ALM's Interview Series | Nawarra of Morocco

Join ALM's Moya, as she interview's Moroccan Dancer & Teacher, "Nawarra of Morocco"

Now based in the UK, she is considered one of the most renown teachers of Moroccan and North African traditional folkdance and through her, we were lucky enough to find out a little bit more about Moroccan culture in our latest "ALM Interview Series".

Recorded July 2020

ALM: Hi everyone, its Moya here from A Little Morocco. This is quite exciting for me because this is the first of our video interviews that we’ve done at “A Little Morocco” and I’m really lucky that I have somebody that’s super exciting to interview today.  
I’m passionate and constantly learning about Morocco and all of its culture and its so diverse and it has lots of layers to it and one of those layers is the music and the dance. One of the people that I am going to introduce you to tonight, is one of those people that I think inspires a lot of what I want to learn about Morocco and about its culture and about its people. And she does a wonderful job as an advocate for that and she is “Nawarra of Morocco” and I hope I’m saying it right Nawarra?
Any way I just wanted to also say that, I remember first seeing her dance on a YouTube clip and she just captivated me and she just had me hook line and sinker and I thought, “I want to know more about this wonderful culture” because I watched her dance. And so, I think that if you get that moved by someone then you need to share it around, so I’m really thrilled.  She is very highly regarded in the dance world for teaching about her heritage and so I’m excited to talk to her today, we are going to ask her 5 questions and hello and welcome Nawarra.

Nawarra: Oh, what a great introduction, Moya you are absolutely fantastic, thank you so much how wonderful, how wonderful to sit down and talk to you, thank you for the opportunity. And thank you for the lovely introduction, “Oh my god” waking up this morning, because we are in UK morning at the time it is such a lovely words to be introduced by, thank you very much, thank you and it’s an absolute pleasure to be sat in your platform talking about my culture and Morocco and the authenticity and everything so, thank you for that.

ALM: You’re absolutely right, we are at night time, 7 o’clock at night in Australia and in the UK its 10 o’clock in the morning and when I sent a message to Nawarra, she said “ok let’s work out a time” and she was like “this is the time we are going to do it, and this is how we are going to do it” and its wonderful it’s come together perfectly so I’m really blessed that you could be here today.  
Now I thought that I might just start off with Question number 1 which might help leading us in to finding out a lot more about what makes you tick and the things that drive you and your passionate about and so first question that I have is…”I would like to know about how you came to dance and teach specifically Moroccan style dances and in that your heritage and what styles are you most passionate about?”

Nawarra: Great stuff, great ok, do you have time for me otherwise I’m not going to finish today.

ALM: We’ve got as much time as you can give us.

Nawarra: That’s great, well ok.

The lovely introduction you did is absolutely wonderful.  I am of a Moroccan origin. Born and bred and studied over there as well. 

At the age of 23’ish I moved to the UK, up north and I settled in the UK for studies reasons and obviously life reasons and what have you. I carried on studying about the culture and everything.  Now when it comes to the dance, and how I come to the dance. The dance in Moroccan culture, Morocco is a North African country and its actually classed as a border between Africa, Arab’s and Europe. So, when you look at Africa’s map, Morocco is actually the top, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

So, we the North African, we look at ourselves as the border between Africa and Europe.  So, our culture is diverse, because our history has seen a lot of changes. Lots of impacts from Europe and from Africa and from Middle East and from Islam and from, and from, and from.  So, our culture is rich and the way we’ve grown up in everyday life, when it comes into dance, when it comes into music, its part of our everyday life.

So “how did I come to the dance?”, I was grown up in a dancing house, I was grown up in a musical house, not because we are specialising in music or we are specialising in dance, but because every single person my time. Growing up in the time I’ve grown up in Morocco, we are all like that.  Music is everyday at home, chanting is everyday at home, clapping is every day. 

So, in a way. I was grown up dancing, dancing was a part of that and obviously doing my study and going to UNI, I did drama and one of the main things when you study drama was actually singing or dancing, so I choose dancing and I got further into it and decided to try the “Conservatoire of Casablanca”, which is the musical and dance Institution in there Casablanca.

I studied a bit more in that and I got myself introduce into some more folkloric dance of North Africa rather than just Moroccan, because there are a lot of things we share as in North African countries and so I got my Masters in English Literature after that and then moved to the UK in 1996, so there you go that’ll tell you how long I’ve been over here.

