R.I.P. Abderrahmane Paco: An Obit-Post.

الــــــبـــقـــاء لــلــــه

Bislamah, Si Abderrahmane!
Maâlem Abderrahmane 'Paco' Kirrouche.

The funeral march to his last place.
The Gnawa world was left in a state of total shock; awe, disbelief, even complete amazement this last Sunday after the news of the death of one of its true pillars and stars of this type of Arabic music: Abderrahmane Kirrouche (عبدالرحمن قيروش, also known fondly as just 'Paco', or sometimes 'Paca'), was announced dead after fighting illness for the last five years which left him paralysed, unable to speak, and very weak. He died in his house in Casablanca at the age of 64, and was taken soon afterwards to a hospital in Hai Al-Ma'areef to be prepared for burial there until his wife agreed on the place of his grave having been outside of Morocco at the time of her husband's death.

The Shuhada Cemetery.
The burial which took place this last Monday's afternoon at Maqbarat Al-Shuhada (Martyrs' Cemetery), in Casablanca saw a few members of his family attending; his eldest son Younis along with many of his relatives, close friends, writers, musicians and fans. It was a macabre funeral wrapped in a shroud of sadness and sheer sense of a loss of one of the greatest names in Moroccan art and music. Some of the ex-members of his ex-band (Nass El-Ghiwane) were attending there, too like Omar Al-Sayed, who carried his friend and companion for over twenty years with his one hand walking with a stick on the other, and laid him to his last resting place at the same cemetery that has the tombs of two passing ex-members of this Moroccan band (Hgour Boujami and L'Arabi Batma).
Younis, Paco's elder son laying his father
inside his grave, on Monday.
This is my obituary-post for one of the best artists of this wonderful country, Morocco. May the peace of God and His blessings and forgiveness be his for an eternity. Amen.

Allah Yerhamou.


Abderrahmane (R) with Nass El-Ghiwane - ناس الغيوان.

Abderrahmane 'Paco' Kirouj - عبدالرحــمن باكـو: 

Paco was born into a very poor family that included his father musician in 1948 in
Essaouira town ('the City of Wind', or the homeland of Moroccan Gnawa; a city that sits on the Atlantic Ocean in western Morocco - الصويرة), in Marrakesh, Tensift-Al Haouz in the Sidi-Kawki district where he began playing his santir there being taught a few tricks of the trade by his father Si Kirouj. His first starting steps at having any musical career in a place as head-turningly full of hard competitiveness as what Morocco in the 60's was, were taken in 1964 when he learned to master the craftsmanship of making the santir (also called the hajhouj/guembri) at the hands of a Maâlem (or, master-player. Note: it's rumoured to have been Maâlem Benthami, or Asattam, but it isn't quite sure) in Marrakesh, using his hands to work the brittle 'ar'ar wood which this grandiose-filled, two-stringed musical instrument is usually made from.
One of the earliest pictures of
Paco with Jil Jilala.
As a young man, Paco started traveling from one town to another outside Essaouira, meeting small bands of music enthusiasts like himself, or those small ferqat/majmoua't - (فرقات/مجموعات) made from a handful of hippie-influenced, long-haired young Moroccans who were trying to play a different sound than what's being offered inside or outside Morocco. These travels took him in 1966 to Britain to play as part of the psychfest, experimental troupe The Living Theatre (where he met his future wife, Christine and later in Essouria, Jimi Hendrix who jammed with Paco in the late 60's much to the deplorement of the old-school players of Gnawa).

Moulay Abdel-Aziz Taher.
This rebel scene was at its height meanwhile in Casablanca when he returned there around 1968. A budding group saw him play and took interest in his playing, instantly because they were looking for a new instrument to add to their repertoire: Jil Jilala. They sang in front of King Hassan-II himself with Paco playing his santir there, sweating rock-sized beads of sweat as he entered the trance-like state of jadba. The King was very impressed and the band became the talk of whole town.

Nass El-Ghiwane's early line-up in 1974.
Soon, the group issued many songs with Paco playing the santir like Liklam Lemrassa, Liyam T'nadi, Ha El-A'ar Bouyah, etc... But, alas, the musical wavelengths of both Paco and the rest of Jil Jilala didn't quite match so well: at one recording session, he didn't agree on the songs' beat that other Jil Jilala's members didn't see anything wrong with. So, he left the recording studio at once mid-session and never looked back after staying a whole year playing with what was then the best Moroccan neo-traditionale group of that time. This was utter nuttiness.

