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ISSUE 120 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/27/2006

Moroccans share music, dance

By Anne Torkelson
Arts Editor

Friday, October 27, 2006

B’net Houariyat, a six-woman group of Moroccan dancers, singers and percussionists, treated 26 students to an informal performance and master class on the afternoon of Thursday, Oct. 18. Entering Dittmann’s Studio One in traditional costumes, the artists beat out rhythms and sang a message meaning “We are happy, glad to be here. We are asking good spirits of the country to protect us and give us good moments together.”

The group’s name means “The Daughters of the Houara,” and its members are from Marrakech, Morocco. They perform traditional music from the Houara region in southern Morocco, as well as centuries-old Berber dances. B’net Houariyat has toured in many European countries, and St. Olaf was their first stop on their first visit to America.

All of the women played percussion instruments, called douzan, and sang about subjects such as religious life, family, community, social issues, beauty and love. One woman, Khadija El Ouarzazia, led the group. The first piece they performed was a song in the Hamada style, which is characterized by a call and response structure, forced emission of the voice, pentatonic scale, complicated rhythms and a final rhythmic-dynamic crescendo.

Some songs featured a solo dance. One member would dance back and forth in front of the other musicians with spinning movements that featured the hips and feet.

The Moroccan women weren’t the only ones who danced, however. Professor of Dance Anne Von Bibra expressed the students’ wish to learn some of the dancing, and B’net Houariyat happily complied. This was no typical master class, however, but a lesson in learning purely by imitation.

B’net Houariyat placed the students in a large circle. One or two soloists danced in the center and pulled students in to join them. Aleks Pfaffe ’10 was one such student. “It was kind of a new experience than what I’m used to,” he said. “I do a lot of swing dancing and ballroom. [The dancing had] more musically complicated rhythms and hip movements – usually that comes a little more naturally to girls, so I had to kind of step outside my comfort zone.”

Despite the language barrier, the women playfully and energetically showed the students different movements and invited them to participate and improvise. They encouraged those not dancing to clap and stomp their feet in rhythm and to join in the response part of the song. The women pulled more and more students into the circle, and soon everyone was dancing.

However, no students ventured the dancers’ somersault finales.

The group dancing was done to a type of music called Chaabi, which is the most popular type of dance and music in Morocco. Chaabi is a modern style of music that emphasizes the soloist’s voice and can include “aita,” a feminine seduction call that involves swinging the hair around the head.

Chaabi is used for every occasion, including the birth of a child, a return from a pilgrimage, weddings, engagement parties and male circumcisions. “Every happy occasion is a community occasion,” said Professor of Sociology Samiha Peterson, who helped bring the group to St. Olaf.

Chaabi is not only found at special occasions but is also spontaneous. After a meal, Moroccans will often start the rhythms using the table or utensils like cups, and get up and dance.

B’net Houariyat gave an evening public performance, also in Studio One, with the same energy, joy and audience participation that students enjoyed that afternoon.

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