Obviously, study never ends, research never ends. When I came to the UK, even though I had the background knowledge, I had the base, I had everything, I still had to learn from scratch the way westerners can hear our music, or got introduced to our music. There were lots of controversial things about North African music, education side of it, things like Shikat, things like Chaabi.

Let me word it this way, westernised and lots of wrong information in between. I had to introduce myself to that world there and getting to know all that and started sharing what I’ve actually learnt in Morocco, sharing what I’ve grown up seeing in Morocco, sharing other stories from local other dancers and teachers dance related., both from the UK and abroad.  Then again it started from there.

Now being a 70s generation as a North African woman or person we’ve grown up with Egyptian movies, so we’ve grown up watching Egyptian dancers, Egyptian movies, Egyptian folk dance, Egyptian weddings, everything on the telly and the media was from Egypt.  So Egyptian movies and media in general, were prevailed in North Africa, not just Morocco.

Like I said as a 70s girl I’ve grown up watching those so watching and speaking Egyptian its, its great know, it’s there.  But dancing Moroccan was very rarely known, people would refer to it as African dance rather than Moroccan dance. They were referring to it as “oh nice, unusual, what’s that?”. 

So there was a lack of understanding and knowledge.  So I remember one day, years ago, I just got up, just out of the blue and I love Fifi Abdou and the style she presents, the Beledi style and after that I followed it with Moroccan. But the feel when I was doing the Moroccan and the feedback and you know the way people reacted to that, it was just amazing and I thought, hang on a minute here. 

People like Sharqi, which is the Egyptian side, the North African is there but because it is not being seen and shared properly maybe that’s why people are lacking that. And I thought I’m going to study that and I’m going to get a bit more knowledge and I’m going to share it in the firsthand and so this is how it happened and this is how I ended up doing it.

ALM: Wonderful, its not as well known as some of the other styles of Middle Eastern and African styles of dance so its really wonderful to be able to see it.

Nawarra: Absolutely, you know what Moya, as immigrant dancers, people that left the country to live in Europe for whatever reason, it’s a pride for us, it’s a pride you know when you see it on stage in London or in Manchester or Liverpool, when you see those big multi-cultural festivals are actually taking North African music, either Gnawa, either Chaabi, either Berber and you see it on the stage, it really enlightens our tradition, our culture and you think “Hamdullah, thank god, this is not dying, it’s going to be carried on”.

And another thing as well, you see now then for the last 5 to 3 years, recent years. You start to see people coming in today knowing what the real dance is in Algeria, the real dance is in Tunisia, what Moroccan dance is and its diverse as well. So, you do see certain western groups trying and dancing it as well.  And that’s a pride as well, because that for us is like, wow. Its not a bellydance, which we don’t call it Bellydance you know, and it’s not the glittery side of it, it’s a folkloric. There’s no glitter to it, no sequins to it. Folklore is just a normal dance and it’s the energy. It’s amazing.

ALM: There’s an authenticity about folkloric, that is really raw and can be very rich to watch and I know there are a lot of people who are very sensitive about appropriation.  How do you feel about that? And that’s not one of my questions.

Nawarra: It works both ways. When I first started speaking English, I made a lot of mistakes. I used the wrong words in the wrong context. I did a lot of hiccups in writing. I did a lot of you know; it works both ways.  But I had a lot of people that were surrounding me including my ex-teachers, including friends, including people I encountered you know that sorted pointed me in the right direction. 

You know for me, when I see various younger dancers or dancers in general trying to dance folklore, yes it might not be in its perfection, but it’s a trial so we have to support them, we have to you direct them, we have to share with them where we got our knowledge from.  Share with them things where they can study more. 

Don’t forget it’s not a matter of wearing a Gallabiyah and a bit of a belt and going doing it, no it doesn’t stop there.  Its, I mean not everybody can afford to be travelling, especially these days people can’t be travelling anyway. But thanks to the internet, thanks to other websites, people can get references, people can look, as long as they just are looking into the right things. And they can correct themselves, and they can, you know, use or understand what can be, because don’t forget, Arabs in general you North African or non-North, we speak emotions so our emotions is with our hands “Oh Hello” and you get you know that. That reflects in our dance so the dance is with hands and gestures, with that and with that, do you know what I mean? And everything single thing has got a meaning.

