Africa in Morocco, Morocco in Africa: Making space for foreign voices in the Darijaphone public sphere

By Kristin Hickman
Submitted to Session P5028 (Language and Identity, 2017 Annual Meeting
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The Moroccan government has recently engaged in a conscious effort to reintegrate itself into the African continent. The latest evidence of this is the Kingdom’s reentry into the African Union after an absence of more than thirty years. While much attention has been given to the political and economic stakes of these efforts to relocate Morocco in Africa, this paper argues that a cultural relocation has in fact been years in the making, but that the transformation of these new geographies into intimate sensibilities is still in the process of being worked out in everyday life in Morocco.
In this paper, I first track the ways in which Africa has been not-so-subtly folded into the Moroccan imaginary and Moroccan identity over the past decade through a sort of domestic cultural diplomacy. Looking at a combination of music festivals and televised media, I trace the cultivated presence of Africa in Moroccan popular culture, with particular attention to the ways in which Moroccans have been recruited into thinking of themselves as almost but not quite African.
Second, my paper then traces the linguistic negotiations of an African presence within Moroccan popular culture by looking closely at three recent attempts to “voice” West African residents in Darija (colloquial Moroccan Arabic): a dubbed documentary (Aji-Bi), an anti-racism campaign (Ma Smitiych Azzi), and a comedy skit (Saad Mabrouk).
Through an examination of these attempts to reimagine the place—and the voice—of Africa within the Moroccan cultural soundscape, I reveal an unevenness in how this imperative of geographical relocation is being taken up by ordinary Moroccans. Ultimately, I argue that a more abstract acceptance of Morocco’s cultural africanité does not preclude an intimate discomfort with accepting “foreign” African voices into the most intimate sphere of Moroccan life—Darija. Yet significantly, I also suggest that these attempts to “voice” foreignness in Darija are a potentially pivotal step towards reimagining (or rehearing) Darija as a cosmopolitan public language whose sonic borders include all of the Morocco’s diverse residents.