Form and Structure of Berber Music
Berber music can be divided into three main categories: village music (ahwash), traveling professional groups (rwais), and the chanting of the Quran and other religious chants (tolba). Because tolba is essentially a style found across North Africa and the Middle East, it will not be discussed here.
Rwais and ahwash share a basis in poetry, and both use primarily anhemotonic pentantonic modes, with occasional semi-tones. Compound duple meters (6/8 and 12/8) are present in both genres, allowing for the creation of hemiolas.
Ahwash, which literally means "dance," is a form of village music typically sung and danced by two large antiphonal (call and response) groups. At least 20 people are required for an ahwash, and as many as 150 can participate. The chanted text sung in the ahwash is accompanied by dancing. The two choruses are typically divided by gender, and face each other during the performance. A soloist sings an improvised verse of the music, and then the two groups respond during the chorus, first the men and then the women.
The percussive section plays either between the two groups, or sitting down on one side of the groups. The section is composed of a principle drum (bendir) and a supporting drum, both of which have a high sonority, and a section of low drums. The supporting drum occasionally joins the low drums, but it also improvises and varies the rhythm of the ahwash.
The large numbers required for the ahwash has made it a regional form of music; it is difficult, if not impossible, for such a large group of musicians to travel long distances. Therefore, the ahwash has developed differently in each village, although each village shares the common overarching style. The ahwash also emphasizes the community; each community has its own texts, and the texts often speak of community.
"When relatives and in-laws are present, what need is there to worry?
When relatives and in-laws are present, what more could one ask?" - text of an ahwash, as sited by Peter D. Schuyler in The World of Music, vol. XXI, number 1
Rwais (singular rais), are small groups of professional musicians. They are composed of no more than 12 musicians, and they travel around Morocco and Europe. Like the ahwash, their music based on the fusion of poetry and music. Rwais are present wherever large groups of Berbers can be found, both in Moroccan cities and in Europe. Their music contains the theme of their immigration.
Because of the use of the stringed rebab in rwais, each performer is much more independent and able to create his own antiphony with his instrument than the ahwash groups. The mobile nature of the rwais also allows for the creation of new music every year, and a substantial amount of collaboration between groups.
The music of the rwais can be divided into 9 segments:
- Amarg, the main section of sung poetry, which consists of a repeated melodic phrase.
- l-Astara, an arrhythmic instrumental prelude or interlude.
- Tebil, a melodic, rhythmic introduction typically in 4/4.
- Tamssust, an instrumental transition between sung sections, with an elevated tempo.
- Ladrub, the accompaniment to the dance, normally in 6/8.
- Qtaa, cadential material consisting of four fast rhythmic cycles
- Ti n-lhalqt, a rhythm played on the naqus (bell) to attract an audience or support the prelude and interludes.
- Mashkhara, an improvised verbal segment.
- Fatha, a prayer to invoke the benediction of Allah.
Rwais can be viewed as intermediaries between Berber villages and large Moroccan cities, between tribes and government, between Eastern tradition and Western innovation. Their subsidization under the French protectorate caused them to incorporate several French and Spanish motives into their music, while maintaining elements of Andalusian and Berber musical tradition. Rwais travel from village to village, and use their music to share news between the isolated Berber communities. Rwais are also traditionally educated in Arabic and many have attended Qur'anic madrasa (school), so they participated in the spread of Islamic culture among the Berbers. However, rwais' music maintains references to pre-Islamic Berber culture.
"In the end, ahwash may survive better in the modern world than the music of the rwais. There will long be a village culture in which to nurture ahwash, but the rwais' role as intermediary may be coming to an end. The radio has largely replaced the rwais as a medium of news and opinion. With its relatively vast resources, the government can transport entire ahwash groups to Marrakech, or even to Tokyo, so that the villagers may speak for themselves, as it were. Finally, the urban-rural dichotomy is broadening rapidly, and soon the rwais may no longer be able to bridge the gap. Urbanized Berbers are returning less and less to the village. A new generation of Ishlhin [a Berber tribe] is growing up in the city. They have no need of the rwais to remind them of the mountains, because they have no memories to stir. Their musical taste runs more to Western popular music than to traditional Moroccan genres. The past few years have seen the growth of electrified Berber bands, with names like Usman (Lightning) and lzenzarn (Thunder), playing modified traditional tunes on western instruments. The new groups claim that, since city dwellers will listen only to European-style pop music, the best way to preserve Berber music in a modern urban context is to repackage it in Western form." - Peter D. Schuyler in The World of Music, vol. XXI, number 1