Morocco: Cheikhats cabaret brings to life a musical art that transcends genres

(AFP)-On stage, well-groomed men, wearing wigs and wearing colorful caftans, resuscitate, by surpassing genre ideas, “Aïta” classics, a Moroccan musical art no longer in use.

“Kabareh Cheikhats” – the “Cabaret of famous singers” – has been trying since 2016 to protect this precious heritage that was once composed of women and threatened with extinction.

This collective of singers, actors and dancers dares to violate gender rules, which were once allowed to some extent, in this North African country where the weight of patriarchy remains paramount.

Returning from an unprecedented tour of the United States, accompanied by a traditional ensemble, he recently had a full house dance with the wise Rabat, which introduced him to the melodies of the Aïta (“the rallying cry “in the Moroccan dialect).

“This music is a valuable + heritage + that is important to value. It is what drives our work”, explained AFP Ghassan El Hakim, founder of Kabareh Cheikhats.

“Six years after the troupe’s birth, we haven’t finished learning yet, we’re always looking,” the 37-year-old director added.

– Fallen Divas –
Between theater and singing, the troupe mapped, from one region of Morocco to another, the types of this music, which were once very popular in the countryside.

The tempo is set in an “aïta jabalia”, a wind from the north of the country, before a stopover in the former capital of Fez, another in Rabat then in the fertile plains of Doukkala-Abda, the refuge of this music. .

“This art, which is based on oral transmission and has roots dating back to the 12th century, draws its poetic energy from everyday life”, points out writer and poet Hassan Najmi.

It sings about the tribal way of life, nature but also of love and carnal pleasure, without deviations. And under the French protectorate (1912-1956), it became a kind of anti-colonial resistance in a dialect not understood by the authorities.

These festival songs gained their epistle in glory in the late 19th century, under the reign of Sultan Hassan I. ”At that time, the power paid particular attention to this music which became a vector of propaganda for it “, specified Mr. Najmi, aïta specialist.

“Sheikhates”, revered and worshiped figures, were invited to large parties and on the occasion of national holidays until the 1990s.

Then the socio-cultural changes in Morocco, affected by the rise of conservatism, knocked the aïta divas from their pedestal.

“They have become symbols of extravagance”, recalls expert Najmi, emphasizing that “this contempt is the result of hypocrisy and double reference to a fringe in society”.

– Feminine code –
Concerned that they would be rehabilitated, the Kabareh Cheikhats gave an unconditional tribute to “these strong women”, explained one of the actors, Amine Naouni.

“In the show, we didn’t invent anything, we just remembered the events that existed in society”, said the 28-year-old young man who was “arrested” at the start of the adventure “to be judged”.

“But over time, that feeling disappeared.” In fact, the idea of ​​men using feminine codes is not new in Morocco – or indeed in other countries, such as Japan’s “kabuki” theater.

In the past, “we’ve seen men put on makeup, wear caftans and dance lewdly at parties with no problem”, added the aita expert, referring to men who made “ sheikhates “at weddings.

“This is normal because the public space is locked for women,” Mr. Najmi added. The Kabareh format is completely new.

For Ghassan El Hakim and his accomplices, the boundaries between genres are rather porous, they do not believe in fixed and standardized genres, and it is “important” for them to prove it.

“In every show, I see the togetherness of the audience. Everyone is grateful for the opportunity, despite our differences, so I tell myself that it is possible to live together, not just during one. performances ”, assured the director. stage.

If only “good vibes” Kabareh Cheikhats would get at performances, on social media, that’s a different story.

Fortunately, Amine Naouni reassures, “negative reactions are trapped on the internet. It’s easy to pour your hatred behind a screen, but in real life it’s different”.

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