Jouk Attmathil Al Bidaoui explores moroccan cultural heritage on stage
Sarah Melloul / Morocco
Sarah Melloul / Morocco
On July 13 and 14, 2018, the Jouk Attamthil Al Bidaoui company - or Bidaoui Representation Choir in English - showcased its Kabareh Cheikhats show at the Conserverie in Marrakech. During this event that took place in a former canning factory turned into an alternative cultural center, ONORIENT met those who are behind this strong citizen and artistic endeavor...
Jouk Attamthil Albidaoui (JAA) is an association whose aim is to preserve and perpetuate the performing arts heritage from Morocco and the Casablanca region. Its founder Ghassan El Hakim – a stage director and actor who is heading the "La Parallèle" art school in Casablanca – describes the association as a laboratory, a place of exchange bringing together individuals and actors coming from different neighborhoods.
"We find ourselves reading texts together. It's already quite a thing as there is a huge lack of freedom in the public space, we cannot express ourselves so we express ourselves in this way. Then, in the long term, we will be able to influence people's views and their relationship with Darija," says Ghassan El Hakim.
Restoring Darija's reputation
Thus, the language appear to be a major area of reflection in their different study projects, text sharings or translations. One project focused on the text “A Midsummer Night's Dream,” a play by Shakespeare translated into Darija and directed by Ghassan El Hakim, which later became the subject of a documentary called “Shakespear Al Bidaoui,” directed by Sonia Terrab.
Morocco is a multilingual country where issues related to language are of often sparking controversies. The new Constitution, approved by referendum in July 2011, updated the language status, recognizing both Arabic and Amazigh as official languages, as both are belonging to the Moroccan heritage. However, all the debates related to this linguistic question highlight the gaps between the official discourse and the different uses in the lives of Moroccan citizens. The recognition of Hassani – a language spoken in Southern Morocco – is questioned, as well as the use of French but also and above all that of Darija, as standard Arabic is not the first language of any Moroccan. How, then, can Darija be restored to its former glory?
Showcasing the language, but also exploring it in all its richness, twisting it, reinventing it, this are some of Ghassan El Hakim's wishes for setting up the Kabareh Cheikhats show (https://www.facebook.com/KabarehCheikhats/): "Our goal is that one day people will begin to take interest in our linguistic identity. We express ourselves better like that, in a mix of Amazigh, Arabic, French... We put Darija into French, as I just frenchified Darija...".
Playing the Cheikha, a tribute to femininity and Moroccan musical heritage
The exploration of the performing arts heritage is part of several projects of Jouk Attamthil al Bidaoui association (https://www.facebook.com/JAAcasablanca/), which carries out both archiving and performing activities. While the linguistic question remains a source of deep reflection, the association also strives to reflect on Morocco's musical heritage. In this sense, the Kabareh Cheikhats show was initiated in 2014 with the aim of paying tribute to the emblematic voices of this heritage, and more particularly to the cheikhattes: these singers and musicians performing Moroccan popular music.
With a dozen actors on stage, each one embodying a cheikha, this show helps us to reconnect with a musical repertoire that includes chaabi or Judeo-Moroccan music, and artists such as Zohra El Fassia or Bouchaib Al Bidaoui: a major singer of the aita genre and actor in popular Moroccan theatre plays known in particular for having played female roles.
When asked about his influences, Ghassan El Hakim evokes above all things "these women who raised us" and also "all these women who sing in weddings without being talked about". In short, it is not a question of celebrating specific female characters but all women on and off the stage. The show Kabareh Cheikhats is a result of a long research on performing arts and its heritage, it also puts light on the cheikhattes, these performing women who liven up daytime festivities or night parties and are sometimes despised in Morocco.
Finally, along many local artists and cultural stakeholders, Ghassan El Hakim shares a global desire to change the way we look at contemporary Moroccan popular heritage. Other projects such as the "Halfa" concert series restore popular music to its rightful place. This desire to explore contemporary Moroccan history is at the heart of a multitude of citizen initiatives involving other disciplines. Thus, we can also mention the Atelier de l'Observatoire, an art and research centre, which is leading a project setting up a museum in Casablanca based on the showcase of the collective memories belonging to each district.
Kabareh Cheikhats will be performed on August 31, 2018 at the Belle de Mai's cultural center in Marseille (France) and next October in Bordeaux during the international art festival.