Sunday, August 1, 2010


The work of Moroccan artisans fuses Berber traditions with Arab, Jewish, Andalusian, and other European influences. The artisans mix local resources like stone, wood, metal, mineral and clay deposits, and supplies of leather and wool with imports such as marble and silk. Techniques are passed down through special guilds where a master instructs apprentices. Designs combine Arabic calligraphy, abstract geometry, zigzags, triangles, and squares of Berber origin. Artisans include: builders, decorators, tile makers, wood and stucco carvers, metal workers, weavers, and embroiderers. Put all of these artisans' work together and a beautiful environment is created. The Moroccan souks are full of ceramics, jewelry, clothing, and leather products made by these skilled artisans.

Buildings conform to a basic square or rectangle with an open court concealed from the outside by high walls. Three major crafts decorate and furnish Moroccan architecture. Woodwork, craved plaster or stucco, and ceramic tile work called "Zellij."Cedar wood from the forests in the surrounding mountains is used for woodworking. "Mashrabiyya" is an open work lattice of small turned pieces of wood joined by patterns. This lattice serves many purposes including: control of airflow, light filtration, and a separator of private and public space. Wood is used for frames, furniture, boxes which are often decorated with inlays of mother-of-pearl, copper and silver wire. Painted wood is very common and accents doors and furniture.
Carved stucco is extremely difficult to create, but the spectacular results can be seen throughout Morocco.
Metalwork is prevalent in architecture and furniture. Doors have knockers, wrought iron decorates windows, and teapots are made of silver and pewter. Beautiful jewelry is also made out of Morocco's metal.
The music of Morocco tells its stories. Political and social themes are expressed through Moroccan music. Moroccan music is ritualistic, celebratory, and social. It provides a vehicle for disseminating news to generations of rural dwellers who may have never learned how to read or write. Intoxicating rhythms hang in the air and range from Arabic Pop(chaab) to snake-charmers' obe-like "raita," to the call of prayer(muezzin) from the mosques.
The Gnaouan people are descendents of slaves captured by the Arabs in the 17th century and brought across the Sahara for trade to serve the sultans in Morocco. Gnaouan music is made up of call-and-response, blues, and its instruments. Its peristant rhythms of the metal castanets(qraqeb) is hypnotic. Tassels often swirl from the musicians caps and the groove induces a trancelike state. This music isn't solely for entertainment, but is deeply spiritual and has a healing purpose derived from the Sufi traditions of Islam and ancient sub-Saharan African rituals.
The Sahara nomads or "Blue Men's" music hypnotizes by using the drums.

Berber women weave blankets, rugs, bags, scarves, and clothes by using natural wool and vegetable dye.
Clay is fired in the kilns in the workshops of Fes. Fes is the center of pottery in Morocco. Polychrome decoration has simple borders and geometric motifs painted in green, blue, and yellow. Berber pottery uses brown and red clay to create unglazed items with simple designs using vegetable based colors.
The "jellabah" is a traditional robe with a pointed hood worn by both sexes, young and old. These are made in the souks out of wool or homespun yarn.

Tanneries transform animal skins into soft leather by using a four step process using ammonia, pigeon poop, washing, and dye. Camel, sheep, and goat are used for shoes, bags, cushions, and book covers. A rainbow of Morocco's traditional "slipper" can be found in every souk. The leather "babouche" is worn by both sexes of all ages. Styles range from pointed to round toed.

I admire the craftsmanship of the Moroccan artisans. I cherish their artistry and love that it is such an integral part of their culture.

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