Hoba Hoba Spirit
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Hoba Hoba Spirit

Casablanca, Grand Casablanca, Morocco | INDIE

Casablanca, Grand Casablanca, Morocco | INDIE
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"Last Night Live: Hoba Hoba Spirit"

A mere 27 years after the Clash scored a fluke U.S. hit with "Rock the Casbah,'' the Casbah returned the favor Sunday evening at the Eisenhower Theater. As part of the Kennedy Center's "Arabesque" festival, Casablanca quintet Hoba Hoba Spirit played a short but exuberant set of what one song termed "Marock'n roll.''

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

There were glimmers of traditional Arabic music in Hoba Hoba's style, notably in the coiling vocal melodies of singer-dancer-percussionist Othmane Hmimar. But the group was not much like either Mali's Tinariwen, which adapts Saharan laments to electric guitars, or the Master Musicians of Jajouka, the Moroccan ensemble whose trance-ritual sounds struck the late-'60s Rolling Stones as proto-acid-rock. Instead, Hoba Hoba played a form of world music whose precedents were mostly Anglo-American.

The Clash seemed the essential forerunner to the band, which opened its show with a song that proclaimed "this is Radio Hoba,'' lightly revising the refrain of "This Is Radio Clash.'' Singer-guitarist Reda Allali's gruff delivery recalled Joe Strummer, and the group's melange of funk rhythms, shout-along refrains and spaghetti-Western guitar echoed the Clash's musical world-tour triple album, "Sandinista.''

English played a minor part in the lyrics, which were mostly in French and darija, a Moroccan dialect. Yet Allali knew enough of the local lingo to offer the usual rock-band exhortations to jump, dance and have a good time. He didn't really have to ask. Hoba Hoba Spirit's music wasn't surprising, but it was sharp, vibrant and very nearly universal.

-- MARK JENKINS - The Washington Post


"Islamism and Heavy Metal"

Islamism and Heavy Metal
By Mark Levine

Heavy metal has had a more powerful and controversial appeal than perhaps any other element of Western culture that has taken hold in the Muslim world. It might seem strange that a genre of music long associated with sex, drugs and even Satan worship should be popular in Muslim countries. But heavy metal can't be reduced to the "hair" or "glam" metal epitomized by one-time MTV staple bands such as Motley Crue or Quiet Riot. Instead, the much harsher sound of death, doom and other forms of extreme metal are winning a growing following across the Muslim world.

This is partly because the subjects these and other extreme metal bands deal with - death without meaning, the futility of violence, the corruption of power - correspond well to the issues confronting hundreds of millions of young Muslims today, the majority of whom live under authoritarian governments in societies torn by inequality, underdevelopment and various types of violent conflict.

As one of the founders of the Moroccan metal scene, the Sorbonne-educated Reda Zine, explained to me when I first met him: "We play heavy metal because our lives are heavy metal."

Middle Eastern metal isn't merely an outlet for youthful frustration. It offers fans a sense of community, "affirming life" through its seemingly morbid focus on death, creating a space outside of government control to express identities that don't conform to those sponsored or desired by undemocratic regimes and conservative religious establishments.

The characteristics that make metal increasingly popular across the Muslim world are the same qualities that have long made Islamist movements popular as well. And in a region with the world's highest percentage of young people (in many countries more than half of the population is under 25 years old) there is a huge constituency for the kind of community and solidarity that both metal and Islamist movements offer. In Morocco, for example, only two groups could bring 100,000 people into the streets: the rock band Hoba Hoba Spirit and the semi-illegal social-political religious organization, the Justice and Spirituality movement.

Certainly, the region's various religious movements have a far larger base of support than rock, metal, hip-hop or other forms of pop music, despite pop music's rapidly growing fan base. But with festivals in Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey and Dubai attracting tens of thousands of fans, and a growing list of music video channels catering to the youth demographic (Pakistan alone has upwards of a dozen 24-hour video channels), there's no doubt that rock music is playing an increasingly important role in shaping the identities and attitudes of young people around the Muslim world.

