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Music Connects Cultures

Selfie of students Josiah and Jack

By Josiah Royes, YES Abroad 2023-2024 Morocco

Villa des Arts entrance court at night

Lincoln Center, the New York Philharmonic, and Broadway are the American staples in live entertainment and performances. Growing up in the vibrant cultural hub of New York City, I have been fortunate to attend multiple live shows, such as The Lion King, The March to Liberation, and Hamilton. I find that each performance captivates the connection between art, culture, and people.

On my journey in Morocco, I’ve had the rich experience of attending many live musicals at the Villa Des Art of Rabat. Villa Des Arts has two locations in Casablanca and Rabat. Both uphold the same philosophy and mission: to provide a space where Moroccan artistic heritage can be preserved and accessible to all by offering space for national and international performers and media in contemporary art, places of creation, animation, and meetings.

3D miniature model on display at Villa des Arts

My first time at Villa Des Arts was in August. My cohort and local coordinator went to watch H-Kayne, a renowned Moroccan group band recognized for their music in R&B and rap during the 2000s. Thinking back to that day, I remember the artist coming onto the stage singing some of their hit songs from decades ago, and it was clear the words and music still resonated with the cheerful and pumped audience. I noticed rhythms and beats similar to those of American R&B; however, the music was unique. Despite the Darija language barrier, it was an unforgettable evening; I danced with my cohort mates and the local coordinator, creating a bond that will last forever.

H Kayne performing on stage at the concert

Gnaoua is one of my favorite genres of Moroccan music. The origin of Gnaoua traces back to West Africa and carries a mixture of Tamazight and Arabic influences through instruments, languages, and clothes. During my second visit to Villa Des Arts, I attended a Gnaoua concert by Saad Tiouly. From the moment I stepped into the auditorium, I felt the pulse of the music. The lead singer’s voice and instruments, like traditional drums, sintir, and hand sneers, brought the room to life. Again, having to navigate the language barrier, I could enjoy the ambiance by gathering at the front with my peers and the other lively audience members. Looking around me, I could tell that Gnaoua is popular amongst people of all ages. I also discovered that Gnaoua is a spiritual genre of music by the way they dance individually, with peers, and in large groups. It is very similar to that of Jamaican reggae music.

Performers on stage during the Gnaoua concert

Most recently, I attended a Melhoune by Sidi Thami Madghari and the orchestra, adding more layers to my musical exploration. The Melhoune show’s genre is literacy-based and poetic. This musical event provided a calmer and more relaxing than the previous two energetic performances. The orchestra consisted of 11 elegantly clothed and skillful musicians. Each musician displayed a combination of singing and playing instruments, such as the oud, violin, tambourine, tarija, and more, filling the auditorium with a sense of peace and tranquility.

The diverse performances at Villa Des Arts have made me reflect on music across various genres and its significance in Moroccan culture. It has also framed my thinking around music as a tool that bridges people and cultures. While the language barrier prevented me from comprehending the content of the concerts, I learned the language nuances through the sounds of the instruments and the vibrant energy of the audience who conveyed the heart of Moroccan music. I encourage everyone to partake in the experience of a live musical or show, whether in their local area, in another country, or while studying abroad. It is a source of entertainment and a pathway to understanding other cultures. Say YES to music and allow it to bridge your connection to another rich and vibrant culture.

Group photo of the orchestra from the Melhoune performance