erasing clouds

Rock and Shock the Casbah: getting to know Moroccan music with Aisha Kandisha and Barraka Productions' Pat Jabbar

by Anna Battista

Desolate she is wearily walking. Angry she is malevolently trudging, bearing her invisible ill fate on her back like the monkey on the shoulders of heavily addicted mahjoun smokers. Thirsty, she is thirsting for a new victim. Walking through the barren plain of the desert, her eyes are the only visible tract of her face hidden behind a veil. She has pebbles for her eyes, pebbles which can scan the human soul and search through the desert to find her next victim. Nothing stirs her fear because she doesn't know what fear is. She keeps on walking and every creature pretends to be dead at her passing. All manners of animals jump and skip her as she slowly walks through the granulated sand. She drags herself leaving behind her almost imperceptible footprints, those of an animal, like a goat or a camel. Then she finally meets him, he's a young man, and she decides he will become her victim. The moment is pure scare, as she stares at him his eyes turn into two doomed black stars and the blood in his veins freeze, crystallise and splinters like fragile glass. The man falls at her feet. A faint smile creases the soft veil that covers her face. She is not a woman, she is just the shadow of a woman. She lasts longer than the sky, longer than human beings on this earth, for she is Aisha Kandisha and, in the Moroccan tradition, she is a she-devil, a jinnya, who can bewitch both women and men. Those who meet her are bound to be driven mad by her powers, they say that she can even freeze the blood running in your veins, but people under her spells can be rescued through trance ceremonies. Or so the story goes. But now let's leave behind the legend and meet another Aisha Kandisha, a more musical one if you want. Indeed, believe it or not, Aisha Kandisha is also the name of a Moroccan band.

As first thing, Pat Jabbar, member of Aisha Kandisha's Jarring Effects, also known as Aisha Kandisha or simply as AKJE and behind the record label Barraka Productions, home to various artists, such as Mara & Jalal, Sapho, Ahlam, Argan, Amira Saqati and Hamid Baroudi among the others, explains us a couple of things about Aisha Kandisha and this mysterious and spooky name, "When I started working with Moroccan bands, that was in '85, I was coming from punk and stuff like that. So the main aim was trying to find a political influence in a name to provoke some reaction, which might have been maybe not that heavy like we could do it here in Europe, but for Moroccans it is quite a brutal name to call yourself 'Aisha Kandisha'. Maybe it was a funny name, old people mostly get really scared when they hear that name, youngsters nowadays start laughing, but they feel a little frightened anyway. It's in between, we thought it was quite cool and we never sort of changed that name."

With all the experience he has acquired, Pat seems to be the right person to ask about the situation in Morocco regarding music of course and the latest influences and trends. "At the beginning of the '90s they were mostly into Rai music from Algeria and some Egyptian pop and music from the Gulf regions and also some hip hop stuff and funky music, disco music, mostly black music or influenced dance music, but you never heard a lot of guitars stuff or punk or rock or whatever. They were much more into African influenced stuff. Now maybe the situation has changed a little bit also with the arrival of techno and rave music. Now there is a little scene, you know between Goa, drum'n'bass and all that kind of stuff."

Pat is just back from Morocco and at present he's working in the studio, in Switzerland, still he has got a couple of news to break about the latest Moroccan 'divertissment', the "Morocco 2001 Festival," held from 30th December to 2nd January on an island, in the middle of a lake near the Sahara desert. "It was beautiful," he enthuses, "it was in the desert and they had many live acts from France, Germany, Sweden, from all over the place. It was sort of a Goa trance thing and there were really cool DJs, not very commercial, but it was cool!"

Actually it looks like Morocco is becoming rather famous for festivals this year: for instance, the "Festival Du Desert" was held later in January, in the western Sahara. Indeed Morocco might be a new country for novelties in music, especially if Moroccan radio had a different attitude towards the music they broadcast and left a wider space to less known and less commercial acts. Unfortunately, Pat destroys my hopes: "It's quite the same as here in Europe, I would say, they don't have any small or independent or pirate black radio or stuff like that. There are two main radio stations which youngsters listen to, one is Radio Rabat, and they play mostly European charts and dance stuff and from time to time Arabic Rai from Algeria, Morocco or Egyptian stuff, it's mainly commercial, I would say."

In Europe charts are often polluted by the bands signed to majors, I wonder if in Morocco it is the same thing: "In Morocco they don't have really charts like we do here, like sales charts, but they play what's happening in Europe. To me, personally, it's not really important to be in the charts, it's cool if you succeed, if you sell a lot of records it's always great because you get much more popular and you touch more people, but it's not the main interest or the main aim. At present it's all right to spread our music all over the place to people who get attentive, so that they will follow what we do."

