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Between 1912 and 1956 Morocco was under the French and Spanish Protectorates. This brought a large number of European military, clergy and bureaucrats to Moroccan cities and peripheries. Of the many areas of European control, one was medical, bringing European hospitals, technologies and medical philosophies to North African bodies. Another area was musicological, with Alexis Chottin, the founder of the conservatory in Rabat, establishing a colonialist classification of Moroccan music. Chottin listed a sonic colonial binary, dividing Moroccan music into that of Bled el Mahzan (land of government and where the Sultan collected taxes with relative ease) and Bled el Siba (mountainous and Amazigh areas where the Sultan had less power).

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According to Chottin’s division the music of Bled el Mahzan had the following characteristics: melodic/urban, civilised, refined, comfortable among pillows, lulled by trickling water from fountains, time moving without distinction within warmth and darkness of patios. Bled el Siba for the Colonial musicologist represented: rhythmic/rural, primitive, uncultured, connected to nature, periodicity and cycles, seasons or day & night, work/migration.


By 1930 the French established the Berber Dahir which aimed to separate the Moroccan Muslim population into Arab and Amazigh, establishing separate court systems. The Dahir for independent Jewish legal status had passed in 1918. The danger of irreparable societal fissure posed by the separation of Muslim Moroccans by the Berber Dahir was one of the inspirations for the nationalist movement to organise and resist, leading to independence from the protectorates in 1956.

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