Throughout the Arab world, Ramadan nights are the peak TV-viewing season, with fierce competition between broadcasters for dominant market share. This competition has led to an explosion in Ramadan television series, some humorous (most popular in the Maghreb), others dramatic, with historical epics glorifying the Islamic past, particularly popular in Turkey and the Gulf states. This surge in television viewing, however, has rendered obsolete older Ramadan traditions.
A generation ago, Ramadan nights in rural and urban communities throughout Morocco were punctuated by the rounds of wandering musicians, playing either the Neffar or the Ghaïta. The Neffar was blown on the first evening of Ramadan, to announce the start of the fasting season, and nightly, to wake the women of the house so they could prepare the final meal before the start of the daily fast. (Many musicians would make a second nightly round to wake the 'lazy' for their final meal before the break of day.) The Neffar was often replaced by the Ghaïta, an instrument with more melodic possibilities.
I had the good fortune to live for several years in a dense working class neighborhood of Rabat, whose residents remain wedded enough to older Ramadan traditions to support a troupe of Ramadan Ghayat. Every evening throughout the month, starting around 11pm, the streets of Diour Jamaa would echo with the keening melodies of the Ghaïta. As the troupe made their way through the neighborhood residents would offer small alms (zakat) to encourage them.
This cassette is the only recording I have ever found of these Ramadan melodies. El Venane Zakaria, a Ghaita player from Essaouira, performs a series of improvisations and melodies on the Ghaïta, unaccompanied. Each side of the cassette starts with a few salutary blasts of the Neffar before Zakaria makes his way through twenty minutes of well articulated melodies.
To all of you about to embark on a month of fasting, spiritual mediation, and replenishment, Ramadan Karim!