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Morocco, Najat Aatabou - A Famous Singer Of Berber Heritage
Najat Aatabou of Berber heritage is a sensational singer who has remained firmly traditional in her use of musical instruments but forward looking in her approach towards chaabi. Aatabou has 25 albums to her name and enjoys immense popularity, in Morocco and also among Moroccan communities abroad. Proud of her Berber heritage, Aatabou uses traditional Berber rhythms and is outspoken in her lyrics which address the inequality between men and woman as well as the injustice of traditional family rules. She also writes beautiful love songs. Aatabou composes her songs in her native language Tashelhit but then translates them into Arabic or French.
Aatabou’s first release J’em a marre (I am sick of it) sold 450,000 copies. Her second release on cassette, Shouffi Rhirou (Look for Another Lover), and her subsequent releases sold over half a million copies. She is now a huge star throughout the Maghreb and fills large venues all over Europe.
The Chemical Brothers scored a worldwide hit with Calvanize in 2005 with over one million copies sold, which includes Just Tell Me The Truth by Najat Aatabou. Aatabou writes her own songs and tries to sketch a fair picture of Moroccan women while defending their rights with the goal of changing prevailing views and age old perceptions.
In Aatabou’s songs she does not shrink back from presenting awkward issues. One of her songs for instance is about a woman having a love affair with a married man. Her message is: go out and find yourself another (Shoufi Ghirou)! She also sings about issues like adultery, infidelity and domestic violence and also about girls who are abandoned by their boyfriends when are discovered to be pregnant.
Najat grew up in the rural village of Khmisset in the central Atlas Mountains. Singing was her pastime and sneaking out of her bedroom window at nights to sing at weddings and school parties was not uncommon. It was at one of those weddings that someone taped Najat without her knowledge. Although in the beginning her cassettes sold well in Morocco, her relatives were less enthusiastic. They did not accept her rise to local fame and felt she had put the family to shame.
So Najat, who had once dreamed of becoming a lawyer, decided to flee. She went to the village shop that sold the illegal tapes of her performance. Her family froze all contact with her and she had nowhere to go. Purely by coincidence that day a producer walked into the shop. He had apparently heard the cassette somewhere and was looking for her. He asked Najat to rely on him, proposing that she join him to Casablanca.
For three years to come she had no contact with her family, but the relationship was later restored thanks to her manager who went to Khmisset and explained to her family that she was not doing anything immoral. In the meantime her brothers had seen her on television and read about her in the newspapers. Najat was the first woman to release a CD in the Moroccan market.
In the recent year Najat underwent a new development. Together with her husband Hassan Dikouk she changed the style of her music, exchanging traditional instruments for a new sound with musical influences from instruments like bass and electric guitar, synthesizer, drum and congas. Through this evolution, Najat Atabou now wants to make these Moroccan songs accessible around the world.
Aatabou’s most important musical influence is the Berber singer Hamou Yazidi, whom she has listened to since childhood. Today Najat lives in Casablanca, is a mother of three and owns various houses in Morocco and France.