By Sarah Touahri for Magharebia in Casablanca – 27/07/09
Thousands of Moroccan rai fans gathered from Thursday through Saturday (July 25th) for a three-day international music event in Oujda, the capital of Morocco's Oriental region. Big-name Maghreb rai singers Rachid Berriah, Bilal, Reda Taliani, Cheba Zehouania, Mohamed Lamine and others captivated large audiences of dedicated rai enthusiasts.
The event, which featured both traditional Moroccan folk music and modern songs, aimed to bring together international rai stars and also establish a reputation as one of Morocco's top arts spectaculars, festival director Farid Chourak told Magharebia.
"It's a landmark event for musicians," said frequent participant Rachid Berriah. The well-known artist said the Oujda international festival was an opportunity for singers to meet and promote rai music.
Mohamed Lamine agreed, saying that he felt fortunate to be taking part in such a high-profile event alongside so many established singers.
The festival was founded in 2007 to help rai music take hold in the region and open it up to the influence of other musical genres. "We're trying to reflect the plural heritage of Morocco by opening up the musical culture of the Oriental Region," organisers explained.
The Oujda rai celebration has proved to be a financial boon to the region.
"The festival puts the spotlight on our city's development and boosts tourism and local investment," noted local teacher Nadia Hajri.
High-calibre performers lit up the evenings during the festival. The elegant Latifa Raafat, a first-time participant to the festival, got the event under way with her well-known songs. The audience sang along in unison.
"The event has attracted more than 700,000 people. That's a dream for any artist," Raafat said with joy. To the delight of spectators, Raafat sang a duet with Lamine that blended modern Moroccan music with rai.
Ahmed, a young IT worker from Nador, said the event could not be missed, as it was an opportunity to come face-to-face with rai musicians.
"Rai is best enjoyed live," he said, dancing along to Lamine's music.