Located on a fertile plain, Marrakesh is one of Morocco's four imperial cities. Founded in eleventh-century as the African capital of Almoravid dynasty; it was conquered by the Almohads in 1147, and then to Marinids, only to be taken by the French in 1912.
Marrakesh was founded in 1062 by Yusif Ben Tashfin, the first ruler of the Almoravid dynasty. His son, Ali, built the Ben Yussef Mosque and the city wall. The Almohads (1146-1268) made Marrakesh the capital of their empire and it was during this period that the Koutoubia was built.
The Marinids (1268-1520) neglected Marrakesh but they were succeeded by the Saadians (1520-1668) who endowed the city with the Badi' palace, the Ben-Yussef madrasa and the Saadian mausoleum.
From 1668 onwards, the Alawites, who resided in Marrakesh only occasionally, erected numerous buildings such as the palace of Bahia and Dar Si Saod at the end of the nineteenth-century. Later, the modern town was to develop three kilometres from the Medina, with its wide avenues bordered with palm-trees, orange-trees and jacarandas.
When first created in the 11th century, Marrakesh was a link on the caravan route that joins the south and the north of Morocco by way of the valleys up the Upper Atlas. Routes from the Tafilelt region and the Draa valley also converged on Marrakesh. Later, as the capital of the Almoravid and subsequently the Almohad empires (eleventh and thirteenth centuries), it became the seat of the unique authority ruling the entire Muslim West, including Andalusia.
At that time, Marrakesh was a large metropolis, housing probably up to 100,000 inhabitants.
Between the thirteenth and early sixteenth centuries, Marrakesh experienced a period of decline due to the displacement further east (in Algeria, Tunisia and particularly Egypt) of roads used to transport African gold, and the relocation of Morocco's capital to Fez. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, under the Saadians, Marrakesh was revived and flourished thanks to the gold trade, and the conquest of Tombouctou by the Saadians.
Performers: Si Mohammed Bel Hassan Soudani
Recorded by Paul Bowles
At Marrakech, Morocco
October 27, 1959
It would take a long time to get recordings of all the distinct kinds of music that are heard daily in the Djemaa el Fna of Marrakech. Any afternoon of good weather, an hour or so before sunset, ten or fifteen thousand people gather in the huge open space and form circles around the various entertainers who come regularly there to earn their living. Mediocre musicians and dancers attract nobody; technicianship is of high quality. It is true, however, that the larger troupes draw the biggest crowds, and occasionally an excellent solo performer will be found sitting all alone on the ground singing and playing, with absolutely no one paying any attention. Such was the case with the Guennaoui who made this tape. Si Mohammed bel Hassan Soudani was born in the Sudan, and it is extremely unlikely that he ever came in contact with the institution of slavery in any manner; nevertheless, his second song, Jabouna men es Soudan, is a slave's lament, a song of the [black people] of Morocco, who until recently were for the most part slaves. A literal transcription of certain lines: "Oh, father, they rounded us up and brought us from the Sudan. They separated us from our parents suddenly and brought us from the Sudan. They brought us from the Sudan and sold us. The Chorfa bought us. They herded us together (like animals) and brought us from the Sudan." The first song is a patriotic-religious piece asking Allah to help the Sudan to become prosperous. The third is a song in praise of Allah. Sudanese words and phrases are mixed freely with those in Moghrebi. The singer unfortunately has adopted the Moroccan custom of very high voice placement; his natural register (his speaking voice was that of a low baritone) is audible only in the first line of the last song. The high pitch in itself is not objectionable, but it reduces volume to a minimum, and the accompaniment, which he provided himself on a Sudanese instrument called a gogo, tended to obscure the sound of the voice. Microphone adjustments were of no avail; the voice itself could not be got near enough to the mike to compensate for the loudness of the gogo, (which in itself is like a little orchestra, since it provides the sounds of a plectrum instrument, a drum and a cymbal.) In this respect at least, Si Mohmammed bel Hassan Soudani had become Moroccanized. The gogo's body was approximately the size and shape of a shoebox; it had a long neck to the end of which was attached a feather-shaped piece of steel with incised decorations. Tiny rings of metal had been loosely attached all along the edges of this steel feather, so that with every impulse they reverberated. The feather is called a soursal; after the first piece I asked him to remove it so that the last two songs are played without soursal. The technique of the gogo involves not only the plucking of the guts but the striking of the membrane over which they are strung. (The entire top of the instrument is covered with skin.) (Spanish folk guitarists often use the same device, in a simpler manner, to accentuate the rhythm.)
The Paul Bowles Moroccan Music Collection (AFC 1960/001), American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., Courtesy of the Paul Bowles Estate and Irene Hermann / Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies.