Little Village, "Interview: The Moroccan Rock of Hoba Hoba Spirit"
Little Village, "Interview: The Moroccan Rock of Hoba Hoba Spirit"
“Morocc’n Roll” is how Hoba Hoba Spirit has been billed for its show tonight at CSPS Hall, but don’t be fooled. This is not some slickly packaged world music.
This band rocks, plain and simple.
And they can rock as hard as they do because they know rock music inside and out, from the classics to metal to punk to indie. The band’s style, dubbed “Hayha” (loosely translated as “wild party music”), is suffused with the rhythms of Morroco’s Gnawa sufi musical tradition, but this doesn’t hem their rock fusion into one particular catchy sound, as is so often the case in world music trying to cross over to Western audiences.
Instead, Hoba Hoba Spirit take their music in whichever direction their sophisticated ear for rock and roll craves, proudly wearing their influences on their sleeve with song titles like “Radio Hoba” (a reference to The Clash’s “Radio Clash”) and “El Caid Motorhead.” The later song is in fact where the term “Morocc’n Roll” is taken from, not from the strategizing of some marketing firm.
“This is my rock and roll. This is Morocc’n Roll,” goes the refrain, and when heard in the context of the song itself (see the video above), you know this is no glib wordplay. These guys can shred. They own their rock and roll.
Reda Allali, one of the vocalists and guitar players of Hoba Hoba Spirit’s seven-piece act, as well as a weekly columnist for Morocco’s Telquel magazine, sat down with Little Village recently. He talked to LV about his passion for rock music, the late 90’s alternative music scene in Casablanca from which Hoba Hoba Spirit emerged, the struggles for self-expression musicians have faced in Morocco (the band’s bassist was among 14 metal musicians jailed in 2003 under accusations of practicing Satanism), and how he views the politics and music of Morocco today.
Little Village: Your band is very savvy to Western rock music. You go so far as to reference it directly in your lyrics and song titles. Who are some of the biggest influences on the band?
Reda Allali: Our band is made up of seven different people, so you will find all the influences, from the darkest death metal to the softest country music. But let’s give some names. Talking about the whole band, summing up its general opinion, you’ll find a lot of English bands — the Beatles, the Clash, the Stones, Led Zeppelin. You find American songwriters like Steve Earle or Springsteen or Neil Young. You’ll find new bands like Queens of the Stone Age, Metallica. Other rock influences, Iggy Pop. We are huge consumers of music.
That’s a great list. Steve Earle’s name stands out to me there just for being a little bit more obscure than the rest. How did you come across his music in Morocco?
I love him. I have loved him since [his show] Hardcore Troubadour. Even before with “Guitar Town.” When you love music, you look for music. It never stops. When we were teenagers, it was like mining for gold. Looking for vinyl or cassettes. It was very complicated, but still we did it.
We had a big radio show in Morocco run by a real rock fan who would educate us. He would sometimes broadcast the whole album sometimes and we would record it on cassette. This was non-commercial radio.
Especially this guy — he’s passed on now, rest in peace — this guy, he made us discover Steve Earle, for example. This guy basically gave us a lot of music. And then we looked for it. It was hard. But maybe that made us listen to more music than we do today.
Are there any acts you enjoy from the contemporary American rock music scene?
Queens of the Stone Age. I think they are very creative. Jack White. The Strokes. Not so much the news bands. These are the highlights for me.
Some people would argue that rock music has faded in its influence in popular music. Do you feel that way?
Yeah, but it’s cool to be there. Maybe it is our place. [laughs] We are happy to be in a niche. It is not obvious that we shouldn’t be. I think about 80 percent of the music consumption worldwide is R&B. It is okay to be sharing the 20 percent with jazz and classical and everything else.
There is a sentence from Kurt Cobain. “I sold thirty million copies of my album. If thirty million people understood me, I think they misunderstood me.”
You’ve stated that Mano Negra was a formative influence on the band. Was it emboldening to see a band like that who, like Hoba Hoba Spirit now, sings in different languages and freely mixes genres of music from different culture?
Yes. I saw them while studying in France, and I was always surprised that if you compared France and England… In England you have a big Jamaican community. They would play reggae and the white bands would get the reggae into the music, like The Police, The Clash, you know.
But in France, no. You have the big Arab community and big South American community, but it didn’t get into the French music. Then, this band Mano Negra, was blasting everything with high energy.
I loved the way they mixed the partying with politics and football. It didn’t stop. There weren’t silences in the a Mano Negra concert. When they didn’t know what to do, they would come back to some kind of jingle, “Mano, mano, mano, mano, mano, Mano Negra!”
Maybe it’s not the music I would listen to the most at home. As far as live performances are concerned, this is the way I wanted to do it.
