Asilah is in northern Morocco, approximately 30 km southwest of Tangier.
The region around Asilah has been inhabited since well before 1500 BC and Phonecian settlements in the area, but the Mulsim city know as Asila dates to the Muslim conquest and the Idrisid dynasty. It 966 the city was reconstructed by the Umayyad Caliph al-Hakim II. In 1471 the Portuguese conquered the city, and it remained European sovereignty until 1691 when it was reconquered by Mulay Isma'il. He built two of the cities mosques, a madrasa and hammam.
In the 19th century the city was bombarded by the Austrians in 1829 and the Spanish in 1860. Asilah was also an important fiefdom of the Rifi leader Mulay Ahmad al-Raisuni, who was named Pasha of the region in 1906. Spain occupied Asilah in 1911, and it reverted to Moroccan control with most of northern Morocco when the Protectorate ended in 1956. Restored in 1978, Asilah is a resort town and a major tourist attraction. It is best known for its annual arts festival that attracts major international talent, including graphic artists who use the city's walls as a canvas.
Sources: Guiguet-Bologne, Philippe. Un guide de Tanger et de sa région. Tangier: Philip Guiguet Bologne, 1996.
Roca, Juan, Ramon. Tangier and its surroundings. Alicante, Spain: Roca Vincente-Franquiera, 2011.
15B 2. El Rhnya Darifa Sidi Habibi (solo voice, kamenja, tbel)
Performers: Maalem Abdeslam Sarsri el Mahet Arzila and Ensemble
Recorded by Paul Bowles.
At Arcila, Morocco.
August 27, 1959.
Music of the Djebala.
1959 August 27, Video 2016
"The Maalem was loath to play the liara; he considered it a poor substitute for the rhaïta, which was only natural, as the latter is a much more evil instrument and requires far greater musicianship. However, I finally persuaded him to oblige me with a piece for liara, although he refused to make it a true solo, insisting that he must have a second instrument with him. Fortunately the Maalem was possessed of an extraordinary versatility in so far as instruments went: he was an expert kamenja-player, a superb performer on the rhaita, and, I think, an unusually competent man on the liara, although I should have liked him to unbend a bit and play something which permitted a little more personal expression. However, he was a fanatical classicist, and for that I suppose one should be thankful. Also, the presence of a dozen or so soldiers sitting with their guns across their knees at a few paces from the players undoubtedly put an effective damper on any possible flights of musical fancy. (One must remember that Moroccan musicians were subjected to having their repertory thoroughly scrutinized by politicians a few years ago, and have not forgotten the experience.)
It is interesting in number one to note the similarity of both melody and rhythm to a jig or a hornpipe. Some centuries ago it was the custom for the acrobatic dancers of the Souss (which region still furnishes such specialists to small circuses in Europe) to travel to the British Isles and performed there as wandering minstrels. The entertainment was called Moorish dancing, which term is said to have been transformed colloquially into Morris dancing. I am unable to vouch for the authenticity of this report, but it occurred to me when I listen carefully to portions of “El Rhyna Darifa Sidi Habibi,” in its instrumental version."
Bowles, Paul F. "Arcila." from Folk, Popular, and Art Music of Morocco.
The Paul Bowles Moroccan Music Collection. Washington,
DC: American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, 1959-1962.
The Paul Bowles Moroccan Music Collection (AFC 1960/001), American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., Courtesy of the Paul Bowles Estate and Irene Hermann / Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies