Dar Si Hmad for Development, Education and Culture is an independent nonprofit organization founded in 2010 promoting local culture and sustainable initiatives through education and the integration of scientific ingenuity in Southwest Morocco. We operate North Africa's largest fog harvesting project, providing villages with access to potable water. Our Water School and Girls' E-Learning Programs build capacity in the Anti-Atlas Mountains. Through our Ethnographic Field School, researchers and students engage with local communities in Agadir, Sidi Ifni, and the rural Aït Baamrane region for meaningful cross-cultural exchange.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Her name is Fatima and She is a Singer...

Her name is Fatima, she is the leader of a Berber women’s music group near Agadir. I invited Fatima and her group to Dar Si Hmad to share their art with American students from Quinnipiac University; the students were participating in our ethnographic field-school this past May. I called Fatima on the phone, introduced myself, our organization and our objective to facilitate cross-cultural exchange between American students and female Berber performers. We wanted to expose the students to local culture, arts and tradition and wanted the performers to be part of a contact zone, where more than one culture meet.

From her voice and manner of talking to me on the phone, Fatima seemed curious, filled with questions as to why an organization would be interested in their music and performance. These hesitant vibes which I sensed, if I can so say, gave birth to an anxiety that these women would never show up for the event. I called continuously for days to confirm our encounter despite the anxiety of her not knowing who I was. I could already visualize Fatima and her group playing their ravishing music at our space.

On the evening of the event, Fatima arrived, accompanied by five women and a male, their driver, who sat patiently in the room as they performed. I did not appreciate his presence and thought of him as an outsider, a distant figure in these women’s world. The women began to apply their make-up and get ready for the show. Fatima asked me to close the door and I asked every male in the room to leave, including the strange man that accompanied the group. Fatima told me, and I could hear the voices of the other women in the background, that he is allowed to stay, that he is “one of us.” What a strange surprise. It was then when I began to change my preconceptions of the man.

The women did not wait for us to sit down for the performance; it did not seem they needed an audience to mark the start of their instruments and voices. Though we, the audience, were scattered throughout the room, the moment the women began to play, their magic-like music charmed us all. Their unique Amazigh (Berber) music filled the air with positive, healing energy. I watched everyone in the room dancing with joy.

The American students danced to these Berber rhythms. The students were interested to learn more about their history as a group and the meanings of their songs. After the performance, Fatima, her group and our students engaged in a cross-cultural encounter where each was curious to learn about the other. The women felt they could not communicate because they could not understand or converse in English and forgot that the American students also could not converse in Berber. They were equal and agreeable on this, so they announced that their communication is best through music.

Since childhood, I have been attending Laabat music performances and I speak honestly when I say that they are pure and genuine stars. They have always charmed me with their pride, special charisma and unending courage. They joke and the presence of males does not bother them, an unusual behavior for females within a male domain: the public space. Female performers in Morocco cross the lines of gendered space. Their speech and laughter trespass the boundary that their patriarchal society has imprisoned them in.

Laabat is a tradition that we must value. This recent performance makes me wonder if there are young women who are still wanting to become Laabat. After deep thinking, I concluded that as long as these women exist, this art will always thrive.

Fatima Matousse,
Project coordinator & Language instructor