Not the Arab World That You Know

Music has often been associated with evil. Legend has it that Elvis was possessed by the devil, John Lennon made a pact with Satan in exchange for fame, and Lady Gaga, who was raised Catholic, worships the devil and uses her music to brainwash the world’s youth.

Marissa Kerum (University of San Francisco) hiking in a Berber Village in the Atlas Mountains

This phenomenon is also present in the Arab world, where head banging to heavy metal music was grounds for imprisonment one decade ago.  In fact, in 2003 14 young Moroccan metal heads were sent to prison for wearing “anti-Islamic” T-shirts that depicting the devil.  This incident is known in Morocco as the Moroccan satanic music festival trial and showcased the country’s ideology concerning music.

A decade later, much has changed; Moroccan King Mohammed VI continues to fund the alternative music scene supporting musicians that stand for acceptance and human rights for all in the Maghreb region (North Africa).

Italy Center film professor Reda Zine, who teaches our Human Rights Filmmaking Course and is also an accomplished jazz musician, explains,  “as teenagers in Morocco, we played heavy metal because our lives were heavy. Today in Morocco and across the Arab world, musicians, graffiti artists, filmmakers, hip hop artists, webzine makers, performance artists, and open space bloggers represent a window of promise in a difficult period.  As someone who also teaches American students for me it is critical that America’s youth meets Morocco’s passionate risk-taking youth.  This cannot be found sitting one one’s sofa watching CNN or Fox News. “

Hicham Bajjou, who is our host in Casablanca, is the creative force behind the Bob Magreb musical group that performs for the Italy Center students during the annual Spring Social Justice tour to the Maghreb. The project, which finds it home in the Boulevard Music Association, is committed to the music of legendary figure Bob Marley and integrates traditional Maghreb instruments, such as the tbel, tbilates, and bedir, into the performance of Marley’s songs.  The Bob Maghreb project has gained recognition across the Arab world and Western Europe.

Funds raised from the Italy Center and Bob Maghreb concert help support a broader Boulevard project of building of schools for the highly discriminated against Berber community. Every year, Italy Center students spend three days learning about the Berber culture in the Atlas Mountains region (see photo).  Samie Amale, our gracious hosts while in the Mountains, has received death threats for his work in building schools. He continues his work, however,hoping to offer and education to berber children.

Much like the pandemonium of Elvis, The Beatles and, in recent years, Lady Gaga, in hindsight, the Moroccan satanic music festival trial proved to be a watershed for the acceptance of alternative culture by Moroccan society

Zine, Bajjou, Amaleand others we meet in Morocco have been at the forefront of this movement for music.  These remarkable activists bring insights in Morocco that can never be taught in the confines of a classroom.