Historically, Islamists and metalheads have been on opposite ends of the political and cultural spectrum. Conservative religious establishments have supported and even encouraged crackdowns against the metal scenes in Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon and Iran. In Egypt's case, the Grand Mufti actually called for the death penalty for the hundred-plus metalheads arrested in 1997 in the region's first full-blown "Satanic metal affair," if the accused didn't repent from their "apostasy."

In fact, Middle Eastern metal was one of the first victims of such strategies of "repressive tolerance," as the German philosopher Herbert Marcuse labeled the phenomenon. The charges have been risible; evidence included Chicago Bulls caps (the bull horns were said to represent Satan) and ashtrays in the shape of pentagrams (in Morocco, no less, where the pentagram is on the nation's flag). But their impact was powerful. Indeed, musicians' reactions to the Satanic metal incidents tell us a lot about how deep the authoritarian culture is embedded in particular countries.

In Lebanon and Iran, however, such episodes did little to dampen the enthusiasm for metal. In Morocco fans actually fought back, staging mass protests, playing concerts in front of courthouses, and pressuring the government until the verdicts were overturned. Indeed, heavy metal is responsible for perhaps the Arab World's only successful civil protest movement in recent memory.

In recent years, most governments (with the exception of Iran and Saudi
Arabia) have grown more tolerant of their countries' metal scenes, although the price of greater freedom to play metal has often been a growing de-politicization of inherently subversive subcultures. Some governments even co-sponsor metal festivals (with an even bigger stake being taken by Arab and Western multinational corporations, who have equally little interest in encouraging dissent.) This is occurring at the same time that governments are intensifying crackdowns on other movements, particularly against young activists from Islamist groups such as Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood or Morocco's Justice and Spirituality movement.

Pitting two seemingly opposite poles of youth culture against each other is a time-tested strategy to divide and rule, but it's worked well in this case because the memory of religious support for the crackdowns against them is still fresh in the minds of most metalheads. Indeed, the few times I've managed to bring metalheads and young Islamists together in the same room it has been the metalheads who've squirmed in their seats, anxious to leave, while the religious activists -- many with the same biographies (college educated or MBAs, fluent in English and/or French, working in the IT sector) -- were happy to stay and talk.

What is increasingly clear is that heavy metal is playing an important and potentially crucial role in a region still dominated by undemocratic governments that routinely arrest and even torture people for expressing political or social views that deviate from the prescribed norm.

Perhaps this is why the emerging generation of Islamist activists has become far more tolerant of their metal-loving peers than were their elders. With everyone facing the same struggles against authoritarianism, an increasing number of religiously motivated political activists has figured out that, in the words of a 25-year old Muslim Brother in Cairo, "Only when I'm ready to fight for everyone's rights can I hope to have mine." In fact, most every religious activist I've met under 40 has answered an emphatic "Yes"
when I've asked them if one could be a metalhead and a good Muslim at the same time.

This belief is supported by the reality that the majority of metalheads I know consider themselves good Muslims; many even pray five times a day. As the teenage musician sons of jailed Egyptian presidential candidate Ayman Nour put it, "We love to go to the mosque for Juma' (Friday afternoon) prayers for three hours and then go play black metal for four hours."

Perhaps one reason for this dynamic is that the experiences and practices surrounding metal culture fulfill many of the same needs as religion. Sitting next to Reda Zine when he first told me why he loved metal was a young Iraqi Shia religious scholar, Sheikh Anwar, known as the "Elastic Sheikh" because of his willingness to combine western and Islamic ideas to better serve his Baghdad flock. As soon as Zine finished, he exclaimed, "I don't like metal; not because I think it's haram (forbidden), but because it's not my kind of music. But when we get together chanting and marching, banging our fists against our chests and pumping them in the air, we're doing metal, too."

Salman Ahmed, a Pakistani rock star and founder of the genre of "Sufi rock," agreed, explaining that one of the reasons he's received death threats from hardcore Islamists in his country is precisely that "we're competing for the same crowd." As important, however, is his revelation that many of the mullahs who publicly lash out at his group, Junoon, ask him for autographs and admit to knowing the words to his songs when no one else is around.