So for me, if those dancers are willing to learn it and they are wanting to learn it the yes, they might not do it correctly first time, they might do it perfect. But we will encourage them, we’ll show them where to look, we’ll show them where to go and if they’re willing to travel, why not send them to the local teachers.  They don’t have to speak Arabic, I mean the dancers don’t have to speak a foreign language to teach them, they use their body to speak and they can follow.

For me its not a problem as long as it doesn’t get titled its authentic, for the coming generations to see it and think this is what it is and that is fine.

ALM: Its about an inspiration that comes from opening the door and taking a journey towards that finding out more.  And so, where about's in Morocco did you grow up in terms of being influenced most heavily.  I know each region has its own cultural style and cultural sort of livelihood and the way they like to live and arts and crafts.  So, where about's are you from?

Nawarra: I was born and bred in Casablanca, grown up and studied in Casablanca, but my dad is from Fez. So, all my childhood and this my maybe that is why there’s that trans element in the dance I share, which is the sway of the hair, go down and all that, and maybe that’s where that’s come from.  But when we were kids, during the school terms we were in Casablanca but when we used to hit July we used to pack and go to Fez to stay 2 months in my Grandad’s house, and that was in Fez.  So I do have the 2 big elements.

ALM: Casablanca is so busy, but Fez is well, so that’s quite a difference.

Nawarra: Absolutely, very much indeed.  I mean Casablanca has gone very crazy recently, Casablanca was never crazy more than 10 to 15 years ago.  I have to admit that yeah, its never been as crazy as it is now.  Why, because obviously commercial side, cosmopolitan city, lot of sovereign investors came in.  Lots of national investors, not international, I mean people from Agadir, people from up north, they brought them in to Casa so they can create the jobs, cause there’s high, I don’t know if you know much about the high unemployment going on.  So, they’ve brough these investors in, national ones and created lots of companies, manufacturers as well.  So, Casablanca never used to be as hectic as it has been the last 10 years, because of the change. 

But when it comes to Fez, even though Fez is small it is hectic in its own, with its own small alleyway’s ups and downs and all that.  But what I used to like about Fez is, because its obviously an imperial city, a city with such a rich history.  With the architects, with ceramics, with lots of hand crafts, you know if you want the real leather its Fez, if you want the real wool its Fez, if you want the Qur’anic side, the understanding about the Qur’anic schools, because we do have lots of Middle Eastern that came to the school of Fez every year and studied Qur’anic there and went back with that. 

So, Fez has a lot, lot, lot to offer.

But what I used to like of my childhood there, I remember that very, very well and it feels like it was just yesterday.  When we used to get together, you know at my grandpas, and my grandma at the time, she used to get the ladies from the area and they used to do what we call, I mean we call it in Morocco an “afternoon tea”. 

Now an “afternoon tea” in an English life is dinner, is when they sit down at 5, 6 o’clock they have their dinner, they call it an “afternoon tea”.  An “afternoon tea” in Morocco, it’s the same time 4, 5 o’clock, but it’s an actual tea with a teapot, with a mint tea and sweet and you get 5, 6 women and they get together. Its like I would classify it as the English like going to the pub and having a chat and having a drink.

ALM: Happy hour.

Nawarra: Absolutely, yes happy hour. So, they’ll get together and they’ll have the mint tea and every single woman would talk, I mean some of them would talk about their in-laws family, some of them would talk about problems with their kids, some of them talk about problems with their husband, some of them talk about problems with the other neighbour, the new neighbour that have just moved in, goodness knows what they do.  You know, you’ll see them, there’s a social element everyone sharing their problems and everyone finding solutions for their problems. And after the conversations, the discussions and after the help, what they do, they’ll just start singing either mahwal, start singing blessings, ah hamdullah blessings, you know blessings in general and you’ll see them with the little drum, with the little tambourine arija or even with the tray and the cups of tea, they’ll twist it around and they’ll clap with the 2 spoons. Absolutely amazing.

ALM: Really, I haven’t seen that. Things like that are the very intimate moments and there probably moments that as outsiders we don’t get to see.

Nawarra: And you know sadly stuff like that you don’t see it now days, when you go back to Morocco you don’t see families. Families are busy and the younger generation came in place, they’re all modern, they’ve all got flats, they’ve all moved on, they’ve all got you know. But that feeling there, in those older areas in Fez, absolutely outstanding. 

