Fan Chaabi: The Art of the Masses - Tunisia Live Fan Chaabi: The Art of the Masses - Tunisia Live
Fan Chaabi: The Art of the Masses


Fan Chaabi: The Art of the Masses

Slah Mosbah, a famous fan chaabi artist, plays the oud. Photo credit: Slah Mosbah, Facebook.

Working-class music represents an essential part of the folkloric repertoire embraced and celebrated by many Tunisians. This genre is called in the Tunisian dialect fan chaabi, which can be translated as the ˜art of the masses.'

Whereas classical Tunisian music features sophisticated instruments such as the oud or the violin, fan chaabi makes use of other instruments more readily available to working class musicians, notably the zokra and mezoued. The mezoued is a type of handmade bagpipe and the zokra is a traditional flute. [display_posts type=”related” limit=”3″ position=”right”]

Fan chaabi utilizes words and sounds similar to the dialect spoken in Tunisia's interior regions, making it markedly different from other types of Tunisian music. It is highly influenced by music sung in rural areas which travelled to larger urban hubs through migration.

The origins of this genre trace back to tribal Tunisian, or Bedoui, music. Bedoui poetry was originally sung by male or female singers during certain ceremonies such as weddings, according to Mehdi Chakroun, who did his master's degree on Bedoui music.

Musical and linguistic exchange was bound to happen as tribes roamed the country. This exchange was heightened as many Tunisians, driven by a fervent desire to improve their living conditions, migrated from rural areas to larger cities, especially after the independence. The final result was a musical amalgamation and the emergence of today's fan chaabi.

Tunisian popular music witnessed a revival during the 60s and is still thriving till today. A typical Tunisian wedding includes a touch of popular music to spur men and women into festive dancing.

Below, a selection of fan chaabi songs:

Dazitili w Hani Jitek by Ismail Hattab

Ismail el Hattab sung tribal rural songs during the mid-20th century and helped shape today's fan chaabi. In his song Dazitili w Hani Jitek, where the mezoued is heavily used, Hattab answers the call of his beloved. Plagued by her love the moment his eyes met hers, the singer desperately solicits his beloved to provide him with a remedy.

Sidi Ali Azouz by Hedi Donia

This song brings together fan chaabi music and the traditional Sufi music of el Hadhra. The song praises the saint Ali Azouz whose shrine is located in the city of Zaghouan.

Yamma Lasmar Douni by Slah Mosbah

In this song, Tunisian singer and composer Slah Mosbah laments over the racism prevailing over the Tunisian society.

Enjibek Enjibek by Faouzi Ben Gamra

Sung by Faouzi Ben Gamra during the late 1990s, this song tells the story of the infatuation of young man with the charming beauty of young woman. Ben Gamra is determined to gain the young woman's love no matter how hard the pursuit might be.

Rawah Men Soug Ammar by Hedi Habouba and Zied Gharsa

In this duet, a fan chaabi song is fused with Tunisian classical malouf tones. This song features the story of Ammar, a young man about to marry, coming back from the market and bearing several gifts for his wife to be. In the song, the word souk, meaning market, is pronounced soug, highlighting one of the most prominent pronunciation differences between interior and coastal Tunisian dialects. The song also describes the traditional Tunisian clothing worn by the bride.

Ya Mimti el Ghalia by Samir Loussif

The title of this song translates to My Dear Mother. Loussif composed it when he migrated to Italy, and it became widely popular among young Tunisian men who identified with the lyrics. In one of the most popular lines, Loussif sings, my dear mother…I miss you so much, after fate has tampered with me. I'm burned by farewell, my departure is prolonged and I regret this situation.

Bara Rawah by Nour Chiba

Nour Chiba is a young Tunisian singer, renowned for reviving many classical fan chaabi songs in his own modern way by introducing different instruments. The title of this song in the Tunisian dialect means Go Home. In it, a tormented lover is rejected by a young woman who claims that her dowry is too expensive for him to afford.