Tangier’s voice

photo: Mohamed Achgaf performing at the 16th edition of the ZEMOS98 Festival, Remapping Europe, last April 12th at the CAAC of Seville / AMANDA MELKONIAN

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EYES CLOSED, Mohamed moves his head and hands to the beat while profound words fall effortlessly out of his mouth creating a sincere commentary about the world around him. His lyrics call his generation to action, “I write a real message to the youth with simple language so that they can wake up and can someday fight for the cause of this melody.”

TODAY MOHAMED IS KNOWN by his stage name Murasel, the Moroccan rapper, in the group Tercer Hombre. The name Murasel means “messenger” in Arabic, a fitting title for an artist whose raps depict the harsh realities of the social and economic situations in both Morocco and Spain, his current home. In 2008 Mohamed met Rafael Fonollá, known as Fono Scout, and together they formed Tercer Hombre. Mohamed was born in the small town of Chefchaouen, in the heart of the Riff mountains of Northern Morocco, but grew up in Tangier, where his family still lives. From there here could see the coastline of Spain across the Strait of Gibraltar. He dreamed, like so many other kids from his generation, about making it to Spain, “It was the dream of our generation to leave Morocco. We saw the opportunities that waited for us in Spain, that were simply impossible to achieve in our country,” Mohamed recalls.

IN JANUARY OF 2007, 14-year-old Mohamed decided to leave his parents and four younger siblings in the hope of a more prosperous life in Spain. The economic situation in his hometown was, and remains to be, so bad that even at a young age he recognized the struggles of the adults in his neighborhood. Staying there meant not having access to a whole future of possibilities, including higher education or helping his family.

TAKING HIS FUTURE into his own hands, Mohamed hid under a truck that was about to cross the Strait of Gibraltar at the Port of Tangiers, accompanied by another young Moroccan boy he met at the port. They managed to successfully make it to the Port of Algeciras, only to be discovered by the Spanish Police and be labeled as “unaccompanied alien.” Because he was still a child, the Paz y Bien Association stepped up to help him make a life in Spain. This association provides housing, food, and arranges schooling for children in need. It was here that Mohamed found his home away from home, which is vitally important for a young child living in a foreign country with a language barrier.

TODAY MOHAMED IS NOT ONLY an up-and-coming rap artist, he’s also a determined and dedicated student. At age 18 he had goals of studying medicine. Although he places great importance on school and grades he was not able to enter into that field due to the high grades that were required, and instead opted for chemical engineering at the University of Seville, which is a no less demanding degree. One would think a choice between a music career and an engineering career would have to be made, but Mohamed believes both are attainable, “I want to find a job related to my degree, and then continue making music, this can not happen without giving one hundred percent to both. I think they can complement each other, but it will not be easy (laughs).” The possibility of fame and fortune from a rap career is not enough to deter Mohamed from his original goal in coming to Spain, to get a better education so he can find a good job, to help his family.

MOHAMED TAKES ADVANTAGE of his impressive language skills to communicate his message to a larger audience, “I speak and write fluently in Arabic and French, but for the past two years I have been working more in Spanish.” He believes that the intent of rap is to send a message. It can elegantly, but truthfully describe the reality of the world’s biggest problems. Rap is a socially acceptable way of discussing sensitive subjects in order to inform or to get a reaction out of people, “I think rap is a free music, music close to what my reality was when I first heard it and to what my reality is now. It speaks directly to the audience, as if it were a type of urban journalism. In the United States rap is the music of struggle and it’s the same in Morocco.”

MANY OF HIS SONGS especially his favorite, “Africano,” sound like an autobiography. In his song “El Hombre Pobre,” Mohamed accepts the challenge of being the voice of the youth
in Morocco, “I am the third man, voice of the Third World.” Mohamed draws his inspiration from musicians such as the great flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía and rapper Tupac Schakur, whose songs are known for describing the harsh realities of poverty and social injustice. Within a few years Mohamed created many albums combining Arabic and Spanish languages: Farcha (2007), Zankawi (2010), and his most recent and reputable album; Invictus (2011), which won the Musical Composition category in the Andalucía Migration Awards.

WHILE MOHAMED HAS MADE A LIFE FOR HIMSELF in Seville, his home will always be in Morocco, where his family is, “It is my dream to end up in Chefchaouen with all of my family. I would like to end up there and spend the rest of my life there. That is my dream.” He has come full circle and feels capable of one day helping to better his hometown in Morocco. Unable to hide his pride, Mohamed fondly recalls his last visit to Tangiers; “One day I heard kids in my neighborhood listening to my music on a cell phone. This was beautiful.”