Most interesting, more than a few times, it has turned out that today's twenty- or thirty-something Islamists were yesterday's teenage metalheads. And the transition from one subculture to the other was often not as jarring as one might imagine; nor did it involve a move from the fantasy violence of extreme metal to the real violence of al- Qa'eda, as apparently occurred when a metalhead from Orange County, California named Adam Gadahn converted to Islam, joined al-Qa'eda and became the infamous "Azzam the American," appearing in numerous propaganda videos for the group.

At its base, a growing cadre of both metalheads and the progressive-minded young Islamists are searching for alternative yet authentic identities to those offered by sclerotic and autocratic regimes and a monochrome globalization.

Ultimately, the best exemplars of Middle Eastern metal and of activist Islam share many attributes: they look critically at their societies, refusing unquestioningly to buy into the myths and shibboleths put forward by political or spiritual leaders; they are positive and forward-thinking rather than nihilistic or based solely on resistance; they create bonds of community that stand against state-sponsored repression; and they reveal the diversity of contemporary Islam.


Mark LeVine is Professor of Middle Eastern history, culture and Islamic Studies at UC Irvine and author, most recently, of Heavy Metal
Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam (Three Rivers Press/Random House) - The Washington Post


"Rockin' The Casbah"

Rockin’ the Casbah
By STEVE DOUGHERTY
May 11, 2008

FROM his perch on a rooftop terrace near the crenelated western ramparts of the walled city, a visitor from England watched the sun set in spectacular display over the Atlantic Ocean. As it disappeared on the cloudless horizon, the sun’s rays cast a golden glow on a rising crescent moon decorated on the eve of the summer solstice by a silvery alignment of planets and stars.

“Nice touch, that,” quipped Bill Corbett, a 39-year-old London photographer, D.J. and music fanatic whose visit to Essaouira, an exotic, wind- and sun-swept Moroccan city on the northwest coast of Africa, for the 10th-annual Gnawa and World Music Festival, would prove a transforming experience. “This really is a midsummer night’s dream.”

And one with an exhilarating soundtrack — courtesy of 25 Moroccan Gnawa musical brotherhoods, whose exuberant, hypnotically rhythmic and joy-infused music drew an estimated 400,000 fans from Morocco and across North Africa, Europe and North America to Essaouira (pronounced ess-ah-WEER-ah) last June for the five-day festival. Midsummer revelers heard more than 30 other jazz fusion, rock, reggae, African, Brazilian, Afro-Cuban and hip-hop acts from more than a dozen countries — as well as Hoba Hoba Spirit, a crowd-wowing multilingual “Moroc ’n roll!” band from Casablanca — performing on nine festival stages scattered in and around Essaouira’s walled, maze-like medina.

Unlike festivals staged, à la Woodstock, in muddy, middle-of-nowhere pastures, or worse, in vast, overheated football stadiums, the Gnawa’s setting, in a small, friendly and almost impossibly picturesque, wind-cooled seaside city, is as magical and mesmerizing as the music.

“I thought about going to Glastonbury,” Mr. Corbett said of the popular rock festival outside London that was being muddied by cold, drenching rains as he spoke. A sharp-featured, good-humored fellow, my new-found friend was ensconced on the roof terrace at Taros, a watering hole popular among tourists and expatriates, as well as a surprising number of Moroccans who felt unconstrained by Islam’s admonitions against alcohol. “Why see a bunch of boring new rock bands when you can see amazing ancient ones?” he said.

He made a sweeping gesture that took in the stars, the moon, the walls of the ramparts silhouetted against the sky and the gleaming superstructure of the main festival stage below on the Place Moulay Hassan, Essaouira’s central square. “And in a setting like this?”

We were both still buzzing after catching an 11 p.m. concert by a Gnawa group led by the maalem (master musician) Abdenbi El Gadari, on a small festival stage in the Marché aux Grains (Grain Market), a square enclosed by colonnaded arches where, until little more than 100 years ago, slaves were bought and sold at auction.

A descendant, like almost all Gnawa musicians, of black African slaves who for centuries were brought across the Sahara to serve the sultans, pashas and wealthy families of Morocco, Mr. Gadari sat on a floor cushion at the center of a stage covered with lush, colorfully patterned Moroccan carpets. Arrayed around him were more than a dozen members of his musical brotherhood: drummers, steel castanet players, dancers and singers who wore ankle-length white satin robes and tasseled fezzes beaded with white seashells.