Like I said, there’s a social element to it, it’s the drumming, there’s a yarn, there’s happiness, there’s joy, there’s sadness. But that afternoon tea, on that Thursday afternoon or Friday afternoon, it usually used to be Friday after prayers you know when people go for prayers on village time?  They’ll come and they settle their kids at home and they’ll get in to my grandma’s house.  Get together, “what’s happening in your house”, “what’s happening in your house”, “what’s happening in your house” and they’ll share problems and you know absolute fantastic. And that’s something you know, like I said, it’s here and that’ll never go.

Its part of the dance and the culture and you know, part of everyday life.

ALM: Its beautiful, that’s lovely. You know, that moment of tea and when tea comes out and when your offered tea, its almost a religion in itself.

Nawarra: It is I mean I think now then, looking at Morocco from a different angle, the usage of tea has slightly changed, you know it is, it’s what Morocco has become known by, you know mint tea basically.

ALM: So, I wanted next to go to something that you have become quite well known for and that is the Funoon Festival.  And it’s turned into something that is also a dance camp where you take people to a location somewhere in Morocco and their immersed, and when I say immersed, they literally are immersed into the culture of Morocco. Which I find is wonderful, and rather than sort of seeing Morocco on the surface, you get to really dig in there.  So, can you explain. 
This again is one of those multi-layered questions. But can you explain a little about the Funoon Festival and your dance camps, and I’m hoping, I’m hoping, I almost had the opportunity to attend one of you dance camps in Essaouira a few years ago and I missed out on the opportunity for a lot of reasons, partially because I was really sick at the time. But I look forward to being able to travel, I know everyone looks forward to being able to travel, but I look forward to being able to visit one of your dance camps very soon.

Nawarra: I would love to see you in Morocco Moya, because I know how strongly you are driven by the culture, by the history, by people, by the architect, by everything.  And the great thing about it, looking at that wonderful door behind you and those wonderful lamps, I think your house is more Moroccan then mine I should say.

ALM: I tell you I’m smitten, I grew up, I’m probably sort of digressing, but I grew up loving architecture, loving the process of building and when I studied architecture we studied a lot of things about Moroccan architecture and I especially loved the way riad’s are built and how they all sort of inwardly facing into this beautiful courtyard that’s open to the sky and I just fell in love with it, it’s absolutely divine.

And I know it sort of stems from a Moorish type of architecture, but that’s what’s so fabulous about Morocco is that it’s beautiful melting pot of all these different cultures that have come together and it’s almost like they’ve picked the best parts of it and said “we’ll take this and we’ll take that” and your there and it’s just beautiful, it’s a beautiful place.  And I’ll come back to what you were saying.

Nawarra: Yeah no absolutely, I mean riad’s are, it’s one of those, sometimes you go through the little small alleyways and you think “oh my god where this is leading me?” you know some sort of rotten place, and as soon as you walk in from a teeny tiny door you see this big massive house open to the sky and it’s like heaven. You know it is and I have to say, I think we Moroccan’s as a nation are very creative then the outside, because you do see riad’s in Syria.  Syria has got a courtyard houses as well and I think that’s where it originally came from.  But the only thing, because is more of a, Syria is a simple courtyard, which is rooms, rooms, rooms and the middle courtyard obviously is open to the sky, you know and teeny tiny fountains and stuff like that.  But its not been how do you say, focused on the details, the little details, but Moroccan have gone into that. You too, would have seen a lengthy history there and what have you.

In terms of coming back to the Funoon, yes, I mean after dancing all these years and being you know, most places, thank god for that, most places in the world.  I found I struggled because I wanted people to learn more folkloric.  I’ve got a very strong flair about folkloric in general, but Moroccan folklore is something that’s, you know, that’s in the blood and it’s in the genes so I wanted to share and I cant teach everything by myself and we can’t sometimes travel a lot everywhere, and you sometimes you know, so the whole idea came from about creating this camp.

It was before as a cultural trip at first I was doing a cultural trip.  Right let’s go to Morocco and lets do a cultural week, visit Berber villages, see the city, see a bit of the historical site, do a little bit of a dance afternoon, spend weekend with Berber families on the mountain you know, say for example or one day or, or and this is how it first started. Just as a cultural trip.  Then after that I thought, well do you know what, these cultural trips and all that, fair enough people have a good time, they come in, they see the city, or they see the places, but it’s not giving them an understanding about folkloric dance. They can watch it, sometimes you bring the bands in so they can watch it, but its not learning, its not knowing how we exist basically.

