Moroccan Music Styles


Traditional Moroccan Musical Instruments: A Melodic Journey into North African Culture

Immerse yourself in the rhythmic charm of Traditional Moroccan Musical Instruments. Explore a diverse range of traditional instruments and their cultural significance.


From the bustling medinas of Fez to the sun-soaked expanse of the Sahara, Morocco reverberates with an eclectic musical heritage unlike any other. For centuries, traditional Moroccan music has served as the vibrant backdrop to everyday life’s most meaningful moments. Its soulful melodies and complex rhythms provide the anthems to celebrations, rites of passage, and religious devotion. This is a culture where music does not merely entertain – it conveys identity and community.

Yet Moroccan music derives its power not just from its cultural spirit, but from the instruments that give it life. The oud’s yearning cry, the galloping beats of the bendir drum, and the quavering notes of the rhaita bagpipe evoke Morocco’s diverse roots. The techniques, timbres, and designs of Moroccan instruments make them conduits to the past as well as cornerstones of vibrant artistic innovation today.

This guide will uncover the essential instruments that form the core of Morocco’s cherished musical traditions. We’ll learn the stories, sounds, and playing styles that make the oud, sintir, nay, rhaita, bendir, and darbuka expressions of Moroccan culture. From the folk songs of the Berbers to the holy hymns of mystical brotherhoods, Morocco’s instruments convey a remarkable heritage. By understanding these instruments, we appreciate the ingenuity and passion that makes Moroccan music endure. So let’s explore the rhythms and melodies that resonate in Morocco’s soul.

The Role of Music in Moroccan Culture

Music is deeply ingrained in Moroccan cultural identity and daily life:

  • Musical expression has roots dating back centuries and continues to evolve.
  • Traditional genres like Berber folk, Arabic-Andalusian, and Gnawa music thrive.
  • Music marks sacred events like weddings, circumcisions, and religious ceremonies.
  • Public musical festivals unite Moroccans of all backgrounds through song.
  • Regional styles reveal geographic diversity from mountains to desert.
  • New generations innovate traditional genres with modern influences.
  • Impromptu jam sessions fill streets with infectious rhythms and camaraderie.

Whether intimately tying communities together or broadcasting Morocco’s vibrancy worldwide, music here is much more than entertainment – it is the pulse of a nation.

The Diversity of Traditional Moroccan Musical Instruments

Morocco boasts a wide array of indigenous instruments that shape its iconic sound:

String Instruments:

  • Oud – The short-necked lute famed for its warm, resonant tones.
  • Sintir – The three-stringed bass lute that provides the core of Gnawa music.

Wind Instruments:

  • Nay – The end-blown reed flute known for its brilliant virtuosic melodies.
  • Rhaita – The double-reeded shawm oboe essential to Berber music.

Percussion Instruments:

  • Bendir – The large frame drum that maintains complex rhythms in rituals.
  • Darbuka – The goblet-shaped hand drum that produces the infectious pulse in ensembles.

This ancient array of instruments contributes to Morocco’s dynamic cultural heritage.

Oud: The Soulful Lute of Morocco

The oud holds a special place at the heart of Moroccan music:

  • Short-neck pear-shaped lute of ancient origins – dates back over 5,000 years.
  • Considered the predecessor of the European lute and guitar.
  • Constructed from carved wood, with fretless neck and 5-6 strings played with a pick.
  • Has a rich, warm timbre with wide range spanning over three octaves.
  • Instrumental in genres from Andalusian orchestras to Sufi gatherings to folk music.
  • Playing requires complex fretting hand techniques to create melodies and ornaments.
  • Master oud players or “oudis” are revered for their virtuosic skills and emotional expression.

The unmistakable voice of the oud pervades Morocco’s most celebrated musical forms. Listen Over YouTube

Sintir: The Sacred Bass Instrument

The sintir holds deep spiritual significance:

  • Three-stringed bass lute integral to ritual music of Gnawa brotherhoods.
  • Carved from wood into a long bell shape with camel skin soundboard.
  • Played vertically with fingers and palm in a percussive manner to induce trance.
  • Produces a heavy, throbbing sound considered mystical and healing.
  • Used in lila ceremonies to convey devotees into spiritual ecstasy.
  • Seen as a channel to the divine and vehicle of possession.
  • Restricted traditionally to Gnawa masters called maâlems but growing in popularity.

The hypnotic pulse of the sintir underpins the sacred soundscapes of Gnawa ritual. Listen Over YouTube

Nay: The Mesmerizing Reed Flute

The nay brings astonishing expressivity to Moroccan music:

  • An end-blown reed flute historically made of bamboo or reed.
  • Modern versions crafted from wood, plastic or metal for durability.
  • Played vertically with distinct intense, nasal tone. Requires highly-developed embouchure and breath control.
  • Capable of dazzling ornamentation and improvisation in the hands of skilled players.
  • Features prominently in Andalusian orchestras, Sufi music, and folk genres.
  • Range spans over two octaves. Lower register has haunting, earthy color.
  • Melodic instrument often featured in intros and transitions.

