Berber Wedding Song

C Mode

Photo by Jasmyn Gloria Mabalatan

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Wedding songs are among the oldest music in all cultures.
The traditions connected to the joining of two hearts, two lives, two families, and two economies has been taken very seriously since ancient times. There are many elaborate rituals and practices connected to this important occasion.

Left: This version of a wedding dance with scarves was coreographed by Janine Ryle of Les Amies, with Jasmyn as the bride.

Photo from "Algerian Berber Music" CD, Folkways FE4341

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In this photo from the early 1960's in the city of Algiers, an itinerant band of musicians is appearing at an open air festival. Although music may take place at a celebration after the wedding, In the older Kabylia Berber style, the women of the community handle the older household music preparations beforehand.

A woman leader sings a song she has composed especially for the occasion. In this song she takes care to mention the name of at least one person from every family in the village, and is joined by a chorus of women who reiterate her complements. It is a joyous occasion for all, including the guests who hear themselves praised and celebrated as they bring gifts to the wedding.

(From conversations with Merzouk Allache, Saddek Haddadou, and Moh Alileche, of Kabilya.)

A young Moroccan Berber bride-to-be in her wedding outfit.

This lovely photo and the one below showing the preparation of the bride by painting henna on her skin, are of Berber weddings in Morocco, used by permission from the web site zaway.com.


Moroccan woman applying henna to a bride's hand

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From the same site, about wedding customs:

In some parts of Morocco, tradition requires that five days before the wedding, the bride has a ceremonial bath, then is painted with henna swirls on hands and feet, and adorned with makeup and jewels by other women. For centuries, elaborate henna has been applied to Moroccan brides. The night before the wedding, the bride and other women gather together for the henna ritual. The bride receives the most elaborate designs, while the other women are often patterned with lesser designs, covering only small portions of the body. Within the bride's henna design is often found the name of the groom.

Further, a bride is not expected to perform any housework until her henna has faded. The wedding henna ritual has a deeper purpose than mere aesthetic beauty. During the evening of the "henna party," the older, married women share the secrets of marriage with the bride-to-be...

Before becoming guardian of her hearth, the Moroccan bride circles her marriage home three times.

To hear a short excerpt of the "The Bride" sung by Berber women, click here


from Folkways "Algerian Berber Music" FE 4341

The particular wedding song used to inspire the version on the “Seven Modes for an Ancient Lyre” CD comes from Kabylia, (Ethnic Folkways Library no. FE4341). The Kabylia tribe lives in the mountainous part of the Constantine area of Algeria. The female leader of the women’s chorus in this song describes the charms of the young bride, who may not have been seen yet by her groom, although today, they most probably have met and consented to the marriage. Many happy verses follow this one.

I swear by all the saints of Sidi Aich
That the man who wants to marry is in
search of beauty.
Tonight he shall meet the most beautiful
daughter of our beautiful mountains.

It was with great pleasure that I discovered the response of the Berbers who recognized this song, "The Bride," on the Folkways album/CD. In all three cases, a huge smile of delight spread across the faces of these gentleman as soon as they heard the leader sing out her first line to the beat of the drum.

textile pattern for the bride thumbnail image www.sourcesberberes.com/ textile.htm

A few Ancient Berber letters and their development

As an aside, about the Berber language and script::

The Berber language (Tamazight) is believed to stem from the same family of languages as ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, and has a unique alphabet of symbols which can be seen on the internet at

The following quotation from this AncientScripts.com site is used by permission. The mentioned Tuaregs are a different tribe, not from Kabylia. Tuaregs are probably the oldest Berber tribe. They live more in the desert regions and have a strongly matriarchal society.

Ancient Berber writing disappeared after the 3rd century AD, first supplanted by the Roman alphabet, and then later by the Arabic alphabet brought by Islam. But by some strange miracle, it is preserved, and still used today mainly by women in Tuareg society. The modern form is called Tifinagh, which scholars believe to mean "Phoenician/Punic letters". Tifinagh is not used widely for literature or history, but instead for recreation (like for composing letters).

In modern times, after the more traditional Berber wedding festivities take place, often a modern wedding cake and champagne are served in Western wedding reception style. One can’t be too careful when it comes to wishing good luck to the newlyweds!

This melody is a good one for demonstrating how the ancient lyre might have sounded with a combination of instruments; a flute, a drum, a little bell, hand clapping and a suggestion of a women’s chorus and lead singer.

1. Berber Wedding Song
2. The Music Class
3. Twilight on the Water
4. Hurrian Moonrise
5. Ninkasi’s Dance
6. Lament for Linus
7. Solitary Theme
8. Long Ago Lullaby
9. Fortune-Telling Song
10. Hurrian Moonset
11. Ea, the Creator
12. The Queen of Sheba
13. Hal Libba Marya


©Bella Roma Music 2002