With the commanding presence of the American Delta bluesmen with whom he shares musical roots and mojo, the maalem thrummed and plucked bluesy figures on his guimbri — a three-string lute, much like a bass guitar — and sang a gospely call and response in a rich baritone.

The music built slowly to an exhilarating crescendo of intricate rhythms and cross rhythms created by propulsive beating on hand-held drums and large, tambourinelike bendirs, staccato hand claps and the incessant, syncopated clack and clatter of the steel castanets. As the spirit moved them, musicians put down their instruments and stepped to the front of the stage to dance, displaying footwork and moves that resembled those of their African-American cousins, from the Temptations’ stylized line steps and James Brown’s knee drops to hip-hop’s exaggerated lopping turns, as well as whirls, leaps, back flips and hussar-like two-legged kicks that defied choreographic categorization, not to mention gravity.

Like all Gnawa brotherhoods, Mr. Gadari’s group performed music that for centuries was played only in secret spirit-possession and healing ceremonies called lilas that have evolved from ancient African animistic and Islamic Sufi rituals. The brotherhoods continue to perform in such religious rites — though only in strictly private gatherings — in which conjured healing spirits are said “to mount” the possessed, who whirl and writhe in ecstatic trance, during which they often cut or flail themselves with ceremonial daggers or iron batons.

“To me, these spectacles are filled with great beauty,” Paul Bowles, the expatriate American composer and writer who spent much of his life in Morocco, wrote of often bloody ceremonies that most Westerners would find gruesome to behold, “because their obvious purpose is to prove the power of the spirit over the flesh.”

“YOU’RE American?” the unsmiling young Moroccan manning a closet-size shop in the Spices Souk demanded. I balked, wondering if it would be wise to say I was Canadian, as advised in a post on a travel blog by a countryman concerned, as I was, about anti-American sentiment stirred by the war in Iraq, 3,000 miles east.

Though not an Arab country, Morocco is a Muslim nation with a diverse population and a long history of tolerance and openness to the West. It is a monarchy, and its present king, the 44-year-old Mohammed VI, has liberalized many of his long-ruling father’s more repressive policies. A far less severe form of Islam is practiced there than in more conservative and puritanical Muslim countries, where an event like the Gnawa Festival — with music fans, foreigners and Moroccans alike, dancing and singing in the streets and where women wear whatever they want — would be unheard of, if not illegal.

But there were bombings in Casablanca in 2003 and 2007, and the State Department’s warning in its information about traveling to Morocco that “the potential for terrorist violence against American interests and citizens remains high” gave me pause.

But my anxieties evaporated as soon as I arrived in Marrakesh, where the cab ride from the airport to my hotel in the center of the red-hued medieval city was a senses-jolting experience. Minicabs and motorbikes sped through ancient streets filled with horse-drawn carts, donkeys laden with bulging sacks and pedestrians dressed as though they’d been plucked from the streets of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus.

The next day, after a two-and-a-half-hour cab drive west through forbidding desert landscapes where funnel clouds of brown dust rose in the distance and a goatherd sought refuge from the blistering sun in the nearly nonexistent shade of a lone and scrawny tree, I arrived in Essaouira. Its sprawl of white homes and apartment buildings was spread along low hills overlooking a broad, blue bay and the tall, sand-colored walls that enclosed the medina, the heart of the old city.

“You will love Essaouira,” a young Moroccan woman who is studying architecture in Florida assured me before I left. “It’s magical.”

I understood what she meant after a single afternoon and evening walking around the medina, with its dramatic, castlelike battlements where ramparts bristle with cannons pointing out to sea, its dark, serpentine alleyways, hidden courtyards, graceful archways and sunny, colonnaded squares and its souks selling spices, oils, aphrodisiacs and the makings of potions said to cast spells.

At first glance a bewildering maze of circuitous, tunnel-like side streets, the medina, commissioned by an 18th-century sultan and designed, by a French architect, Theodore Cornut, with two wide boulevards as central axes and thoroughfares linking three main gates, soon proved easily navigable.

