Berber Hip Hop Helps Re-ignite Culture and Economy

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


Music is being used to revive the ancient language of the original North African desert dwellers, the Berbers ( And in the process, it is spawning a whole new generation of entrepreneurs and generating income.

The Berbers are North Africa’s indigenous people, primarily living in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia, but their language and culture – called Amazigh – were replaced as the lingua franca of the region after the Arab conquest in the 7th century. But all these years later, the language is enjoying resurgence under Morocco’s king, Mohammed VI, who is helping to promote the language through television programming and a new law making teaching of the language compulsory in schools by 2010.

Amazigh people – the name means “free humans” or “free men” – total more than 50 million. Their group languages, called Tamazight, are spoken by several million people across North Africa, with the largest number in Morocco.

For young Moroccans, promoting the language is more interesting when hip hop ( is thrown into the mix.

Where once Berber culture was shunned in Morocco and the language banned in schools, the revival of the Tamazight language has led to a flourishing of summer arts festivals, thriving Tamazight newspapers _ and Tamazight hip hop.

One hip-hop outfit, Rap2Bled from the Moroccan city of Agadir, stick to social issues, singing about unemployment, drug addiction and the emancipation of women.

“My mother and grandfather don’t know any Arabic…Before they couldn’t watch television, read a newspaper. They hadn’t got a clue what was going on in the world. They didn’t know anything,” Rap2Bled singer Aziz, who goes by the street name Fatman, told to Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

“But now there is a TV channel in our local dialect and a newspaper. But our aim is to put the language on the map by fusing it with hip hop. More than 60 per cent of young Moroccans only listen to rap and western music. So we thought why not fuse Berber with that and make it really accessible?”

Just 10 years ago, rap and hip hop were virtually unknown in Morocco, with only a small group of hip hop aficionados listening to big American stars like Dr Dre, Tupac Shakur and Notorious BIG.

But today hip hop culture and way of life (of which rap and hip hop music are a part) have become a powerful force in Moroccan culture. Moroccan rap focuses on local issues like unemployment and injustice and is ubiquitous on radio and TV.

The Casa Crew, from Casablanca, has become so successful since their beginnings in 2003 that their fan base stretches to Spain and Algeria.

“First of all, to designate rap simply as mere ‘music’ deprives it of its real impact,” Caprice from the Casa Crew (, told the Arab Media News, Menassat.

“Rap is a life style, and mainly a culture of convictions. The fact that rap is spreading in countries like Morocco is an excellent sign. On the one hand, it’s proof that the youth are starting to react, to think they have the right to express themselves in any way they see fit, without anyone judging them or denying them of that right. On the other hand, the development of rap means that the space for artistic freedom is growing particularly when considering that a majority of Arab rappers are dealing with subjects that we were forbidden to speak about a few years ago.”

The Amazigh revival industry centres around large music festivals. Timitar Festival in Agadir ( gets crowds surpassing 500,000, with more than 40 artists. Morocco’s biggest festival helps Amazigh artists meet world musicians and learn how to reach music fans outside of Morocco.

Another pioneer of Morocco’s music industry is Mohamed ‘Momo’ Merhari, a young music entrepreneur and winner of the British Council’s International Young Music Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2008 (

Momo is a music consultant and co-founder of the “Boulevard des Jeunes Musiciens” (, the largest contemporary music festival in North Africa, featuring 50 bands over four days, and reaching a live audience of 130,000 people. The annual event showcases new talent from the worlds of hip hop, rock and jazz fusion from all over the region.

In January, Morocco’s culture minister Touriya Jabrane promised to introduce a range of measures to financially support Moroccan musicians, composers and the industry as whole.


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