Like most cities in Morocco, Rabat in the afternoon is pure chaos: cars, blue taxis out either to drive you or kill you, narrow sidewalks and pedestrians barely looking both ways when they cross. Rabat is the capital of Morocco, one of the ancient imperial capitals, the name means “fortified place” but the walls have long since fallen to modernity.
Ottoman pirates launched from here to take the riches sailing the Atlantic, Islam came aggressively from the East, and the French made it a “protectorate” bringing colonialism, language, and bland cuisine.
Modern buildings with the flat charm of administrative centers press right up to the roads today while other cultures make their way from far across the Atlantic. A short walk from a McDonalds, in front of an abandoned building, an old French mineral export complex tagged with graffiti, producer Jake Warga talks with 19 year-old Hajar. And in her, in this place, cultures are not colliding, they’re congregating.
Hajar is wearing a Hijab, a stylin’ Brooklyn shirt, unique jewelry and an air of confidence not often found in young Moroccan girls. She’s finishing her last year of high school and will not be going the “traditional” route, for despite the head scarf,Hajar will be pursuing her passion of competitive break dancing. She goes by the name: B-Girl Scarf.
Working after school at the “Federation of Hip-hop and Fitness” she competes and instructs other B-girls how to dance to the rapid pulse of modernity’s global soundtrack. There was a ton of enthusiasm for breakdance in the 1980’s back in the U.S., yet all travel is time travel and though it might have taken a while for hip hop to reach past the walls of traditions surrounding much of the Maghreb, it has been, like most influences from abroad, made unique by the people who adopted it. For example, Hajar won a major competition by breakdancing to Gnawa music, the ancient frenetic clattering of instruments and voice found in the indigenous “Berber” tribes.
It wasn’t easy for her to hop into the hip world of hip-hop. Holding her back were the pulls of “tradition” and “culture”. She tells Warga, that in her Islamic society, "parents have values and believe that girls should just stay home, get married…but I try to change this mentality and just show that a girl can also do hip hop and do what she wants.”
Her mother eventually came around and now encourages Hajar to pursue her dream and talent, to spread it among other girls in Morocco, and thanks to the Internet, throughout the Arab world. However, many of her mustached Uncles embody the “traditional” view and she keeps her dancing a secret from them.
But even in the contemporary hip hop community there are cultural legacies that get pressed on them: for example, a B-girl can not compete with a B-boy, that is, girls must only compete against other girls and boys against boys.
And if dancing is a extension of courtship, war, battle, cultural expression why then do it?
B-Girl Scarf replies, “I’m competing against all the people that say or believe that a girl should just stay home and sometimes not even be allowed to study.”