By Ellie Surman Marlborough High School, Los Angeles, California
One Friday night last June, I made my way through the crowd at a Mawazine concert. I was surrounded by other festival attendees -- my American friends, who were also studying Arabic over the summer; young Moroccans holding their phones high above their heads to record the concert; a grandfather asleep in the grass behind me; two toddlers and their mother, dancing.
In a taxi on the way home later that night, I wondered about the perspectives of the Moroccans around me. Why did they come, and what about everyone who stayed home? How might Mawazine compare to other music festivals in Morocco? And how have these festivals changed over time?
But let me explain how a girl from Los Angeles ended up at a concert in Rabat. The story begins more than three years ago, when I first started studying Arabic. I fell in love with the language immediately: its logic and organization, its swooping, curved letters, and its rich history and culture. My interest in Middle Eastern and North African music began from day one of Arabic class, when my teacher played “El Salamou Aleikom” by Hakim to help us learn the greeting.
As I continued studying Arabic the next summer in Marrakesh through the US State Department’s National Security Language Initiative for Youth program, I gained more familiarity with the music of Morocco in particular. In fact, I was inundated with Moroccan music: from the radio in the taxis I took to school, in my host family’s home, and at Jemaa el-Fnaa. As a result, I started to appreciate the diversity of the Moroccan musical tradition, much of which is multicultural and multinational. My host sisters introduced me to French and Algerian rappers, Moroccan pop, and even a song in Italian; at the same time, I participated in singing classes and attended a performance of Gnawa music in Essaouira. So when I began developing a year-long research project through my school’s Honors Research in Humanities program, I knew I wanted to study Moroccan music.
I returned to Morocco last summer to begin the first stages of this research project and continue my Arabic studies. I attended Mawazine, of course. I paid attention to festival advertisements, and eventually started collecting PDFs of posters. I chatted with musicians about their experiences making music in Morocco. I met a taxi driver who plays music for weddings and talked to him about my project. I watched footage of concerts with my host mother while I worked on my Arabic homework, and then I compiled what I’d learned into a 10 minute presentation for class.
After being paired with a research mentor at UCLA and completing over 150 hours of research and language study over the summer, I began my project in earnest this fall. I’ve read the literature, designed a research plan, received approval from my school’s Institutional Review Board, and even given a presentation about music festivals in Morocco to my school community.
Now, I’m about to explore the questions I’ve been wondering about since last June through surveys and interviews. Until March 15, I’ll be collecting data from young Moroccans and musicians about their opinions on music festivals and corporate and government sponsorship in Morocco. Then, I’ll write my final paper and prepare a research poster on my results.
To get the most meaningful results, I’m hoping that as many people as possible can respond to the survey and/or sign up for a virtual interview. The survey is available in English, French, and Arabic, and it takes less than 20 minutes. Responses are completely anonymous, and the survey will remain open until March 15. So if you’re a Moroccan musician or young person (18-30 years old), please consider contributing to my research by filling out the survey, signing up for an interview, and spreading the word!