From the humanlike cries of gulls reeling in the cloudless skies and the cooling Atlantic trade winds whistling through the streets and rustling the crowns of the ancient palms, to the staccato chatter of street musicians’ steel castanets and the muezzin’s musical, mystical call to evening prayers, the city was alive with sound even when the festival stages stood silent.

After an hour of aimless wandering, I found myself in the Spices Souk, where the young merchant demanded to know if I was an American.

“Yes,” I finally replied. “I’m from New York.”

“You came all this way to visit my country?” the man exclaimed. With that, he poured heaping tablespoons of powdered saffron into a plastic bag and handed it to me.

“This is a gift — for America,” he said with a smile. “Here. Take it. And now come in for a glass of tea.”

“I was 19 and a hippie among thousands of them who came to Morocco in those days,” Loy Ehrlich, a French guitarist who is an artistic director of the Gnawa Festival, recalled of his first pilgrimage to Essaouira in 1971.

Then an out-of-the-way, off-the-tourist-map town with no rail or regular bus service, no good roads to accommodate it if there were and only a handful of hotels, Essaouira, formerly known by its Portuguese name, Mogador, was beloved by Moroccans for its beauty, its near-perfect climate — even in the depths of the African summer when the interior swelters, ocean breezes sweep clouds from the sky and keep the so-called Windy City pleasant in the day and cool at night — and its friendly inhabitants. (“Essaouira people always smile,” said a Gnawa fan from Fez).

Artists like Bowles, who visited in 1959 while recording Gnawa music for the Library of Congress, and Orson Welles, who spent nearly two years there off and on in the late 1940s and early 50s filming “Othello,” using the city’s ramparts, hammams and arched gateways as a fitting North African backdrop for the tragedy of the Moor, were also charmed by the city’s beauty.

But it was a sojourn by Jimi Hendrix, the guitar idol who vacationed in Essaouira in 1969, a year before his death, that inspired visits by Mr. Ehrlich and countless other musicians and fans, many of whom believe that Hendrix’s song “Castles Made of Sand” was inspired by Borj El Baroud, the ghostly, turreted remains of a Portuguese fort decomposing off the beach south of the city. Like most of the legends surrounding Hendrix’s brief visit, when he supposedly spent weeks jamming with local musicians and fathering children among his many lovers, the story is a pipe dream. Hendrix, who arrived without a guitar and spent a single night or two in the Hôtel d’Îles with his girlfriend, recorded the song two years before he arrived in Morocco.

It was Hendrix’s star that Mr. Ehrlich followed to Essaouira. But it was Gnawa music that transfixed him when he arrived. Terminus of the ancient desert trade routes to Timbuktu and sub-Saharan Africa, where the Gnawas’ enslaved ancestors had their origins, Essaouira remains home to the largest concentration of the musical brotherhoods in Morocco.

“When I first heard Gnawa, it was like a discovery, like something was revealed to me,” Mr. Ehrlich said. “I felt the power of the music and its connection to the blues. The Africans who were brought to America created the blues; those sent to Morocco created Gnawa. It was like two worlds mixing — the African and rock ’n’ roll.”

Performing on the third night of the festival with a group formed for the occasion in homage to Hendrix, Mr. Ehrlich led the Band of Gnawa (after Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys), a cross-cultural mix of musicians playing electric guitars, guimbri, bendirs, electric keyboards and castanets, through renditions of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” (with a maalem in emerald satin channeling Jimmy Page on his guimbri), as well as Hendrix’s “Stone Free” and, yes, “Castles Made of Sand.”

“In a crazy world where rich and poor, black and white, Christian and Islam are divided,” Mr. Ehrlich said, “musicians try to create something to unite the world.”

In keeping with that creed, he rewrote the refrain of a familiar Beatles singalong. “Come together, right now,” the vast crowd gathered on Place Moulay Hassan sang along with Mr. Ehrlich’s Band of Gnawa, “Essa-Weer-Ah!”

“IT’S positively biblical,” Bill Corbett marveled on the last day of the music festival as he sat in the shade of a tree outside L’Horloge, a popular cafe on a side street near a graceful clock tower. “Everywhere you look you see Marys and Josephs and wise men.”