The nay’s emotional virtuosity makes it one of Morocco’s most celebrated instruments. Listen Over YouTube

Rhaita: The Traditional Moroccan Bagpipe

With its piercing sound, the rhaita is a staple of outdoor celebrations:

  • Double-reeded shawm oboe that functions as a bagpipe when skin sac is attached.
  • Constructed from wood with a conical bore and flared bell.
  • Raspy, buzzing timbre that cuts through loud spaces.
  • Main voice in Berber folk music of the Rif Mountains and rural areas.
  • Pairs with drums in street parades, festivals and communal events.
  • Often played in small groups, with individual tunings that unite into one booming ensemble.
  • Ornamented melodies reveal virtuosic soloists.

The boisterous rhaita provides the jubilant soundtrack to Moroccan festivities. Listen Over YouTube

Bendir: The Mystical Frame Drum

The deep resonances of the bendir accompany sacred rituals:

  • Large wooden framed hand drum with parchment soundboard.
  • Traditionally played by Sufi brotherhoods and in religious trance ceremonies.
  • Played with fingers and palm to produce booming, buzzing timbre.
  • Master drummers use advanced damping and striking techniques to modulate sound.
  • Larger size and lower tone than darbuka hand drum.
  • Prominent in ritual Gnawa music, also used in folk and popular styles.
  • Symbol of spiritual power – associated with healing and consecration.

The rumbling bendir grounds Moroccan devotional music in history and tradition. Listen Over YouTube

Darbuka: The Rhythmic Goblet Drum

The darbuka is the backbone of Moroccan percussion:

  • Goblet-shaped hand drum with rounded bottom and wide top.
  • Traditionally made of clay but now more from metal or wood. Covered with animal skin.
  • Held under arm and played with fingers and palm to produce crisp, bright tones.
  • Provides the essential dance rhythms and complex syncopation in ensembles.
  • Used in nearly all genres from folk, to orchestras, to pop and fusion.
  • Modern Egyptian version with thinner shell adopted alongside traditional darbuka.
  • Requires great skill and technique to play rapid solo improvisations.

The flexible darbuka drives Moroccan music with its infectious polyrhythms. Listen Over YouTube

The Influence of Moroccan Music in Modern Times

While honoring tradition, Moroccan music continues to evolve:

  • Youth add modern elements to traditional genres like using synthesizers with Gnawa music.
  • World music catapulted stars like Nass El Ghiwane to global fame since the 1970s.
  • Oud virtuosos like Anouar Brahem create contemporary fusions with jazz and other styles.
  • Exports like gnawa funk band Hoba Hoba Spirit tour major festivals worldwide.
  • Rai and hip hop artists incorporate regional folk styles into their pop music.
  • Legendary musicians like Nass El Ghiwane or Jil Jilala serve as inspirations.
  • Collaborations with Western musicians introduced Moroccan instruments like the oud to new ears.

From the Rolling Stones to jazz festivals, Moroccan music continues spreading its wings globally.

Preserving Morocco’s Musical Heritage

Initiatives work to safeguard Moroccan music for future generations:

  • Youth programs teaching children traditional instruments and songs.
  • Masters passing down ancient knowledge to apprentices.
  • Government funding for music/dance troupes and cultural centers.
  • Historic music traditions like Gnawa designated as “Intangible Cultural Heritage”
  • Annual festivals spotlighting regional folk genres, Sufi music, and more.
  • Releases of archival recordings and documentaries about key musicians.
  • New waves of Moroccan artists gaining international opportunities.

Despite modernization, Morocco strives to uphold its cherished musical lineage.


From the hypnotic melodies of the oud to the warbling cries of the rhaita, Morocco’s musical instruments form the foundation of an unparalleled cultural tradition. Their designs, timbres, and playing techniques have evolved over centuries to produce Morocco’s singular sound. Yet traditional instruments also serve as conduits to the future as artists continue to innovate within their deep-rooted musical framework.

Beyond notes and rhythms, Moroccan instruments like the sintir and bendir reveal a spiritual heritage. Their voices resound at the most significant communal occasions, from call to prayer to celebrations. By cherishing its instruments, Morocco upholds a national identity that honors its past ancestry yet keeps its ear keenly tuned to emerging artistic voices. For musicians and listeners alike, exploring Morocco’s instruments provides a portal into a nation’s soul. Let their resonant music inspire your own journey, wherever your path leads.

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What are some typical Moroccan instruments?

Some key Moroccan instruments are the oud lute, darbuka drum, Sintir lute, rhaita reed flute, bendir frame drum, and nay cane flute.

What is the most famous Moroccan instrument?

The oud is considered the most iconic Moroccan instrument. This short, fretless lute is integral to genres from classical to folk music.

What instruments are used in Moroccan folk music?

Moroccan folk music features instruments like the rhaita bagpipe, bendir and darbuka drums, gimbri lute, and percussion like cymbals.

What kind of music do Gnawa musicians play?

Gnawa religious music centralizes the gimbri lute, sintir bass lute, and qraqeb metal castanets, along with singing and handclapping.

Where can I see Moroccan instruments being played?

Venues to experience live Moroccan music include festivals, cultural centers, private concerts, and street performances in main city squares.


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