Still, there is an aspect which is completely different in Morocco: record labels. "Record labels are mainly tape cassette labels," Pat reveals, adding "They give out cassettes because CDs are too expensive for the big masses to buy. They do sometimes CDs for export or press them in Belgium and France and sell them over there. The situation at present is still very Rai-influenced, mostly Rai or Shaabee, a traditional Moroccan music, and there isn't really a big market yet for fusion because I think that young people who would like to buy this kind of music, they don't have money to buy even tapes. So the labels focus on a level of buyers from let's say maybe 25 or 30 years old to more and this kind of people mainly buy Egyptian stuff or classical Rai from Algeria. That's Morocco, but I think it will open in three or four or five years, when this generation will be able to have the cash to afford the luxury of buying music." For those of you who don't know what's a Shaabee band, well, Shaabee stands for Moroccan dance-pop, while Rai is a mixture of Berber music and French rock 'n roll.

As contemporary Moroccan bands and music aren't exactly on the agendas of the greedy majors of the world, Morocco can still be considered, for most of the people, as an undiscovered and unknown source for music. Pat is giving us a very good insight in the Moroccan music scene and he seems to be expert enough to suggest which band we should start listening to, to build a solid knowledge of Moroccan music. "In Morocco there are so many different bands from all different kinds of regions and ethnical populations that it would be difficult if not impossible to indicate just one band. For example you have Berber music, but you have Berber music from Suss in the South of Agadir and you have Berber music from the Rif in the North, from the mountains. All these bands are very different, the instruments they use are different, the languages are different, it's hard to recommend a single band, I mean, yeah, there are so many good bands, male singers or female singers. Maybe the most popular band they had in the past was Nass El Ghiwane who started in the early '70s and worked out as The Rolling Stones in Morocco or Jil Jilal and all these quite political combos."

And yet Pat suggests that a good introduction to Morocco, to its culture and music, might be logging on, a very good site for all the latest from Morocco. Or you might as well try and read some stuff by Paul Bowles or Brion Gysin: Paul Bowles was an aficionado of Morocco and a lover of the place in the same way as Brion Gysin who, in the '50s, opened in Tangier a restaurant, The Thousand and One Nights, where he invited the best musicians of Jajouka and other traditional Moroccan bands to play. Both of them were acquainted with the she-devil Aisha Kandisha: Paul Bowles called Aisha Kandisha, Aicha Qandicha and noted that "a lot of people in Berrechid - the psychiatric hospital - are married to her." Brion Gysin called her "Ahserat, Astarte, Diana in the Leaves Greene, Blest Virgin Miriam bar Levy, the White Goddess." But, going safely back to our musical acquaintance Aisha Kandisha, let's see if the band has got a particular musical influence: "We don't really have influences, everything happens quite automatically, so maybe the biggest influence is Shaabee, a traditional Moroccan popular music from Marrakech. They play Shaabee all over Morocco, but in Marrakech, they have a particular kind of style. We quite like it, so we often go to the basics of Shaabee and, depending on the speed, the beat of the track, we go ever more or less in a dub or a drum'n'bass direction or more dance, between progressive house or techno hit stuff, so there isn't really I would say an influence, maybe just what we listen to all day, that might have a subconscious influence somehow!"

Aisha Kandisha seems to be influenced by so many kinds of music that their models are a collection of the most intriguing sounds around. It's in the same way that they compose their tracks as Pat reveals when he explains us their writing process. "It's sort of collective, I would say. You know, every track develops in a different way sometimes we just jam around and develop a bass line and from that bass line we go on and build a new track or we start with electronica, playbacks, and just put vocals on that and just try to rearrange it later with instruments. So there are different ways of processing the whole thing. A good track is very subjective because maybe one track is cool for one person, but it's bad for another, so it depends for what you are looking for. Maybe what we ourselves look out is to be all together more or less satisfied with a song and yeah, do the best to really have it in the way we want it and play maybe some different options for the shows. It depends if we work in the studio or if we work live."

Aisha Kandisha, present in their latest album, Koyo Habib an intergalactic blend of electronic, drums, tambourines, frantic rhythms, enchanting guitar chords, trance and techno Arabic vibes. Practically it's the stuff the hypnotics that make a trance DJ come are made of. Layered with traditional rhythms, their glossy beats piledrive your senses and your imagination directly to Morocco, even without the help of some good mahjoun. Koyo Habib includes a wide range of tracks, such as the kaleidoscopic "Koyo Koyo" that blends ethnic songs and spellbound electronic grooves, the Kraftwerk (with a nod to Tele:Funken) evoking "Chuppa Lol" and "Skoko Sankara," a tremendously enchanting techno ballad.

