy and rusty – gives weight and shape to this house in Granada. The grandfather is described as “Andalusian” or “Moorish” and there is a house in Granada, this has always been a well-known fact in our family. So it requires very little to return there…

The opening piece on this record is called Andaloussiyyat. It’s a full, off-beat prelude, a taqsim in two Andalusian modes, raml el maya and hijaz kabir, that are both found in the great nubas of Al Ala in Morocco. The sound swells, the phrases are drawn out, a dreamlike quality takes over. The atmosphere evoked by the music matches the dream, the longing for al-Andalus.

Here we should make a brief pause to examine this dream further. Morocco is full of restaurants called Al-Andalus, there are Al-Andalus Hotels and Al-Andalus lorries everywhere. So the dream obviously has some social implications, but it also touches the most intimate emotions of each individual. In Salé during the 40’s, Ahmed Essyad had not yet become a fully-fledged composer. When he was still a child he used to walk around the port, where he was intrigued by a group of people who came to dance regularly on the jetty. Delighted and entranced by their dancing, he asked who these strangely attractive people were, and was given the reply: “They’re the Andalusians.” Sometimes the Andalusians were described just like that, as people with their own particular way of life, they had a slightly mysterious aura for the rest of Moroccan society.

These Andalusians come from the country to which Saïd’s grandfather has the key.

Moods and atmospheres

Saïd is a man of few words. His presence in the room seems to absorb that of the other people present. He is large in stature and his face resembles a Persian miniature. He welcomes each new arrival with utter simplicity, a gesture, a look, a few words uttered in Arabic, a few more in French – one cannot help but follow Saïd’s implicit example and fall into the same mode of sparseness of word and gesture. He is a master of the art of being both near and distant at the same time. He may be seated among us, yet his face can register an expression of absence at the same time, his eyelids will seem to close, a vague smile flits across his face, he bows his head and turns partially away. He mustn’t let his concentration waver. To know who you’re giving to and when to give – to have this knowledge through aristocratic and musical excellence, to be in perfect time with others, it’s a question of installing the right relationship between one’s own time and that of others.

A distinct murmur can be heard. The consonants in Arabic are thrown out into the air in such a clear manner, they seem to exist in their own right – you can almost see them before your eyes, vibrating in the air like an insect’s wing. The voice seems to spell out the song, it carries us along like fish on a shiny hook, right to the end of the story, here a tale, there a round… Is it a song being sung or a tale being told ? The lute is at one with the voice, it punctuates the story, the plectrum strikes the strings to give voice to the consonants, the rhythm of the music breathes with the voice. The lute is transformed, its plucked, nasalized staccato gives it the sound of a swisdi1, whilst its deeper, honeyed tones recall the rabab.

Ahmed Amenzou sings the malhun2 with Saïd Chraïbi accompanying him on the lute. The architecture of this riyad3 in Marrakesh might well have been conceived for this very moment. Tea, fruit and sweetmeats are passed round, and will be passed again. Seven or eight people are sitting down round the musicians. Each is aware of the others, their concern and awareness know no bounds, it is a mixture of reticence and generosity of self; each person gives a quiet glance, a smile, a word, a glass of tea, a chair. The promise of the music gives rise to a special mood woven from the best of each and every participant. Everything is light, weightless, expectancy hangs in the air…

The birth of a particular aesthetic

The lute is a monodic instrument found throughout the Arab-Turkish-Persian region; in the first place it underscored the role of the voice. The appearance of solo instrumentalists with a repertory stemming from a logic of “composition” or “creation” is a feature of Western music since the 16th century at least, when the first collections of pieces for string instruments were published, and applies particularly to lutenists and vihuela players. This process appeared later in the cultural area that constitutes the ‘ud‘s domain, no doubt because of the contact with Western music that began in the 19th century. Other reasons are the move towards the art of the stage and the notion of concerts.

In Morocco, which has produced some extremely refined accompanists trained in the Andalusian school and style, Saïd Chraïbi is one of the rare masters of the ‘ud to have created his own original sound and his own aesthetic as a solo player.

Of course he possesses the necessary technical flair. His accuracy of touch is outstanding, as is the fluidity of his fingerings, his swift and dextrous use of the plectrum, all these qualities make him a virtuoso in the Western sense of the term. Then there’s the instrument itself – Saïd takes an active part in the construction of his instruments, he sets up a continuous dialogue between himself and the lutemakers he works with, such as Khalid Belhaiba in Casablanca, at every stage of the instrument’s creation, from its conception and design to the actual manufacture. There are also the musical sources to be considered – he has opened up a wide range of repertories, taking his inspiration from various sources: Moroccan (Andalusian and otherwise), Near-Eastern, Turkish-Balkan, the flamenco tradition.

Turkish modes and rhythms have inspired some of the compositions and improvisations on this record. Morocco is the only Arab country not to have suffered Ottoman domination, but this has not prevented Saïd Chraïbi from considering Turkish and Ottoman music as a valuable source for his musical creativity. The ‘ud and other instruments of the same family such as the saz and the tanbur, used in central Asia and from Baghdad to Marrakesh, all belong to the same culture that provides him with a veritable treasure trove of hitherto scarcely explored possibilities, in musical terms.

A very striking temptation exists in modern-day Morocco to adopt a nationalist stand in music. Sometimes this tendency aims at raising Andalusian music to become the symbol of Moroccan music, whilst rejecting everything from the Near East (sharqi), with the idea of shedding once and for all the last fifty years of Egyptian predominance in the fields of music and the cinema.

Saïd’s sensitivity is that of a musician and a lutenist. However Andalusian he may be in his heart of hearts, rooted in those traditions, he denies anyone the right to lay down rules about where inspiration in music should come from. This attitude has led him to become the first musician to encourage Moroccan lute makers to work with each other; it also lies behind his support for the renaissance of the ud ramal, a specifically Moroccan four-part lute that fell into oblivion in the sixties. He is profoundly modern in his ideas; his approach is that of a creative artist and musician free to select his sources and make aesthetic choices as and where he wishes.

After all, “Chaama” or “Longa Hajar” have a touch of the oriental Mediterranean about them. And could Saïd be Turkish? Why not, after all ?


Technique, the way the instrument is made, musical sources. But over and above these different aspects of his professionalism, the maturity of his talent is revealed through his musical imagination, as it submits more and more to the discipline and direction of the solo form. The three free pieces with no percussion accompaniment that open this recording testify to the immense care he takes in the structure of his music. Saïd is familiar with all sorts of sung forms, his training has been through oral transmission, and these factors bring a quietly discreet note of lyricism as well as the flexibility and subtlety of improvisation to his particular “architectural” vision. Saïd Chraïbi knows how to introduce a moment of surprise into the most composed of suites, thus maintaining the illusion of improvisation.

So over the last ten years a full portrait of this very special Moroccan musician has gradually emerged. He dreams of leaving Casablanca to return to Marrakesh, his birthplace. His very fibre is made from the dream of Andalusia, so that despite his firm roots in the music of his homeland, his gaze is turned elsewhere. He has become a creator of new worlds. He feels strong enough not to remain eternally indebted towards a musical tradition that, like all of its kind, is quick to forget that it is itself the result of the mingling of many different cultures.

When it comes to inventing the musical forms of the future, the name of Saïd Chraïbi will be pre-eminent on the Southern banks of the Mediterranean.

Frédéric Deval


1- swisdi : a small, plucked, two-string instrument specific to the malhun, and a member of the family of gumbris.
2- malhun : a song in Moroccan dialectical Arabic, stemming from the Arabo-Andalusian nubas ; it stands midway between a song and a recitative, and was originally developed and used by the craftsmen’s corporations.
3- riyad : a kind of manor house or stately home with architecture of Andalusian influence.

The recordings

1- Andaloussiyyat – 13’02
This composition consists of three moods.

1.1- Khayâlât fî qalbî/Silhouettes in my heart
composition in raml el maya mode

1.2- The Key to Granada
composition in hijaz kabir mode

1.3- Arab-Andalusian lute
composition in hijaz kabir mode

2- Al-‘Ashiq/The Lover– 6’23
Appassionato; improvised sequences in ushaq mode

3- Musical embroidery– 11’30
improvised sequences in the Turkish mode tarz nawin

4- Fadèla – 11’22
sama’i in 10/8 time
composition in tarz nawin mode dedicated to Saïd Chraïbi’s daughter, Fadèla

5- Tribute to my master– 4’42
a tribute to Farid El-Atrache in nahawand mode, in the aksak jebli rhythm of the town of Chefchaouen

6- Chaama – 4’25
composition in 7/8 time (dour hindi) in nahawand mode, dedicated to Saïd Chraïbi’s daughter Shaama

7- Longa Hajar – 9’16
composition in 4/4 time in the Turkish choukfaza mode, dedicated to Saïd Chraïbi’s daughter Hajar.

  • Reference : 321.038
  • Ean : 794 881 640 225
  • Main artist : Saïd Chraïbi (سعيد شرايبي)
  • Year of recordint : 2000
  • Year of publishing : 2001
  • Music Style: Instrumental classique
  • Country : Maroc
  • City of recording : Paris
  • Main language :
  • Composers : Saïd Chraïbi
  • Lyricists :
  • Copyright : Institut du Monde Arabe