Nass El-Ghiwane's Early Line-Up: (R-L) L'Arabi Batma,
Abdel-Aziz Al-Taheri,
Boujami, Mahmoud Al- Sâadi, Omar Al-Sayed.

Hgour Boujami.
Moulay Abdel-Aziz Taher who was also the main member and santir-player of another struggling group left his band, and the leader and founder of this Jilala-rival band (Boujami) having seen Paco play with them several times, insisted on having Paco as a replacement for Abdel-Aziz (Note: they basically swapped places: Taher went to join Jilala and Paco, Ghiwane. Also, funny thing's they both almost looked the same at that time according to some Moroccan historians), and even called him by what he used to call everyone in his group with a "hada El-Ghiwane", or 'this Ghiwane'. Paco himself couldn't believe his luck when Boujami came and asked him to join his group, officially. He said in one interview that, "to me, Boujami was the epitome of Moroccan music." Paco left Marrakesh without a blink and went to Casablanca to play and rehearse with Nass El-Ghiwane the very next day. It's said that the other members of Jil Jilala woke up and couldn't find him anywhere: he just left without a trace, or even a note.

Nass El-Ghiwane with Abderrahmane Paco, 1973.
Nass El-Ghiwane, 1973.
But, he was there, on stage: this young, brown-skinned man with his shaggy hair; one who was later called 'The White Gnawaist' because usually santir-players were all dark-skinned. Paco gave Nass El-Ghiwane a new breath of fresh-air, especially when they started recording and playing their first song written and composed together Gheir Khoudouni ('Just Take Me Away': it's my favourite by the way). Other singer and member of the Nass (Omar Al-Sayed), was let out of his box: Omar's voice suddenly started to sound so coarse, so manly, and very strong which wasn't the case before Paco joined the band. That song was filled to hilt with cries, shouts and heart-rending shrieks against injustices and humane maladies seen in one of Morocco's 'hottest' districts (El-Hay Al-Mohammadi), that knew no rest since the days of the French imperialist invasion of this beautiful, and culturally-rich country, right until the late 80's.

With Algerian politico-playwright
Abdessamad El-Kenfaoui, 1972.
It was such a new power added to one of the best bands in the world, thanks to Abderrahmane Paco and his bassy santir. Death took Boujami away before the band saw its deserving fame, and  after years of concert-playing inside and outside of Morocco, Paco left the band when Al-Arabi Batma died on the second day of February, 1997. He went and settled in his hometown Essouria, finally. The band sang its swan song one year earlier in 1996 (Koulna Khamsah - We All Are Five), as a memoir of their friendship. After the breakup of Nass El-Ghiwane, Paco went and started a band with his two sons, Younis and Yaseen Paco calling it 'The Paco Band' (Ferqat Paco) and at later times they went as 'Paco Ghiwane'. 
Paco sitting silently with his two sons.
Paco at his later days.
His last days saw him as a poor and very sick old man. The King paid for his treatment for eight years and most of his friends visited him frequently at his house, but he preferred to stay alone. In 2004 he played his last concert at The Essouria Festival of the same year, and retreated to his Casablancan house to fight illness face-to-face. The rebel in Paco was as strong as he was in his twenties: He's a self-made genius who fused many styles long before these days of so-called 'mashups' ever begun. Nass El-Ghiwane was where his ingeniousness saw a living start with his fellow members singing together various contradicting styles: Amazigh, Bedouin rhythms, etc. to the accompaniment of his hand-made santir with its Gnawa sound. Still, their new sound made all the difference in the world.

Paco with Gnawa fusion band, The Essouria Birds.
This man has passed away into another realm; a different world of a ghostly existence now, when the nickname Tabeeb Al-Ashbah was one of his most famous that he got called by Jimi Hendrix who visited Paco and referred to his playing and his charisma as 'The Ghost-Doctoring'. Rest in Peace, Paco.

Paco Abderrahmane: 1948-2012.


The band, live on stage. Morocco's best ever.


