Page last updated at 08:40 GMT, Monday, 6 July 2009 09:40 UK

Putting the rock into Morocco


Youssef Benseddik offers a taste of Moroccan heavy metal

By James Copnall
BBC News, Rabat

Heavy metal is known as rebel music - and that is particularly true in Morocco.

"Metalheads" have been accused of being devil-worshippers, and even locked up because of their passion.

But Youssef Benseddik, a student who heads the heavy metal group Atmosphere does not seem particularly rebellious.

"Our Moroccan culture is based on Islam, on music that is not noisy, on lyrics that talk about the prophets and Allah," he says.

Youssef's parents
As Muslims, as Moroccans, as an Arabic society, we have certain limits
Youssef's father Hassan Benseddik

"If Moroccans listen to metal music, and the screaming of the singer - 'Aaargh' - they think it is not good."

Youssef and his band stress they are good Muslims - they do not take drugs or drink alcohol, and break off rehearsals to pray.

Their songs evoke what they see as terrible injustices all around them - poverty and corruption in Morocco and Africa, and the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Youssef's parents are supportive - up to a point.

His mother, Rahma Benseddik, says she does not really understand the music, but she does have one of his songs stored on her mobile phone.

As any proud mother would, she likes to play it to her friends.

Jailed for Satanism

But Youssef's father has concerns about his son's music.

The band reading guitar magazine
As a way of life, many Moroccans still find heavy metal challenging

"Of course it's a way to express their personality, but we have to know what they want to do," says Hassan Benseddik, a friendly man with salt and pepper hair and a glint in his eye.

"If it's just to express a freedom, OK.

"But as Muslims, as Moroccans, as an Arabic society, we have certain limits."

Those limits were apparently breached in 2003 when 14 heavy metal fans were accused of Satanism, and imprisoned.

Human rights groups and performers took to the streets, saying the rockers were guilty only of wearing black clothes and singing provocative songs.

Shortly afterwards the 14 were released.

Fears of libertarianism

The incident underlined a common theme in Morocco - different parts of society have widely different ideas about what is culturally acceptable.

Even today some people believe untraditional music and the youth culture it encourages is warping Moroccan values in a dangerous way.

Michy Mano
The last 10 years it has been getting more tolerant
Musician Michy Mano

Morocco's moderate Islamist party, the PJD, has criticised music festivals, saying they encourage young people to take drugs and engage in immoral behaviour like sex before marriage.

PJD member Mustapha el-Khalfi says there is also a risk that heavy metal could introduce Satanic behaviour to Morocco.

"Not only Satanism as a 'religion'," he argues.

"But also as a way to give some arguments for young people to be libertarian, to do what they want to do, even if these activities or practices or behaviour are immoral."

Despite the criticism, music festivals are very popular among young people.

Michy Mano, a well-known figure on the Casablanca music scene, says young musicians of all kinds are winning new freedoms for everyone.

"The system has changed a bit, people can speak out a bit louder than they did before," he says.

"There were always people who did that, but there was repression if people spoke about political things.

"But the last 10 years it has been getting more tolerant."

'Positive energy'

All the same, Youssef says he has had to tone down the clothes he wears.

If he puts on all black outfits and pentagram jewellery - as many metalheads throughout the world do - he faces hostility.

But he has no intention of giving up the music he loves.

"We find heavy metal has a positive energy," he explains.

"Even if it is loud and noise we find it very relaxing."

Morocco is an increasingly open society.

But Youssef and other young people are still trying to work out how to be themselves, while staying true to Moroccan values.

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