The Beauty of Moroccan Folk Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Moroccan folk music is a beautiful and unique genre that is definitely worth exploring! In this blog post, we’ll give you a brief introduction to the history and origins of Moroccan folk music, as well as some of the most popular folk songs and artists.

The Different Types of Moroccan Folk Music

Moroccan folk music is a beautiful thing. It is a mixture of sounds and styles that have been around for centuries. There are many different types of Moroccan folk music, each with its own history and tradition.


Chaabi (Arabic: الشعبي‎) (also spelled shaabi, sha’bi and cha’abi) is a form of popular Moroccan music. It dates back to the 1920s and is found in the urban areas of Morocco. Chaabi was originally performed in cafes and marketplaces, but is now found at any celebration or gathering.

The music is a mix of Arab, Andalusian and Berber music. The instruments used are oud, mandole, violin, lablah (a type of clarinet), tar (a type of drums) and ney (a type of flute). The lyrics are often about love, death, religion and social values.

Chaabi is a very important part of Moroccan culture and is loved by people of all ages. It is often performed at weddings, funerals and other special occasions.


Aïssaoua music is probably the most well known form of Moroccan folk music. It is characterized by its fast tempo and often features a lead instrument accompanied by a tambourine-like instrument called a bendir and a type of lute called a gasba. The lyrics are usually about love, but can also be about God or other spiritual matters.

Aïssaoua music is popular in the cities of Fez, Rabat, and Casablanca and is often played at weddings and other celebrations.


Gnawa music is a distinctive form of folk music originating in Northern Africa. It is characterized by its use of the guembri, a three-string lute, and by its focus on trance-inducing rhythms. Gnawa music has a long history, dating back to the 11th century, and has been passed down from generation to generation through oral tradition. The music is often performed at religious ceremonies, such as moussems (annual festivals), and is believed to have healing properties.

Gnawa music is highly rhythmic and often features call-and-response vocals between the singer and the audience. The lyrics are usually in Moroccan Arabic, but may also be in French or English. The guembri provides a steady bass line, while other instruments, such as the krakeb (metal castanets), tbel (bass drum), and qraqeb (hand-held percussion instruments), provide accompaniment.

If you’re interested in hearing Gnawa music for yourself, there are many recordings available online and in record stores. You can also find Gnawa musicians playing at clubs and festivals around the world.


Rai is a type of Moroccan folk music that developed in the late 20th century in the city of Oran. The music is based on Andalusian and Arabic music, but also includes elements of rock, jazz, and blues. The lyrics are often about social issues such as love, loss, and political unrest. Rai is popular among young Moroccans and has been exported to other parts of the Arab world, Africa, and Europe.


Moroccan music has a long and diverse history. There are three main types of Moroccan music: classical Arab-Andalusian, Berber, and Bedouin. Classical Arab-Andalusian music is the oldest and most important form of Moroccan music. It was brought to Morocco by the Arabs who conquered Spain in the 7th century. Berber music is the music of the Berber people, who make up a large part of the Moroccan population. Bedouin music is the music of the nomadic Bedouin people who live in the Sahara Desert.

Andalusian music is characterized by its use of Arabic instruments, such as the oud (a type of lute), nay (a type of flute), and qanun (a type of zither). Andalusian songs are often about love, loss, and longing.

Berber music is characterized by its use of traditional Berber instruments, such as the tambourine-like instrument called a bendir, and thestring instrument called a gimbri. Berber songs often deal with themes such as honor, courage, and hospitality.

Bedouin music is characterized by its use of traditional Bedouin instruments, such as the rabab (a type of lute) and doumbek (a type of drum). Bedouin songs often deal with themes such as wanderlust and nomadic life.

The Origins of Moroccan Folk Music

Moroccan folk music has its roots in the music of the Berber people. The Berber people are the indigenous people of Morocco and have their own unique culture and music. Moroccan folk music has a wide variety of instrumentation and styles, and is often very lively and upbeat.

The influence of Arab, Berber, and Andalusian music

Moroccan music is a mix of Arab, Berber, and Andalusian music. Moroccan folk music has a long history and is still evolving. The Berber people are the original inhabitants of Morocco and their music dates back to the time before the Arabs arrived in North Africa. Andalusian music was brought to Morocco by Muslim refugees from Spain in the 8th century. Arab music came to Morocco with the Arabs in the 7th century.

The influence of Gnawa music

Gnawa music is a form of folk music that originated in North Africa. It is traditionally performed by the Gnawa people, who are a group of Muslim Berbers. The music is based on the use of traditional instruments, such as the lute-like instrument called the gimbri, and is known for its hypnotic rhythms.

Gnawa music has had a considerable influence on Moroccan folk music, and it is not uncommon to hear Gnawa influences in modern Moroccan pop music. Many Moroccan musicians have been influenced by Gnawa music, including renowned jazz musician Hassan Hakmoun.

The influence of Rai music

Rai music is a type of Moroccan folk music that originates from the city of Oran in Algeria. It is a mix of Arabic, Andalusian, and Berber music. The influence of Rai can be heard in many Moroccan folk songs.

The Instruments Used in Moroccan Folk Music

Moroccan folk music is a beautiful genre that is often overlooked. The music is heavily influenced by the country’s Berber and Arab heritage, as well as its history of French and Spanish colonization. Moroccan folk music is characterized by its use of traditional instruments, such as the oud, gumbri, and kanun.