Nass El-Ghiwane:
The first picture of Nass El-Ghiwane
with Paco Abderrahmane, 1973.
Before the group was called 'Nass El-Ghiwane' in 1971, it was a theatrical troupe of singing actors under the auspice of one Al-Tayeb Al-Seddiki; who's the founding father of the so-called modern music theatre in Morocco in the late 50's and early 60's. After graduating under his tutelage, the band's earliest members named their selves (in English) 'The New Derviches' (Addaraweesh Al-Judud), and joined efforts with Seddiki's brother-in-law Abdel-Qader who was working at the Baladi Theatre at that time, to perform their music-plays around Casablanca. Their first concert/live stage act was held at a restaurant in that same city (The Nautilus), which was located at Ein Al-Deyab block, around the year 1966. One of the most amazing things about Nass El-Ghiwane was that their first song ever sung on record was a children poem written by Arab poet Ahmad Shawqi (Kittati Asaghierah - My Little Kitten), and they sang it for a ten-year old boy they saw at one of their live acts in the year 1967 and decided to dedicate the song for just him! Lucky kid. After a few successful acts, the band's manager now, Al-Tayeb Al-Seddiki, renamed them 'Nass El-Ghiwane': The People of Joy, or Ambulance. Critics attest that the name of this band had nothing to do with old, traditional Moroccan music styles such as Gnawa, not until Abderrahmane Paco joined in 1973 and gave the band a whole new musical tangent to follow as a spiritual outfit, in addition to a theatrical and political band of singers.
Nass El-Ghiwane: Live on stage:
The five-member early line-up.
The theatre roots of Nass El-Ghiwane were very evident long before the band was formed. For example, Boujami had a troupe of his own (called 'Ruwwad Al-Khashaba', or The Stage's Fans along with El-Yahyaoui, Metraz, Omar Al-Sayed who later became a member at Nass El-Ghiwane) with Allal Yaala as the sole player, playing only upon request along with the troupe. Another member, Al-Arabi Batma, used to meet with Boujami and Omar at Seddiki's theatre, but was a member of another theatre group called 'The Golden Crescent': El-Hilal El-Thahabi.
Paco with the band, in 1974.
Moroccan popular theatre was called at that time 'Al-Bisat' Theatre: The Carpet Theatre because it was a simplistic, early form of 'fringe' theatre (bisat denotes how 'simple' people used to sit on the floor, or over a carpet-spread, and discuss things, offhandedly). It was also a collective form of art which combined both singing and acting in a very unique way during those early hard times in Morocco. Those acts depended mostly on exaggerated hand movements, symbolism, and loud voices all intermixed with a heavy traditional heritage music sung in a satirical way. Boujami was the 'brain-and-rein' of the new troupe and he formed what was believed to be, the first café-théâtre in Morocco around the year 1968. He chose Batma, and Omar as his co-actors, where as he once said, "The stage will be our field; our union, revolution, and our revenge!" This is how these young actors and musicians came to the fore in a small, busy, loud, and politically-charged district in Casablanca (Hay Al-Mohammadi, or simply 'El-Hay' as residents call it).
L'Arabi Batma with fans at Hay Al-Muhamady, late 70's.
This district was the thorn in the King's side and a safe haven for art and revolutionaries made from those poor, young rebels resembling as much an artistic gathering as that of Haight Ashbury in San Fransisco. It was the 'Jema El-Fina' of the intellectuals, where also workers used to sit and listen to whatever bands and artists played after a long day's work at night on the narrow blocks of this district. Each 'block' had its own musical taste and unique flavour: Darb Moulay A-Shareef was famous for the desert nomadic songs and music, especially those played by the Doubal tribe known for their Kadrah dance (Omar comes originally from this same tribe), while Hay Asakkien was Ahuach-infested, and La Farge was strictly Gnawan.
Israeli Army troops, approaching Jerusalem, 1967.
The Rebels playing on stage.
The 1967 Arab armies war with Israel (The Six-Days War) was the spark that sit the whole district on fire and ever since that time, that place hasn't seen a single minute of rest. Bands started to root for communist-backed Palestinian militias, and socialist/Marxist ideals were the only sanctuary for most workers. Most of Nass El-Ghiwane members' parents were immigrant workers who fled various wars to settle there at Al-Mohammadi: Boujami's father came from a townlet in the south called Tatta, Allal's was from Ouled Ba'Rhail (his father was also a singer at the famous Al-Hawarah band), as for Al-Arabi's, he came from Masra' Bin-Abdou (Duwwar A-Sikah, Ouled El-Bou-Zieri), and finally Omar's father was from the Ait Baha; a Soussian region. The other members were Moualy Abdel-Aziz Al-Taheri (Marrakesh), Mahmoud Al- Sâadi (Sousika, Al-Mohammadi), and our very own Abderrahmane's father who came from Essaouira.

