Performers: Si Mohammed Bel Hassan Soudani
Recorded by Paul Bowles
At Marrakech, Morocco
October 27, 1959
It would take a long time to get recordings of all the distinct kinds of music that are heard daily in the Djemaa el Fna of Marrakech. Any afternoon of good weather, an hour or so before sunset, ten or fifteen thousand people gather in the huge open space and form circles around the various entertainers who come regularly there to earn their living. Mediocre musicians and dancers attract nobody; technicianship is of high quality. It is true, however, that the larger troupes draw the biggest crowds, and occasionally an excellent solo performer will be found sitting all alone on the ground singing and playing, with absolutely no one paying any attention. Such was the case with the Guennaoui who made this tape. Si Mohammed bel Hassan Soudani was born in the Sudan, and it is extremely unlikely that he ever came in contact with the institution of slavery in any manner; nevertheless, his second song, Jabouna men es Soudan, is a slave's lament, a song of the [black people] of Morocco, who until recently were for the most part slaves. A literal transcription of certain lines: "Oh, father, they rounded us up and brought us from the Sudan. They separated us from our parents suddenly and brought us from the Sudan. They brought us from the Sudan and sold us. The Chorfa bought us. They herded us together (like animals) and brought us from the Sudan." The first song is a patriotic-religious piece asking Allah to help the Sudan to become prosperous. The third is a song in praise of Allah. Sudanese words and phrases are mixed freely with those in Moghrebi. The singer unfortunately has adopted the Moroccan custom of very high voice placement; his natural register (his speaking voice was that of a low baritone) is audible only in the first line of the last song. The high pitch in itself is not objectionable, but it reduces volume to a minimum, and the accompaniment, which he provided himself on a Sudanese instrument called a gogo, tended to obscure the sound of the voice. Microphone adjustments were of no avail; the voice itself could not be got near enough to the mike to compensate for the loudness of the gogo, (which in itself is like a little orchestra, since it provides the sounds of a plectrum instrument, a drum and a cymbal.) In this respect at least, Si Mohmammed bel Hassan Soudani had become Moroccanized. The gogo's body was approximately the size and shape of a shoebox; it had a long neck to the end of which was attached a feather-shaped piece of steel with incised decorations. Tiny rings of metal had been loosely attached all along the edges of this steel feather, so that with every impulse they reverberated. The feather is called a soursal; after the first piece I asked him to remove it so that the last two songs are played without soursal. The technique of the gogo involves not only the plucking of the guts but the striking of the membrane over which they are strung. (The entire top of the instrument is covered with skin.) (Spanish folk guitarists often use the same device, in a simpler manner, to accentuate the rhythm.)
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.