The oud

The oud is a stringed instrument with a pear-shaped body that is commonly used in traditional Moroccan music. It has a long neck and a flat back, and its strings are plucked with the right hand while the left hand frets the strings. The oud is similar to other instruments in the lute family, such as the Guitar, and it is believed to have originated in ancient Egypt or Mesopotamia.

The oud is an important part of Moroccan folk music, and it often accompanies the singing of folk songs. It is also used in various forms of traditional dance music, such as the chaabi.

The rebab

The rebab is a type of folk music instrument used in Morocco. It is a bowed string instrument with a body made of wood or gourd, and usually has two strings. The player holds the instrument in their lap and bow the strings with their right hand while plucking the strings with their left hand. The rebab is also used in other parts of North Africa, such as Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya.

The guembri

The guembri, also known as sintir or gimbri, is a three-stringed bass instrument used in Moroccan Gnawa music. It is typically made of wood, with a body that is somewhat spider-like in shape. The neck of the guembri is long and skinny, and the strings are stretched across it. The strings are plucked with the fingers, and the sound is produced by moving a leather plectrum called a mizrab up and down the strings.

The guembri has a very distinctive sound, and it is often used to provide the foundation for Gnawa music. The instrument usually plays a slow, repetitive bass line that creates a trance-like state in both the musicians and the listeners. In addition to providing the foundation for Gnawa music, the guembri is also used as a solo instrument. When played solo, the instrument can produce a wide range of sounds, from low growls to high-pitched squeals.

The krakeb

Krakeb are a type of castanets used in Moroccan folk music. They are traditionally made from ceramic or brass, and they have a unique, ringing sound that is often used to keep time or mark the end of a phrase.

Krakeb are usually played in pairs, and they are held in the hand with the thumb and first two fingers. The player will often use their other hand to strike a drum or other percussion instrument.

Krakeb are most commonly used in folk dances, but they can also be heard in other types of Moroccan music, such as chaabi and gnawa.

The tbal

The tbal (also spelled tabl or tablah) is a large, goblet-shaped drum used in Moroccan folk music. It is usually made of wood, with a skin stretched over the top. The tbal is played with the hands and has a deep, resonant sound.

The tbal is typically used to provide the rhythm for folk songs and dances. It is also sometimes used in Sufi ceremonies.

The Popularity of Moroccan Folk Music

Moroccan folk music has been gaining popularity in recent years, both inside and outside of Morocco. This music is known for its soulful and passionate sound, which can be credited to the unique instrumentation and vocal styles. Moroccan folk music is also known for its use of improvisation, which gives the music a sense of spontaneity.

In Morocco

Moroccan folk music is a vibrant and integral part of the country’s culture. Musicians play at all kinds of events, from weddings to funerals, and at religious festivals such as Eid al-Fitr and Mawlid. Music is also an important part of Moroccan identity, with many people learning to play an instrument or sing from a young age.

There are a wide range of different folk music styles in Morocco, from the upbeat and festive sounds of Gnawa music to the more gentle and reflective tunes of chaabi. However, one thing that all Moroccan folk music has in common is its ability to transport listeners to another world.

Whether you’re dancing along to a lively gnawa tune or soaking up the atmosphere of a traditional chaabi performance, Moroccan folk music is sure to leave you feeling enchanted.

In the Arab world

Moroccan music has a long and storied history. For many people in the Arab world, Moroccan music conjures up images of snake charmers and belly dancers. But there is much more to Moroccan music than that.

Moroccan folk music is a vibrant and important part of the country’s cultural heritage. The music is often passed down from generation to generation, and many Moroccans take great pride in their musical traditions.

One of the most distinctive aspects of Moroccan folk music is its use of instruments. Traditional Moroccan instruments include the oud (a stringed instrument similar to a lute), the rebab (a bowed string instrument), and the kamenjah (a type of drum).

Moroccan folk music has been influenced by a number of different cultures over the years, including Arabic, Berber, Andalusian, and French. This mix of influences has resulted in a rich and diverse musical tradition that is uniquely Moroccan.

Moroccan folk music is enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds, and it plays an important role in binds together the country’s diverse cultural heritage.

In the West

In recent years, Moroccan folk music has enjoyed something of a resurgence in popularity in the West. With its hypnotic rhythms and enchanting melodies, Moroccan folk music is the perfect way to relax and escape the stresses of modern life.

Moroccan folk music is often based around the oud, a traditional stringed instrument similar to a lute. The oud is accompanied by a range of other instruments, including the rabab (a type of fiddle), the gimbri (a three-stringed lute) and the bendir (a large frame drum).

The most famous exponent of Moroccan folk music is probably Hassan Hakmoun, who has been credited with popularizing the genre in the West. Hakmoun was born in Fez in 1962 and began playing traditional Moroccan music at an early age. He moved to the United States in 1980, where he quickly became involved in the New York City jazz scene.

Over the years, Hakmoun has collaborated with a number of well-known musicians, including Bill Laswell, Sergei Rachmaninov and Billy Cobham. He has also appeared on film and television, most notably in Jim Jarmusch’s 1991 film “Night on Earth.”

If you’re looking for something different to listen to, why not give Moroccan folk music a try? You might just find yourself falling under its spell.

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