AKJE might not sound so famous and popular to your untrained ears, but they have quite a few albums out; they even worked with Bernie Worrell, founding member of Parliament-Funkadelic, on their album Shabeesation and collaborated with Umar Bin Hassam of Last Poets fame. So, Aisha Kandisha's music pay their dues to past masters of Moroccan music, though always looking ahead, making their music throb with the restless traditions of a culture that to our eyes of profane people, lacks any modern identity. But how would Pat define Aisha Kandisha's music? "That's quite hard, because I don't like these words, I hate that expression 'World Music' for instance, because every music is world music. Our music is a sort of fusion, Arabic dance fusion, we might call it like that maybe." And Pat is right: definitions are really made by music journalists to store in their brains, possibly in neatly separated compartments, the various bands they meet, interview, review and finally label. Besides, nowadays it is almost impossible to neatly define a particular band and their music, being music itself influenced by so many beats and rhythms.

Still it will be rather difficult for you to catch Aisha Kandisha's rhythms as at present they're not touring: "For the moment, we aren't touring. I'm not sure, but I think we might be on tour in May or June, for some festivals, probably in Germany, France, Belgium and Holland," Pat says, "Myself I'm still working on a project, called Dar Beida-- this is a sort of two year project. We wanted to do an instrumental chill-out album and with the time we got contacts with different singers so we invited different guests to participate on the album. At present I'm still mixing that and it will be out in three weeks!" Last July Aisha Kandisha were trying to collaborate with Asian Dub Foundation as well; I wonder if this project is being reconsidered or what? "That's the same thing we are working on now, that's Dar Beida. The first album, Impiria Consequential features mainly female guests and the second one, maybe we'll release it at the end of the year or at the beginning of the new year, will feature Asian Dub Foundation, Transglobal Underground, Fundamental and this kind of bands and artists, whereas Nina Hagen, Natacha Atlas, Sapho, Amina Annabi, Maha, Aisha Al Majjad, Vicky, B-Net Marrakech, Amina Ray and Makale will appear on the first one."

It's good to know that Pat is working on something which is going to sound in such an internationalist way and it's going to be so cool also thanks to all the bands and artists which will appear on the album. But these artists aren't the only cool people Aisha Kandisha have met: they also have quite a good fandom and the audience at their gigs is often really enthusiastic. "It's so different every time you play," Pat states, "It depends on the country or the city, on the composition of the audience, you know if you have mainly Moroccans or European listeners or what kind of people really communicating with the band, so every night, every show is completely different." And yet there is a country in which people warmly welcomed them: "France. France is very cool. Because we have a lot of Moroccan and Algerians in the audience," Pat explains, "So they make the show much more exciting and deeper because they participate and sing along and dance and sometimes it gets very hard. Besides European Southern countries such as Italy are much more open-minded and we have maybe a hotter audience there than in Sweden or Denmark where people are somehow a little bit shy or reserved!"

From being a punk playing saxophone in a ska band to work with Moroccan bands, the road is long and I wonder if there was ever a moment in which Pat wanted to quit the world of music: "No, I don't think, that never happened! That was good luck!" he claims, "It's really in the blood, so I think we'll do it we hope at least for the whole of our lives. Maybe not all the time with Aisha Kandisha, but at least I really hope to produce different kinds of bands. Personally as a producer and record label, my ambition is just to go on and make music I like. And if other people like it too, that's even better, but mainly we ourselves have to be really satisfied." And talking about producing records, on their latest album Aisha Kandisha were helped by Bill Laswell, but there is somebody else Pat would love to work with, as he reveals: "Bally Sagoo! We already contacted him and maybe one day we will do that! It would be great!"

When I ask Pat if he's got some nice, funny or intriguing story to tell me which happened to Aisha Kandisha, he beams, "So many!" and laughs at the impossibility of finding one which fits the short time we have. I'm afraid he will have to store it for another time and for another interview which, who knows, perhaps might take place in Morocco, perhaps during their next tour. Time to say goodbye, or rather 'Salam!' to Aisha Kandisha, no more a beautiful and scary she-devil, able to kill and fling you into a trance, but a band still able to cast a spell upon you with their poli-rhythms and magical soundscapes.

For more info about Barraka Productions go to

For further info about Moroccan music go to or

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Photo of Pat Jabbar taken by Anna Battista.