Abderrahmane Paco - عبدالرحمن باكو.

Here's a quick look at each one of those members:

Hgour Boujam
Hgour Boujami - أحكور بوجميع.

Real name: Ihkour 
Boujemâa (a.k.a. Ahguir Boujemâa, alias Boujmiî). He was born in Casablanca in 1944 in a poor district at Al-Mohammadi called 'El-Chabu' where many local bands used to play their music every Sunday. He studied in the Union Elementary school, which was built by the residents of Al-Mohammadi, and went to finish his high-school studies at the only Arabic school there (Thanawyet Al-Azhar), where his love for Arab unity and compassion for the Palestinian case took stem  and roots. Started his acting career in 1963, and in 1968 he became a professional theatre actor. His fellow members remember him as a silent, humble open-minded man whose voice resonated in their memory long after his untimely death on October, the 26ᵗʰ in 1974, which put a stop to his creative career as a singer and an actor. The audience loved Boujami. Some rumors circled around of him being poisoned to death by secret police, but his close friends know that he might have died because of a chronic ulcer he had and ignored until it was too late.

Al-Arabi (L'Arabi/L'rabi) Batma:
Al-Arabi Batma - لعربي بطمة.

He was born in Casablanca in 1947. A writer by birth, his first brush with the arts was as part of an amateur band of theatre-lovers called Ferqat Al-Huwah Al-Bedhawyah, and in 1969 he went professional at the famous Baladi Theatre in Casablanca. He was a rebel who got himself a month sentence in jail after the infamous March, 1965 riots, but he's the band's most charismatic member: alongside his beautiful Chaouian voice that set him apart from the rest of the members of Nass El-Ghiwane, he was a poet and a comedian. After the death of
Boujami, his star risen, and became like a 'godfather' figure to the rest of the group, writing most of their songs. He was known to his friends as a loner, and a solitude-lover who spent the last days of his life writing his autobiography. Two of his books spoke volumes about his loneliness and inner pain: one was named 'Al-Raheel' (The Departure), while his last was 'Al-Alam' (The Pain). He was quoted once admitting that, "Art has tortured me all of my life." He died on the 7ᵗʰ of February in 1997 from cancer. 

Allal Yaala:
Allal Yaala - علال يعلى.

Allal was born in 1941, in Casablanca. At his younger years, he worked as a musician with some orchestras and in 1960 was able to write music for some amateur plays, finally settling to join the Baladi Theatre (Municiapl Theatre) with
Boujami, Al-Arabi and Omar Al-Sayed. He mastered so many instruments (Violin, qanoun, ghita, l'outar, oud and his characteristic banjo), and was nicknamed by his fellow Ghiwane members as the 'walking orchestra'. His friends admit that he was a bit of a weirdo, moody all the time, sometimes staying silent for no apparent reason in front of cameras or during interviews, but one who's musically talented so much as to keep up with the band if it slipped during a concert— he was the anchor of the whole band and is still living today.

Omar Al-Sayed:
Omar Al-Sayed - عمر السيد.

Born in 1947, in Casablanca. His family was a poor, Moroccan one: his father was a hard-working man, and his mother was of a bedouin origin. He didn't finish school, and went instead to sell lemon juice on the streets of Casablanca, and sometimes worked as a 'shaffar' (knife-sharpener), as he admitted later in his life. He's known to have been a petty thief at his younger years and a very lazy student, to boot. He joined a theatre troupe ('Ruwwad Al-Khashabah') in 1963, and in 1967 quit to become a professional actor at Al-Jaouq Al-Jahawi (The Tribal Orchestra). Before forming Nass El-Ghiwane with
Boujami, he dabbled in few television stints and had a mediocre film career that both weren't successful. The Moroccan media didn't like him, too. He's known as the quasi-manager of the band, and for forty years or more was able to keep it as a tight unit during the line-up changes it witnessed. He's still alive today.
Nass El-Ghiwane.