So, I’ve come up with the idea, we’ve curated a dance camp, an intensive dance camp, under the name Funoon.  The name Funoon in Arabic is arts, so the word Funoon is arts in Arabic. So, when you speak in Arabic and say “Funoon” that’s the arts. So, this is a week of arts, a week of dance arts, Funoon dance camp. A week of dance and basically can’t take people to the same place every year, Marrakech, Essaouira, Agadir or, or.  So, I chose, because Morocco is so diverse and every region has something completely different to offer from the other region, so every year we do it on a different region in the country in Morocco, and we’ve done nearly most of the cities. 

And during the week people tend to learn, obviously there’s a Sharqi element, there’s an oriental because as a 70‘s girl I’ve still grown up with Taarab, I still grown up in Egyptian style, in Beledi and Saiidi and all that, so there is that during the week but with a stronger impact on the Moroccan folkloric dance.  For example, when we went to Agadir there were mainly Berber, so there were the elements of Egyptian dance style, but there was a strong presence of the Berber dancing.  The Berber dancing was done by obviously Berber local dancers that’s showing them, that’s explaining to them, that’s showing them the line and how they present themselves, the moves they use.  The things they can do, the things they shouldn’t be doing and all that and all that.

When we did it in Fez, we had the trance dancers coming in, showing the position, the way you trance, the way you move your head, the way you move your shoulder, and all that.  Casablanca, it was brilliant in Casablanca because of like I said, as big as it is, it’s got every single folkloric. So we did the Sahara dance or the desert dance, we did the Berber dance, we did the Chaabi dance, so it was more of an impact of, you know Moroccan folklore dance style of these camps.

And you know what, the feedback or the outcome of these camps it’s just been absolutely prenominal.  Year after year.  I’ve found that people are thirsty in knowing other stuff, so the dancers are much eager in knowing a lot more and some of them bless them save all year round so they can come to these trips, so they can see, they can experience, they can feel, they can do everything and obviously you know, dressing up and photos and videos and all that.

So Funoon dance camp, it kicked off in a very positive way and is still going, and unfortunately, I’m not sure if it’s going to go ahead this year, because its due in September.   

ALM: I think its ah yeah, everybody doesn’t know what’s happening from one week to the next and we are all are in the same boat and we are all praying for the world to come back to normal.

Nawarra: Absolutely so we don’t know, but I mean next year I am planning 2 Funoon trips, one is going to be a shorter one or a smaller one and that will be in April time and the second one will be in September that’s the big one, and there will be Agadir because Agadir has a lot to offer.

ALM: I think maybe if we can coordinate something with A Little Morocco to do something so that we coincide a little tour group coming at the same time, that would be beautiful. But we’ll work on it, as they say Inshallah.

Nawarra: Inshallah indeed.

ALM: So how long have you been running the dance camps and the festival?

Nawarra: The Funoon dance camp, right cultural holidays, I’ve been doing all these in general for around 20 years.  Every single year, so it has been going for some time.  The cultural holiday lasted for about 8 years. And every year was different.  Because the element of the culture, I think when I did trips it was to merge with locals, spend time with locals, learn cooking. Spending a night with no water nothing and go and get the water from the wells.

ALM: That may not appeal to some people but to actually be living as you would if you were living there is as powerful a thing, to be immersed in that culture.  It puts you out of your comfort zone, but it’s also its a magical experience because you get to see and be and do what they’re doing which is wonderful. 

Nawarra: Absolutely, and another thing as well is treasuring what we have, is valuing what we’ve got and we don’t know it until we miss it.  Imagine one day with no water, imagine one day without electricity, no internet, you’d be tearing your hair out, well I would, I’d be tearing my hair out “oh my god no electricity”.  And you’d treasure more what you’ve got, you’d value more what you’ve got.

ALM: I think that’s what I take away from the arts and crafts a lot as well is that they make something so beautiful out of nothing and it’s like “how do they do this?”.  And yet we get everything at our disposal and we are not able to do that, but the fact that they can make so many beautiful things from virtually nothing is fascinating.