That feel. There was a lack of air in the venue when they played. There were like… “You want ten, I’ll give you one hundred. You want one hundred, I’ll give you one million.” Like each concert was the last concert.
That style seems to speak to the name you give your own music, “Hayha.” It translates as “wild party music,” right?
Yeah. Originally. Hayha is a term that comes from hunting. When you go hunting, there are people who shout very loud to make the animal come out of the forest. And the hunters are waiting for them. This is the origin. Not a lot of Moroccans know that it comes from this. Then, it became a way to shout with percussion in the music of the countryside.
Then it became… You know when you lose yourself. You love your brothers. You swear and you cry. Everything. This exist even in Eastern Europe. Like Gogol Bordello. These kind of bands. You know, a little bit of chaos. Losing control. Looking for instability.
The late 90′s Casablanca scene which Hoba Hoba Spirit came out was very diverse. It involved hip hop, fusion rock, and metal. Did you originally start out as metal?
Some of the band were metal guys. I am not a metal guy. Adil [Hanine] played in metal and reggae bands. The scene was so tiny then that you could play in five bands. In the beginning we were so excluded like that, from the mainstream. It was so hard to find places to play.
All the hip hop, metal, rock, reggae, we were all in the same place. We were all underground at the beginning. That is how they used to call us. We shared the instruments. Today it is more separated.
There was a huge festival named the Boulevard des jeunes musiciens in that scene. For three days we would play. There would be a metal day, and a fusion day, hip hop day.
And then there was also the Theatre F.O.L where we played. Everyone was there hanging around there. Before rehearsing we listened to these other bands and it was inspiring. It was really a cool time because it was new in Morocco. It was the late ‘90s, and then it became big. It was not expected.
Your current bass player, Saad Bouidi, was among the 14 metal musicians arrested in 2003 in Morocco under charges of practicing Satanism. It seemed to be a rallying cry for Moroccans as far as the need to protect self-expression. Is that true?
Yes. We made concerts. We made demonstrations. We wrote about it. We asked French and Spanish and European journalists to write about it. If you look at it today, okay, it may not seem like a big deal to spend three weeks in jail, and, in a sense, it’s not a big deal.
But the fact was, we were musicians at this time, we were not… in the former regime, it was very hard on opponents, but as long as fun was concerned, it had never been a problem. And then they attacked us for what little we had. Like the precious thing we had was to listen to the music we loved, which was never questioned before. So everyone felt aggressed.
There was so much stupidity in this story that you could not bury it. Like a judge said I am going to give you six months in jail because you have a Metallica t-shirt.
After that… you can’t live the day after like the day before. Because now it’s you. All you want is to just listen to music. And play it. Then you realize how much stupidity surrounds you. How many people are manipulated.
They say, “They’re killing cats and drinking their blood.” And I was going to the police everyday, and asking, “Do you had proof? He’s my friend. He sleeps in my place. There are no cats. And how do you drink the blood of a cat? Explain to me, how do you worship Satan?”
They had nothing. They just had t-shirts. It was like Kafka. You have to react.
In the Casbalanca scene you were pegged as “too hip” by some. Yet you literally “rocked the nation,” right? You went out of Casablanca and into the small villages to play.
Yeah, that was the strategy of the band, from the beginning. We did not put too many conditions on the sound check, we wanted to play everywhere, no matter the condition. And that helped us.
A lot of Moroccans discovered rock energy through bands like us. And we wanted to get mixed with people. Escape from just the underground communities and go to traditional musicians. A lot of music got shared that way.
What do you think of the music scene in Morocco today.
People today are coming back to the way it was in the ‘80s. A lot of propaganda music. We feel less at ease than 10 years ago. Less energy. The problem of the copyrights, earning money from your music, killed a lot of bands.
We are still here because we’ve been here. It is hard today.
The amount of rhythm we have. The amount of melodies we have. You go to one building in Morocco, you find seven percussionists. Seventeen percussionists. We could do great things with that.
You know Jamaica is four million people. Casablanca alone is four million people. We have very rich grooves. But obviously they’re not interested in doing something the world could love.
I’m not talking about our band. [I mean] our rhythms. Our music has the same potential as samba music.
You’re currently touring the U.S. and you’ve toured here before. What are your impressions of music scenes you’ve come across here in the US.
This country, it sweats music. When you go to Austin and you see the statue of Stevie Ray Vaughn. And you go to New Orleans and you go to Louis Armstrong airport, and you go to New York, you see where CBGB’s was.
It’s great the way you glorify musicians and music.
You know, it’s like in the ‘50s when Elvis Presley was questioned about whether he should be filmed, under the belt, his hips, this kind of thing. That’s where we are in Morocco. That’s where we were when we started. There were questions on the Parliament on things like this, [things like] should they be banned?
So it is more comfortable, here. [But in Morocco,] it’s got more meaning, more impact. It’s more than just notes.