High Atlas Foundation Showcases Amazigh Music in New York
By Norman L. Greene*
February 20, 2011
At Les Enfants Terribles Restaurant on Sunday, February 6, 2011, in New York City, I attended with a number of other friends of the High Atlas Foundation a Sunday morning presentation on Amazigh music as part of HAF’s “Eat, Drink and Share” series. These are events designed to showcase HAF’s work, bring together those tied by a shared interest in Moroccan culture, and foster new friendships and relationships. I have attended a number of these and other HAF events, from the recent Moroccan film festival to a presentation and exhibit of Moroccan carpets and photographs.
The featured guest was musician Abdel Rahim Boutat, a “Moroccan Berber from the town of Kenifra in the Middle Atlas Mountains.” He commented on two instruments: the bandir (a wooden frame drum) and loutar (a 4-stringed skin-faced lute). They “go together and are played together,” he said. Mr. Boutat “began playing the loutar as a young boy in middle school at local social events and weddings in Morocco before migrating to Canada and later settling in New York.” His concerts have included those sponsored by organizations, such as “Le Festival du Mode Arabe de Montreal, World Music Institute, the Brooklyn Maqam Arab Music Festival, and the Chicago Festival.”
By way of background, Abdel observed that the Imazighen were among the first people to come to Morocco and did not “speak a dialect but a language.” He mentioned the unique nature of the language structure as displayed in the Amazigh songs. The songs frequently reference their subject metaphorically rather than directly. So when one sings of a woman’s body, one sings of what it is like, not directly what it is. The songs are about family, country, social policy, love, longing (missing one’s city), or the problems of everyday life. The lyrics are family-friendly. He learned the music through practice and from oral and musical traditions passed on from others, not at a music school. He then gave a spirited rendition of an Amazigh song to his enthusiastic tapping on the table and the spirited accompaniment (and similar tapping) of others.
The conversation moved, among other things, to Moroccan cultural solidarity; how important it is to have it for the Moroccan community to thrive in another country, such as the United States; and how to accomplish it. Such solidarity also strengthens the relationships of Moroccans-Americans to other Americans and to Moroccans at home. Among other ways, it may be achieved through the presentation of music, dance, art and literature. The program concluded with a discussion on the current projects of the High Atlas Foundation and strategic plan for the future.______________________________________________________________________
*The writer, who lives in New York, N.Y., has written a number of articles on Morocco and the Moroccan-American community in the United States and related conferences and events. Quotations are from a handout at the event or comments by Mr. Boutat.