Nawarra: Absolutely, and the simplicity as well.  The simple things in life they treasure, you know what I mean. Simple things, those people have nothing, you know mountains, what do they have maybe sofa, and 2 cushions where they sit and they sleep on it as well because maybe there is no beds. Water, if the water jug empties you’ve nowhere to get water, so you have to walk half an hour and bring it back there.  You know, like I said, it may not be for some people but for the adventurous, yes, they do appeal.  I mean at the time it did appeal to so many.

Like I said, my drive is about the dance, my drive was about sharing folklore, share the diversity. Share how in a small country, in a small land, how diverse we are.  We have the Moorish, we have the Jewish, we have the Arab’s, we have the Berber’s, we have the Amazigh, you know all these, they’ve made a big impact in Moroccan life and to share that in the dance and everything that was the whole idea of the camp.  So, the camp was going for about 12 years and touch wood, it’s still going, It’s still very well going and we are going to keep on it, we are going to keep on advertising, we are going to keep pushing and bring people in who are willing to come with us obviously.

ALM: Well I think if anything I can see there is a fascination that’s growing year by year with Morocco.  It so it’s becoming almost a mecca for people who want to find out more about this place, because it is such a melting pot I think and it’s almost like going to a million different places in one.
Can I also ask you about how your coping with Corona virus impacts, with your teaching, your being able to convey your lessons to people.  Because I see you pop up in my social media feed with classes and workshops and because I’m on the other side of the world it’s a little bit tricky for me to dial in, but I might add some links to maybe some of the ways people can seek out your classes if that’s ok on my website, but if you can let people know what you’re doing to stay connected, not only with your dance community but maybe with your distant family in Morocco as well.  I know you mentioned your mum is with you at the moment.

Nawarra: Yes, she is indeed yes, ye. My mums with me in here, but obviously I’ve still got brothers and sisters.  Do you know what it is, I think the music, or the entertainment industry in general is the most hit during this pandemic. So, I think we were the ones that got hit very badly in a way, and as you know I had jobs, I had flights booked, I had plans, I had all sorts you name it, it was on the list you name it, and unfortunately it’s all gone. And up to now, all the events I was supposed to be in, up to December 2020, have all been cancelled. So obviously it’s a big hit, we still have charges to pay, we still have all sorts to pay.  I was never a digital person I was never a computer person.

ALM: Your better than me.

Nawarra: I was a person with a rucksack and a bag, and you know my passport in the one hand, the flight ticket in the other.  And just go, and do this or travel around, even within the UK, up north, south, Scotland, everywhere, you know just in my little teeny tiny car you know driving all over here and there.  

But obviously because everything is now cancelled, and you know people are still wanting to dance, people are still wanting to learn, people are still wanting you know, I had to bang my head across the wall and I had to learn how to use obviously Zoom, other digital communication, and teaching and do you know what, at first it’s scary but I think after that you’ll just think how amazing is this look at us, UK based, Australia based, and I had people from Mexico, I had people from Russia, I had people from Ukraine, and when I sat down and I thought about it, I thought.   There’s no flights that been delayed in here, I’m not having headache and I’m actually sat in my own teeny tiny room, and I’m teaching and look I’ve got Mexico, I’ve got Ukraine, I’ve got Israel, I’ve got you know all these people in my little TV and their learning dance.

ALM: I know it’s wonderful, its magic, its great and your right, I guess we have to make the most of what we do have, again.  So, it’s a silver lining to the cloud that is hanging over us at the moment.
I also wanted to, I know last time we were talking and I might let people in on a little secret. This is our interview mark 2, because the first interview we did, I had a little glitch with my laptop and so we wont say what happened “I wasn’t plugged in” but in the first one, I got let in on a little secret and it was about an article that you were writing and I know this might be something that you may want to keep secret still but it was very fascinating because it is something that is very synonymous with Moroccan dance. 

Nawarra: It is very much indeed yes.  After all these years doing this dance and obviously the term Shikhat and that’s the Shikhat dance that I’m known by.  And that seems to be causing me all sorts of different troubles and all that, it is for the first time, there will be an article properly written about Shikhat dance, the history, the culture, the message they’re trying to share and its written in English.

ALM: For the sake of people who might not know, are you able to let them know a little bit about what a Shikhat is?

Nawarra: Of course, yes. One of the Moroccan dance styles. There was a style called Shikhat dance. And the word Shikha is the boss, or the Maylema or the lady chief or the lady in charge or the lady wise, the lady that knows and has views and can actually talk about reasons.  

ALM: It’s a very strong woman, quite a strong position.

Nawarra: Very much indeed. Yeah, a very strong woman, very much respected.  Now the word Shikhat is the plural, now the singular word is Shikha and that’s the stronger woman, the leader and the word Shikhat is the girls with her.  And these women they sung poetry, Moroccan poetry. 

So, these poetries are reflecting the history of Morocco. Some of them reflected certain periods, certain historical periods in Moroccan.  Obviously, Morocco is a monarchy and we’ve gone from one king to another, to another, to another, to another and so its from you know.  And they’ve emerged between late 17th and 18th centuries and some of the historical sites it actually said that certain Shikhat emerged in the 12th and 13th century. But there is no such trace about that time as yet.  All we know, the Shikhat they were present in the 17th, 18th century.  Basically, they sang about, like I said poetry, about life, about nostalgia, about happiness, about freedom, about sadness, about you know, anything in life.  And in the end, there is a dance, and that dance is when the girls, the Shikha does not dance, but the girls with her they do come out, they dance.  And their dance, it finishes the story for what the Shikha is singing about. 

So, its all linked together, so you see them at present a group of women all lined up together, with one leader, singing the poetry, singing the poetry, telling stories whatever, whatever she’s revealing, whatever she’s saying and the girls with her in the end of her story telling, they’ll come to do the dance and that finishes the story.  If that makes sense.

ALM: But the dancers aren’t the Shikhat, it’s the singer. Kind of a misconception is that she’s doing everything.

Nawarra: No, no the Shikha does not dance, the Shikha just sings, just sings the poetry, just tells the story, just tells about certain period, in certain things you know.  Those with her finishes that by the dance, by this, by that, so anyway that aside. 

And listen the Shikhat is where the Chaabi, because Chaabi is a cocktail of everything. There’s the Shikhat and there’s Chaabi, Chaabi is the cocktail of everything.  Some of the Chaabi is taken from Shikhat, so Shikhat is the origin. Chaabi is taken from Tarab, Chaabi’s is taken from this, so Chaabi is the big thing but it’s a cocktail of every single thing.  Whereas Shikhat is the one, is one side, is singular dancing. 

So that has been very much misrepresented, there’s been no article written about it, there’s been nothing, so well it took me

ALM: Where do you find the Shikha, will she be singing at weddings, or will she be singing at, is she paid for her singing.

Nawarra: Of course, right.  Shikhat are, you see them in festivals in Moroccan festivals, in the dance and music festival in Marrakech, you’ll see lots of them.  There’s a difference in Shikha as well, there’s the Shikha that actually just entertains, and that’s not we were referring to and there’s the Shikha that actually sings and they mean stuff by their singing, ok and this is the one I’m referring to. And you see them on YouTube, there’s names, bigger names, people they can refer to and you watch on YouTube and you can listen and they can watch the dancers in the end.  

And obviously we see the Atlas Shikhat, the Berber Atlas Shikhat and mainly done for the entertainment you know for the dancing, mainly now days for the touristic side as well if that makes sense you know. So, they get used for the touristic side.  But like I said that’s slightly sort of a different subject, but the Shikhat I’m actually talking about, are the masters, are the singers, are the story tellers, are the ones that you know shared proper stories, real stories, real life things and obviously the dancers mesmerising in the end, you know every single song they did the actual dancing. 

So the article, like I said it wasn’t easy to write and gathering it all together, all the information has been written there and it will be shared soon and I will share with you the link as well if you want to give it to anyone to read or know a bit more about this culture.  So, it will be shared soon, I think September it is coming out. Its about history and everything.

ALM: We’ll definitely provide the link on the website if that’s ok with you. Its wonderful and fascinating to talk to you about this side of Morocco, its culture and everything.  Even though you’re in the UK it’s a real treat to be able to find out some insights about how your inspired by your upbringing and also seeking out and teaching others about the culture as well through dance and through the singing.
I know we are fairly new on the scene and its mostly about homewares and rugs and things like that and I think it is really important to have context and so for me, I really want people to understand the authenticity behind having a rug that’s made in the Atlas mountains, you know it gives people more of an understanding and an appreciation for something that they might have in their home which was once upon a time in Morocco somewhere and someone has lovingly made with their hands so yeah I really appreciate you adding to the layers, so thank you.
I’m very, very bad at this technology, I’m going in and out.  But is there anything that you want to add in terms of what hope to teach people about Moroccan folkloric dancing and dances from North Africa. I know there all your passions, but is there anything you want to see happen and some of your aspirations and how you feel about that?  

