The new voice of Moroccan resistance music

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Story highlights

  • Rai music originated in early twentieth century Algeria
  • It broke away from classical Algerian music by employing drum beats and flutes
  • Moroccon musician Douzi takes CNN on a tour of his hometown and its musical origins

(CNN)What happens when you combine Spanish, French, African and Arabic music?

Bedouin shepherds frequenting the Algerian port of Oran first dived into this mixing bowl in the early twentieth century. What they surfaced with was Rai.
    At its core Rai music was counter-cultural, tackling issues like social injustice and colonialism. It broke with the traditions of classical Algerian music by combining drum beats and flutes and the sound soon spread to neighboring countries like Morocco.
    "Rai used to talk about social issues that on a political level it was impossible to talk about... immigration, humiliation, [it] is full of all those subjects," explains Mohamed Amara, director of Oujda Arts and director of the International Festival of Oujda.
    Harnessing this pan-cultural sound decades later is one of North Africa's biggest stars, Moroccan artist Douzi. With millions of fans following his every move on Facebook or Instagram, Douzi is an instantly recognizable figure back in his hometown of Oujda -- so much so that a police escort and a small army of helpers is required when giving CNN a tour.
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    Douzi shows us the city's old walls, Medina and artisans frequenting Oujda's squares. He also seeks out "Chouikh", his fellow musicians.
    "They are the leaders of the countryside music," he explains. "Their music is considered one of the oldest from the eastern part of Morocco."
    "The most important thing in the music is the subjects that they were talking about," he says. "Love, divorce... everything about our society and that people experience on a daily basis."
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    Douzi guides us through ancient caves and leads us to a UNESCO World Heritage site where some of the oldest human remains were discovered.
    "This area has special weather and a place in my heart, because I love nature and the environment," he says. "In this area it is 100 percent quiet... We are far away from the headache of the traffic in the city. There is no place better than this where you can come [to] work and search for some creativity."
    It's out of the city where Rai music maintains its roots; untainted by popular culture and maintaining its charm. Douzi suggests it's perhaps best it stays that way.
    "[Artists here] see their music as a heritage that was given from father to son, and for them it is a job and source of living," he explains. "For us [city dwellers] we always want the big thing, we want to be well known."
    Local dignitaries say Oujda's cultural currency is on the rise, and part of that is down to its most famous son. For all the publicity and the progress, the adaptation of Rai and the adulation Douzi receives, he knows where he belongs.
    "When I come back to Morocco I feel so good, because there is no place like home," he says. "I have traveled all over the world, but my soul rests in Oujda."