The Band's Musical Repertoire:
From chaâbi, mawrouth, Andalussian, and traditional mawal rhythms and Moroccan malhoun beats known all over Morocco, Nass El-Ghiwane took a turn to the real 'deep' roots of Moroccan music. Some of the band's music can border on the Sufist, stemming from their zar-like hadra and Paco's trancenedntalia as he played with closed eyes on stage (which got him the nickname of Al-Majthoub: 'The Possessed One'), taking for the first time this strictly-religious style outside of its medium of Sufist zaouiya into the open stage, and turning such religious states open for all to see in a 'living-theatre'-like experience.

Paco Abderrahmane.

Paco's music was Gnawan, but it also played perfectly well alongside other instruments that have no religious correlations and were much looked down by the general Moroccan populace such as hazaz (Hamdouchi, known to be a famous street beggar's instrument), t'bila (Essaoui, noisy instrument which was played mainly by women at private parties), and the Atlas bandir (a shiekhat-only instrument that was also, one of the most despised by true classic musicians instrument), all driven by the repetitive beat of the banjo (non-Arabic) with its metallic sound which, as a whole, took the band into otherworldly levels.
The band playing live on stage in Europe, 1987.

Lyrics-wise, the band had always inserted, cryptically-coded revolutionary messages that only a smart listener would get, and thus was so close to the street man and the intellectual more than the richer, high-class ones. So-called 'Libtanah', or metonymy was heavily used in their poems and lyrics, in addition to playing the usual chaâbiyat that have a very long history with Moroccan music as a whole like aita, malhoun, abeidat al-rami (Eissoua Al-Hadra), sahrawi, sufist religious tunes, sharki, etc. all the way to Arab nationalistic songs, anti-capitalist 'cryptunes', and African revolutionary riot rock.

Paco with Abdel-Aziz, Omar, and Allal
having a party with some friends.

Line-Up Chronology:
Boujami(vocals, bendir), L'Arabi Batma (vocals, t'bila, tamtam), Omar Al-Sayed (vocals, daadou', bandir), Allal Yaala (vocals, lute, santira/banjo).

Hagour Boujami (vocals, bendir), L'Arabi Batma (vocals, t'bila, tamtam), Omar Al-Sayed (vocals, daadou', bandir), Allal Yaala (vocals, lute, santira/banjo), Moulay Abdel-Aziz Taheri (vocals, guembri).

Hagour Boujami (vocals, bendir), L'Arabi Batma (vocals, t'bila, tamtam), Omar Al-Sayed (vocals, daadou', bandir), Moulay Abdel-Aziz Taheri (vocals, guembri), Mahmoud Al-Saâdi (vocals, lute, santira/banjo).

Hagour Boujami (vocals, bendir), L'Arabi Batma (vocals, t'bila, tamtam), Omar Al-Sayed (vocals, daadou', bandir), Moulay Abdel-Aziz Taheri (vocals, guembri), Allal Yaala (vocals, lute, santira/banjo).

Hagour Boujami (vocals, bendir), L'Arabi Batma (vocals, t'bila, tamtam), Omar Al-Sayed (vocals, daadou', bandir), Allal Yaala (vocals, lute, santira/banjo), Abderrahmane Paco (vocals, guembri).

L'Arabi Batma (vocals, t'bila), Omar Al-Sayed (vocals, bandir), Allal Yaala (vocals, lute, santira/banjo), Abderrahmane Paco (vocals, guembri).

El-Nass El-Ghiwane.

This band was and probably, will stay, Morocco's most humane music band ever: their songs are poems and shouts from the most intractable recesses of the bane and burden one experiences by being a human brings to us: we are humans, and regardless of how we live, or if we die... we should never lose touch of that side which bands like Nass El-Ghiwane sang about and tried to immortalise through such loving, heartful, soulful singers and musicians like Abderrahmane Paco and his friends who sang and kept burning inside them like a lighted coal full of passion for love, freedom, and truth.