Nawarra: Absolutely yes, Id like to see more folkloric dance on stages, Id like to see more folkloric dance in festivals, I’d like a recognition of the North African presence at every single dance festival.

And people are taken by the 2 pieces of costume to wear as an Oryantal dancer, and the glitter and the beads and all that, which is nice but….

ALM: Can I interrupt you, I feel that you have been a tipping point for that ground swell to have more of a presence, because maybe we didn’t know of very much until you came on the scene. So, it’s like you’ve made a big impact on that, and so seeing you being invited to all the festivals is wonderful so for people who know much about Raq Sharqi and Oryantal dance, having you teaching folkloric at festivals is a real treat with your beautiful folkloric teaching. Well done and I hope to see more of it.

Nawarra:  Thank you and it really means a lot, I have got a mad thing about my origin and we are who we are, I mean look at even my daughter, my daughters 13 years of age and she born here and grown up here, she’s British obviously by nationality and all that.  But she not going to English is she, she’s always going to be Moroccan and I will always be Moroccan. So, you know there is that in our blood and we can’t say anything, we have to be proud of who we are.

We’ve got lots to share, we’ve got lots to give, we’ve got a lot of nice things and we can’t believe what we hear on the media.  We’ve got lots of nice culture behind, nice history, nice people behind us. We ought to share aboard we ought to share with everybody, so you I’d love to see more dancing, more folkloric, more Moroccan, I’d love to see lots of you know things more to be done about Moroccan dance abroad and keep dancing.

And when you look at it, look at the lockdown, what kept people going? Its those dancing clips everybody was sharing, regardless it doesn’t have to be Moroccan, any dance you know, so just keep dancing, keep doing what you guys like. And if you like something, just study more about it.

Hopefully after the lockdown, and we come off all this quite nice and clean, come and visit countries.  Go and travel. How much would you spend on a night out? Try to save something there, come and see other countries, introduce yourself to other cultures, sit down with other people. Go to trips, go to organized trips if you’re not daring to travel on your own.  You know there’s so many things going on everywhere around the world, so get together and just enjoy your life. Enjoy dancing and that’s all I can say.

ALM: Oh, that's a wonderful, a wonderful way to end a lovely interview today and I'll probably ask you much more than five questions, but I do appreciate it so much. I could talk to you for a long time. But it’s getting late here and you probably got a million things to do.  But I want to thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview twice.

And I really, really do look forward to meeting you in person and you make me really passionate about what you do through the passion that you have for what you do so.

Nawarra: Thank you very much indeed for having me, thank you for having flair about Morocco, thank you for bringing Morocco into Australia. Thank you for making little Morocco and I hope to see it a big, massive, huge Morocco. Keep going, keep doing what you are doing. This is absolutely fantastic intake from you. Good luck with it and I wish you really all the best and guys if you get a chance to get any rugs, plants or anything like that you are not going to be disappointed, it’s handcrafted, its handmade, it’s purely done.  You know to get someone to actually ferry from Morocco to Australia, which is not around the corner. It absolutely amazing. So well done Moya.

ALM: It is massive undertaking, so thank you. Thank you so much and a huge hug from me down under to the other side of the world. Thank you so much. And I look forward to talking with you again sometime very soon. I think again. Yeah, thank you this entire by 2 and we'll add some links so you can keep in touch and you can follow Nawarra. I'm say I say it wrong, aren’t I? Nawarra.
And I do really hope that one day we can have our paths cross and maybe we can have A Little Morocco join the Funoon dance camp over in Morocco. That would be beautiful. All right. Thanks everyone. Bye.

 

To find out more about Nawarra of Morocco and her Funoon Festival and dance camps, please feel free to explore the following links:

Funoon Dance Camp Facebook Page

https://www.facebook.com/Funoon-Dance-Camp-431883370279991/

 Video clip of Nawarra of Morocco dancing Moroccan Chaabi 

Funoon Dance Camp Rabat


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