He was watching the passing scene of colorfully turbaned men in ankle-length tunics, caftans and djellabas; brightly robed women, some in burqas and niqabs, some veiled and others with their hair wrapped in elaborately rolled silk head scarves (hijabs). Mr. Corbett, who arrived from England wearing a T-shirt and cutoffs, now looked quite New Testament himself in a long, white hooded djellaba, a knitted skullcap and sandals.

Besotted by Essaouira’s beauty, he would extend his stay for a week after the festival ended, fall in love with a Muslim woman and return a month later to court her and to explore the possibilities of starting a business exporting Essaouiran argan oil to Britain.

“I came for the music,” he said, “and found the magic.”

A WORLD OF MUSIC, AND A BEACH

The 11th edition of the Gnawa Festival (www.festival-gnaoua.net) will take place June 26 to 29. Admission to performances on outdoor festival stages in and around the medina is free.

Visas are not required for Americans traveling to Morocco, but visitors are advised to check the State Department international travel information online at travel.state.gov for up-to-date security information.

While almost all Moroccans speak French, many also speak English.

Essaouira is a small city with limited hotel accommodations; unless you are willing to barter with residents for spare bedrooms or sofa space or to sleep on the beach, be sure to book early. Most accommodations are sold out well before the festival begins, but you’re bound to see dozens of men and boys shake key rings at passing cars as they come into town, a signal that they have rooms to rent.

Because Islam takes a dim view of alcohol, it is kept out of sight, served only in hotels and restaurants that cater mostly to tourists, and never in sidewalk cafes or restaurants. Brown-bagging is almost unheard of and no beer, wine or liquor is sold at festival concessions, with the happy result that the high spirits of Gnawa are generated by the music and not the bottle.

Even so, the large festival crowds coursing through the narrow streets of a city with chronic poverty and unemployment attract pickpockets and drug dealers among other petty criminals.

GETTING THERE

Royal Air Maroc (www.royalairmaroc.com) flies from Kennedy Airport to Marrakesh through Casablanca. Fares for the festival week start around $1,450 round trip.

Essaouira is a three-hour bus ride from the Marrakesh rail station on the Supratours (www.supratours.ma) express bus. At festival time the fare is 65 dirhams, about $8.65 at 7.5 dirhams to the dollar; no reservations are taken. Taxis from the Supratours bus terminal usually make the drive in less than three hours for the equivalent of about $50.

At Bab Marrakesh, the main gate to the medina, porters will load your bags into pushcarts and guide you to your hotel in the medina for 40 dirhams.

WHERE TO STAY

The chief attractions at La Casa Del Mar (35, rue D’Oujda; 212-68-94-38-39; www.casadelmar-essaouira.com) are dramatic views from the whitewashed roof terrace of sunsets and offshore rock outcroppings. While clean and affordable (doubles in high season start at 750 dirhams), this small bed-and-breakfast is in a sector of the medina behind the crumbling north ramparts, where visitors should be cautious after dark.

The Palais L’Heure Bleu (2, rue Ibn Batouta; 212-24-78-34-34; www.heure-bleue.com) offers spacious, sumptuously appointed rooms, fine courtyard dining (prix-fixe dinner is 60 euros) and a rooftop swimming pool, as well as a hamman, Morocco’s version of a Turkish steam bath. Doubles from 300 to 540 euros.

With its stone archways, lush courtyard and wrought-iron balconies, the Riad Al Madina (9, rue Attarine; 212-24-47-59-07; www.riadalmadina.com ) looks like a colonial-era haven that might have inspired Graham Greene. Doubles are 814 dirhams.

Riad le Grand Large (2, rue Oum-Rabia; 212-44-47-28-66; www.riadlegrandlarge.com) is, despite its name (the big big?), a small hotel with friendly management and quiet, simply furnished rooms. Doubles from 550 dirhams, with breakfast.

Villa Maroc (10, rue Abdellah Ben Yassin; 212-24-47-31-47; www.villa-maroc.com) features simply furnished but charming rooms with wood-beam ceilings, common rooms with fireplaces and a roof terrace overlooking one of the main Gnawa Festival stages on Place Moulay Hassan. Doubles from 950 dirhams.