Paco with wife Christine,
and L'Arabi, 1980's.
This here is an obituary for a unique singer, too who refused to live normally like he was just another number and yes, he suffered for that. Paco was a great man, really. If you can't feel it within your entire being, then you have lost your modern souls. His critics were too many to count, but he was a man of a pure soul, and never gave in to their pressure even when he accepted the presence of many of a western fan (considered a sacriligious act around Gnawa circles as they do not allow non-Muslims to go to the hadra unwashed, etc.), including a British 'Christine', who played with him on stage as part of the 'Living Theater' band, and later he proved his critics wrong when they both married and stayed in London for a while (they had a daughter from that union who still lives in Britain with her mother). But, being the true adamant and hard-headed Gnawaist, he divorced her and returned to live in Morocco; where his beloved homeland and its wonderful music were waiting for him to continue to play and master.

The soulful Paco.

A few days ago Paco might have died there in his house, after fighting a long spill of chronic hypertension that left him paralysed for five years or so, unable to move or speak after a long and thriving career as a musician, but most importantly, as a human soul that refused to give up to conformity. Paco will live in our memories and minds as this wandering ambulant singer and santir-player whose life can never stop with death.

Rest in ever-lasting peace,
Maâlem Paco.

And yes, long live your 'wanderful' soul.


Maâlem Abderrahmane 'Paco' Kirrouche.


Paco, in full 'throattle' of his stage-power.

Almost all known albums by Abderrahmane Paco (along with Nass El-Ghiwane, or those of him recorded as a solo artist or with other bands) are known to most of his fans. Even those who casually listen to Gnawa music know a few records by heart. So, instead of uploading the usual stuff, I decided to upload only the rare, early live cuts from the band's theatre active years, the first pressings/recordings and rare live cuts like the famous Fox Cinema concert in 1972 (a couple of very rare tracks), plus many sahras with Nass El-Ghiwane. The quality of most of these records is weak because they've been lying in neglect for years, or were radio-recorded songs that were put straight to cassette by ardent Moroccan fans.

Do enjoy, nonetheless these rare tracks that span over three hours!
Nass El-Ghiwane - Old, Rare Live Recordings And Cuts.
-Nass El-Ghiwane - Old Cassettes from the 70's.

As for Abderrahmane himself, I shall upload the first song that he sang with Nass El-Ghiwane (Gheir Khoudouni - غير خدوني) as a separate file for those of you who enjoy this all-time favourite song of mine. It's a beautiful and strong song recorded here as Mono.
Dig it:

Gheir Khoudouni - Nass El-Ghiwane.

As a bonus, here's one of the band's earliest theatre acts 'Al-Harraaz' الحراز, 1967. A short clip taken from some TV footage of that satirical play (Arabic, no subtitles). Enjoy:
-Al-Harraz Play, 1967 - Nass El-Ghiwane.

Nass El-Ghiwane video collection.

F.N.: Read Tim Abdellah's wonderful audiobituary for Paco: There are a couple of cassettes that you can download directly from there. Also, check his site for more of Paco's wonderful solo music and/or his with Nass El-Ghiwane. Also, Ted Swedenburg has written another obit for Paco here and here in his own blog (HawgBlawg).

And, for those who like a bit of poetry (in Arabic only), this blog-site here offers some of Nass El-Ghiwane's best poem-songs ever. Be sure to try and read them even if with the aide of a Translator.

Update 12.06.2K12:
's an MS-Word file with all Nass El-Ghiwane's song-lyrics in Arabic plus, the song L'Hamami (My Companion), in two different versions all in the same file.


See ya with our next post about strictly... Gnawa. It'll be wonderful.




tim abdellah said...

Nice post, Mr. H!

Hammer said...

Glad you've enjoyed this small tribute to Paco, a5i Tim.

The next post will be a lengthy dissertation on Gnawa music, and I am sure you're going to enjoy that, too.

Take care, bross.


Hammer said...

Reader's Note:
All files were taken down by MediaFire. The reason? L'Hmami infringed some copyright-ass matter.
Also, Old, Rare Live Recordings And Cuts/ Old Cassettes from the 70's/The play video shot/ and the MSWord doc. (Note: I never thought word-docs would have any CRs readily on'em!) were all taken as well.

Do the math and you'll reckon why I am stopping altogether from blogging here as a whole. This is quite moot.

Thanks for your time and understanding guys.


Anonymous said...

you cant stop! I check your blog every day for this Gnawa tribute post. That's ok sir, if you do discontinue... much respect to what you have given the world. Bisalama

Anonymous said...

No possibility to upload the two Nass El Ghiwane packs?