The most striking feature of this genre is the context in which it manifests. It used to be performed by warriors, to reclaim their lands from the grip of Portuguese colonies, or as a war cry destined to flaunt their power and courage in the face of belligerent tribes. However, these musical performances were also a symbol of peace and hope, as their occurrence implied a moment of truce amidst times of political instability.

But like most native musical genres, Ahyyad was not strictly a war-related performance. In times of peace, the warriors resume their mundane agricultural activities all throughout the year. They become shepherds, farmers and lovers again, and so the themes and the performances vary according to the realities they wish to decry and the stories they want to tell. Composing a few verses, fidgeting with a flute and singing collectively was a relief from the tedious nature of their daily activities. During summer, at the very end of the farming cycle, Ahyyad becomes a music of festivities, unions and celebration, an occasion for the most skilled musicians to make an impression.

In the 20th century, the French protectorate helped to usher this musical genre into semi-professionalism, contributing to the popularity of specific troops. The trend subsisted after Morocco’s independence, and the performances became a recurrent feature in nationalistic parades.  Nowadays, the initial context has evolved but the musical tradition remains. The shift in local economic activities, the regain of a political stability and the increase in immigration tendencies changed the social dynamic and its use for music, therefore endangering the transmission and the authenticity of this genre. Each tribe used to have their very own “warrior bards”, yet nowadays, Ahyyad Ait Mimoun and Ahyyad Massa are two of the few remaining groups.

 The performances are usually opened by a long introduction led by a flute and naqus, gradually warming up to percussion, before picking up the rhythmic pace.

  • Vocals: The Rays, the troupe leader, guiding the musicians, marking the cues for the claps and the jumping with vocal signals.
  • Percussion: Tallunt, Bendir, Naqus, Claps, stomping on a wooden platform (the belgha is enhanced by an additional layer of rubber)
  • Flutes - Typically a shepherd’s companion, this wind instrument is becoming very scarce, as local rural activities shift.


Ahwash refers to village dances and participative music, where the focus lies on the energy created by call-and-response group chants and hand drums (bendirs).The name Aḥwash comes from "ḥush" (a group or a mob) in Arabic and "asarag" in Tachelhit. That is, the yard devoted to collective dances, accompanied by music and song, celebrating all the major festivities and social events. It is an art consisting of rhythmic construction, dance and poetry. In general, it is a performance of dances, poetic improvisations, percussion and individual and collective songs which is an integral part of the oral culture of the chleuhs of the Grand Atlas and the Souss Massa Daraa region. This subgenre, especially the one led by female musicians, is on the verge of extinction. The female troupe of Tiznit is one of the last standing protectors of the ahwach heritage.


Taneguift is the more ceremonial aspect of the genre. It is a repertoire of wedding songs and chants, destined to escort the new bride out of her parents’ home. The songs carry profound emotions of love and attachment, and are still to this day very powerful moments for Amazigh mothers, as a poignant reminiscence of a separation that is as yearned for as it is heart-wrenching. The most recurrent themes are tear-jerking odes to motherhood, uncorrupted love, and the pristine beauty of a new bride. Wedding Islamic hymns (e.g. the well-known Sla w Slam)  are a relatively recent introduction, labeled by the musicians themselves as “modern” additions to the original texts.


Religious and spiritual chants, here characterized by an abundance of islamic references and repetitive psalmodic chants. The troupe of Tiznit is very attached to this aspect of their art, and regards them as moments of spiritual and religious enrichment and perennity.


The colors blue, yellow, red and green are omnipresent in female Ahwash attire, ornamented with abundant silver and coral jewelry, impressive rings and sheer black veils to conceal the face. The adepts of the genre are open to light modifications regarding the fabric or the individual aesthetic choices of the outfits, but are intransigent when it comes to these essential elements of their artistic and cultural identity. 


  • Tambourines -- Tallunt, Bendirs, Tara
  • Gangah -- A strong, rhythmic drum
  • Ribab  -- multi-stringed instrument  strummed with a single-stringed bow
  • Naqus -- Iron tube usually struck by two iron sticks to emit a sharp metallic sound. The Naqus player here went through many metallic sticks, before settling for two wooden drumsticks to create a more muffled sound.

Most of these sounds can also be generated from household utensils, which are in fact the original instruments used by families and friends during more intimate performances.


Genre : Tagnaouit, L’guelssa

Tagnaouit –

The Isemgan (a reappropriated term designating black slaves) genre is similar to that of the gnawas of Essaouira in terms of rhythm and sound. Drawing inspiration from the gnawas, African musicians and dancers, Aḥwach Isemgan dancers are characterised by synchronized jumps, clapping and rhythmic pounding of the ground. It is a dance of a religious and mystical nature, sometimes warlike. The repertoire is the culmination of a syncretic mix of African influences, Maghrebian music and Maraboutic culture.

The performance is complemented by various synchronized movements; curtseys, genuflections, shrugging, moving in rows and circles...

L’Guelssa  –

This number is the main specificity of the Isemgan performance. It is characterized by a circular seating arrangement, and puts emphasis on a variation from the traditional Guenbri, a sharper-sounding luth-shaped string instrument.

Themes -- Like most vernacular art, Aḥwach n'Isemgan embodies a reference of identity and a collective memory of ethnicity. Religious chants are nowadays a major element in the lyrical compositions of Isemgan, as they are for Gnawa.


  • Gangah  -- a big kick drum.
  • Qraqeb -- metal castanets, emitting a short and sharp percussion sound.
  • Naqus -- metal tube struck by two iron sticks.
  • Guenbri -- a three-stringed lute, specific to the guelssa.


The appellation of this genre refers to travelling poet-singers and choreographers. This poetic-musical genre is practiced by almost all the tribes of southern Morocco. Like their forefathers, these itinerant poets stem from a vast region centred on the Souss, i.e. the entire territory bounded by the northern borders of the Sahara, the Bay of Agadir, the southern High Atlas and the province of Ouarzazate.

The Rayes is therefore a poet as well as a musician, composer and choreographer. These qualifications allow him to carry out a complete musical session while mastering all its phases and aspects.He has a broad range of rhythms at his disposal, which he arranges depending on each phase of his performance. The base rhythm is delivered by the Naqus, in five alternating strokes, between the left and right hands.

The Rwayes are notorious for their miscellaneous and constantly evolving repertoire, ranging from a variety of village music, typically non-professional, to Coranic chants and Islamic recitations.Their poetry is generally composed of distichs; it exalts the beauty of nature and the grace of women, sings of love and heartache, praises God and his prophet.

The transmission of this art is compromised by a lack of digitalization and a depleted interest for the genre. The immersive, oral and hereditary methods of learning this music are no longer adapted to the current ever changing, fast-paced way of musical innovations.


  • An instrumental prelude with no accompanying percussion, intended to incite the audience while tuning the instruments It is performed by a flute and a naqus.
  • A lyrical introduction -- The rays sings an unmeasured chant, accompanied by a ribab. Each phrase is repeated by the choir.
  • A choreographic ouverture
  • An interlude song - Called Tamsust, these songs are usually ancestral snippets of the Amarg heritage.


  • Ribab-- A single-stringed instrument with a curved bow. The vibrating string is a wick of about fifty horse hairs.
  • Lutar-- A three-stringed plectrum instrument. The tablature varies according to the mode chosen by the musician; ashelhi, agnaw, m'akkel.
  • Naqus-- Iron tube struck by two iron sticks to emit a sharp metallic sound. Its two main rhythms alternate between the two hands in five strokes.