Tribute to an Ancient Moroccan Traditional Music, Al Ayta



Well known Moroccan poet and writer, Hassan Najmi, talked to an Al Akhawayn audience about “Oral Poetry in Morocco: the Art of Al Ayta as an Example” on October 19, 2012 during a lecture organized by the student-run club Writers’ Circle.

“Holding this activity at Al Akhawayn University given its good reputation and academic status is in itself a good initiative by an institution to pay tribute to the art of Al Ayta, especially that the event is organized by a group of young students whom I commend for their initiative” said Najmi. 

“This event is a great opportunity to enlighten young students about the roots of this art, its colors, and its themes,” said Latifa El Mortaji, Assistant Professor of English Composition at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, and advisor to the Writers’ Circle. “Al Ayta is a famous ancient and deeply rooted Moroccan art form known for its oral poetry, and it is one of the first of all popular types of music to exist in Morocco.” 

The talk given by poet and writer Najmi displayed the art, history, structure, and characteristics of the art of Al Ayta to an audience of students, faculty, and staff. He defined the word “Ayta” whose origin comes from the Arabic word “call” or “cry”, also referring to an incident, which represents a Moroccan oral popular traditional musical singing rooted in the Arab tribes that settled in Morocco in the late 11th century. Al Ayta as an art, according to Najmi, is based on anonymous oral poetry that conveys social and human messages, and denounces injustice and tyranny. It follows special standards and structures depending on which of the nine following geographically-based categories it belongs to:  Rharbawiya, Zeiriya, Melaliya, Hawziya, Chiyadmiya, Marssawiya, Filaliya, and Hassbawiya or Abdiya to which the musical band Oulad Ben Aguida belongs who performed in Al Akhawayn’s Grand Auditorium after the talk. 

Al Ayta is part of the rich cultural and musical heritage of Morocco where more than 52 types of oral expression exist,” said Najmi. “Al Ayta is a structured singing composed of poetry, music, and performance. Its poetry is anonymous but reflects rich, innate, simple, and impulsive words related to the environment surrounding us.” Najmi defined on Al Ayta songs to be strong words.

Audience questions centered on the different types of Al Ayta, their similarities with other music types, the oral heritage dimension, and the necessity to save such heritage. In his answers, Najmi stated that a national conference on popular culture in Morocco organized  by the Union of Moroccan Writers in the spring of 1981 and which was attended by national and international researchers was a landmark event which brought new insights to the field and legitimized this type of academic pursuit and removed it from the sphere of ideological instrumentalization. The interest he developed led him to a doctoral dissertation on this art form, which, along with other types of poetry and music, is the expression of the identity of several millions of Moroccans who also cherish Andalusian, Malhoun, Amazigh, Hassani, and other various folkloric music. "Al Ayta is also part of this treasure, of our history, of a poetical memory, of our identity, and of the Moroccan musical construction at the level of melodies and percussions, and all this needs to be recorded" said Najmi

Hassan Najmi was born in 1959 in Ibn Ahmed, Chaouia, in Morocco. He published nine collections of poems, three novels, and eight books of essays and criticism.

He worked for many years as art editor of Al-Ittihad Al-Ishtiraki newspaper. He was President of the Moroccan Union of Writers from 1998 to 2005. He is currently general manager of the Book and Publications Department at the Moroccan Ministry of Culture. 

His work is translated into French, English, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Greek, and Farsi. Many of his poems were published in European poetry reviews in Spain, Italy, France, and England. Selections of his poetry were also included in French, German, Spanish, and English anthologies of Modern Arab poetry.