Rabat, Morocco- Popular culture is often viewed as being trivial and dumbed-down. However, its analysis is a worthy endeavor given all what it can reveal about society. Not only does it represent an exchange and negotiation between subordinate and dominant groups, but also popular culture moves within what the Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci calls “ a compromise equilibrium.”
In her book Gender on the Market, Deborah Kapchan tries to uncover the image of the chikha in the Moroccan society. Chikha is a female performer of music and dance. They are usually accompanied by a group of musicians that consists of three or four violinists, one lutist, and two drummers. Many Moroccan anthropologists consider chikha a character that brings controversy and ambiguity.
Kapchan argues that there is a clear link between the performance and the body of the chikha to that of Moroccan culture. She divides the body of the chikha into four parts:
The competent chickha: The chikhats master the moves of the dance, and therefore they are matlukat “easy going”. They are very much appreciated in public.
The nonsense chikha: Many Moroccans consider the lyrics of their songs to be nonsense. Many say “they drink wine and start doing nonsense.”
The exile chikha: This type of chikhats are socially constructed as the epitome of all that is low and nadir in society because of two main reasons. First, chikha represents the domination of men in society, due to events that happened during the colonial era when chikha was considered as a symbol of resistance. Second, a chikha is portrayed as spending her days travelling from one place to another. By doing so, the chikha loses not only a sense of family, but the sense of belonging to a community as well.
The metaphoric chikha: The chikhats are portrayed as supporters and carriers of men.
There is a well-known poem that goes:
Ila kunt hammala n-haml-u
ila kunt rakkaba n-rekb-u
khaif khaif la n-tayh-u
ila teyeht-u n-qad bi-h . hah
If I were a porter , I’d carry him
If I were a carrier (of children ) , I’d pick him up
I’m afraid ! I’m afraid that I’ll make him fall
If I make him fall , I can handle it . Yes
This poem tries to shed the light on the hidden role that women play in society. A hammala is female porter who is able to bear both physical and mental burdens.
During the protectorate, courageous women such as chikha Hadda and chikhaMbaraka l-Bihishiya were among the first to rebel against the Moroccan traitors and the French by singing several patriotic songs, songs that now constitute the backbone of the Moroccan music repertoire.
At that, Chickha hadda was the first woman who criticized Qa’id ‘Aissa (Commandant) in a song that warned other tribes to be aware of his injustice. An extract from the song goes:
“Aissa oh you little fox
Oh dog face
Aissa , the killer of his brothers…….”
Furthermore, Chikha Mbaraka l-Bihishiya sung caustic songs about the French colonialists and those who betrayed their Motherland. She said the following:
“Even a little nothing knows bureaucracy.
Even a little nothing is wearing a little uniform.
Even a little nothing has become a conciliator.
He is holding on to borrowed days.
They are given to some, and taken away from others.”
Since then, the situation of Moroccan women has changed considerably. Women in the colonial period were the first ones to negotiate and strategize within their constraints in order to further their power in a patriarchal society. Turkish author and researcher Deniz Kandiyoti used the term “patriarchal bargain” in his famous article “bargaining with patriarchy” to describe the fact that many women in North Africa have more autonomy than those living in sub-Saharan countries because they tend to resist the patriarchy. The action of chikha in the colonial period embodies such resistance.
According to chikha Hafida El Hasnaouia, one of the most famous chikhat in Morocco, “chikhat are victims of the civil society gaze. People don’t distinguish between a chikha, who is infatuated with music and dancing, and a prostitute who is ready to sell her body. ” Dr. Hassan Najmi who wrote many article about chikhat and the art of al Aita, takes the same position, adding in his book Oughnayte al Aita that “chikha has a history, and she is, after all, a spiritual person. ” This assertion signifies a move away from trivializing the chikha and a move toward romanticizing and idealizing this character withing the art of al Aita, a type of Moroccan popular music. Chicka is now seen at any celebration or wedding.
As a conclusion, chikhats is now considered a controversial character. They are still suffering from marginalization in a society where the majority of people are not able yet to fathom the difference between the chikha and the prostitute. By doing so, we are unconsciously harming Moroccan heritage, especially that the art of al aita is the core of Arabic poetry in Morocco.