WHERE TO EAT

Le Mogadorien (7, place Chefchaoni; 212-24-47-49-50; www.lemogadorien.c.la) is an inviting, well-lighted grotto of graceful archways and comfortable dining alcoves serving traditional fare, including excellent tagines, fish soups and colorful salades Morrocaine. The three-course menu is 175 dirhams. Alcohol is not served.

Taros Cafe (2, rue de la Skala at Place Moulay Hassan; 212-24-47-64-07; www.taroscafe.com) is housed in a restored mansion, complete with a dark-wood library-cum-dining room. It is better known for its music than its food ( I had soggy prawns, an O.K. Moroccan salad and crème brûlée); meals cost 250 to 300 dirhams. On the rooftop terrace, rocking American music by bands and D.J.s helps make this perhaps the most popular bar in town.

Dar Loubane (24, rue de Rif, off Place Chefchaoni; 212-24-47-62-96) offers wonderful beef curries (95 dirhams), fish tagines (115 dirhams) and Moroccan salads (42 dirhams) in an eccentric setting: the courtyard of an 18th-century mansion filled with kitschy, eye-bending artwork. Much of it was collected in the flea markets of Paris by the Casablanca-born proprietor, Jean-Claude Dulac, gregarious host to lively gatherings of the young and hip, locals and tourists alike.

Cafe L’Horloge (Place Chefchaoni; no phone) provides a shady refuge from the heat and tumult of the medina. The service is friendly, if not exactly like clockwork; a cheese omelet and sweet mint tea set me back all of 25 dirhams.

Snak La Mouette (110, rue Mohamed Ben Abdellah; no phone), one of countless storefront snack shops in the medina, was a favorite of locals and festivalgoers, many of whom lined up at 2 a.m. for delectable post-concert chicken and pepper sauce baguettes (35 dirhams).

STEVE DOUGHERTY has written extensively on popular music, including an article on Bob Dylan’s Minnesota for the Travel section.
- The New York Times


Discography

*Hoba Hoba Spirit (2003)
*Blad Skizo (2005)
*Trabando (2007)
*Al Gouddam (2008)
*Nefs & Niya (2010)
*Marock’n Roll: The Greatest Hits of Hoba Hoba Spirit (2011) [Free ZIP download: http://bit.ly/MarockNRoll]

Photos

Bio

Based out of Casablanca, Morocco, HOBA HOBA SPIRIT is Reda Allali (lead vocals/guitar), Anouar Zehouani (vocals/guitar), Adil Hanine (drums), Saad Bouidi (bass), Othmane Hmimar (vocals/percussion) and Abssamad Bourhim (backline/guitar).

Fusing rock, reggae and gnaoua, HOBA HOBA SPIRIT has emerged as one of Morocco’s most popular acts since forming in 1998. In his book Heavy Metal Islam (Crown Publishing, 2008), Dr. Mark LeVine declared Blad Skizo, the debut studio LP of Hoba Hoba Spirit, to be “one of the best rock albums in a long time.” Trabando, the group’s second studio album, also has been critically acclaimed: in 2008, Trabando won the Moroccan Music Award for “Best Album of the Year,” and “Best Single of the Year” for their hit, “Hoba’s Back.” Legendary British producer Justin Adams (Robert Plant, Brian Eno) mixed the band’s third LP Al Gouddam (2008), and produced their fourth album Nefs & Niya (2010).

As one of the most veteran rock bands in the region, HOBA HOBA SPIRIT frequently performs (often as the headliner) at the country’s major festivals, including the Mawazine Festival in Rabat, Timitar Festival in Agadir, and L'Boulevard in Casablanca. As Dr. LeVine notes in Heavy Metal Islam, “Rock groups like HOBA HOBA SPIRIT can bring 100,000 people to a concert.” This is an amazing feat for the Moroccan music scene, especially considering that in 2003, two members of the band were arrested for playing heavy metal (with a different band) and falsely accused of practicing Satanism. The whole ordeal ended with the charges being dropped, and the band performing at a “Metal Against Terrorism” concert in Casablanca.

HOBA HOBA SPIRIT frequently tours in Western Europe, often playing shows in France, Belgium, Switzerland, The Netherlands, England and Spain. In 2009, the band played their first show in the United States, to a capacity-crowd at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. as a part of the Arabesque Festival.