Hip-hop influenced a Moroccan computer scientist to pursue his dreams and become a rapper during the COVID-19 pandemic
“I want people to get to know Morocco," said rap artist Sigou Marouane, a proud native son. "I want to be a voice for a lot of people around me."
From sunrise to sunset, the Medina in Marrakesh, Morocco, is a bustling area that is crowded with nationals and tourists dressed in anything from traditional Moroccan attire to casual clothing. While walking through the city, many stop to take pictures and gaze at the stunning reddish-orange architecture.
The atmosphere is filled with the smells of Moroccan tea, nearby restaurants and perfume. Customers can be overheard speaking in their native tongues while leisurely navigating through the souks (markets) to find handmade rugs hanging overhead, orange, yellow and brown spices placed neatly in baskets ready to be bargained for and unique hand-crafted Moroccan garments carefully stored in closet-style boutiques for purchase. While shopping, tourists are often startled as people on motorized bikes chaotically weave through the crowds to get to their destinations.
In the midst of it all, Sigou Marouane, a 33-year-old Moroccan national, can be spotted operating the Wafl Design store, located in the Medina on Rue Mouassine. There, he sells artwork to Americans and other tourists while blasting American hip-hop music, like Lupe Fiasco’s 2006 “Kick, Push,” Busta Rhymes and Mariah Carey’s 2002 “I Know What You Want” and Kid Cudi’s 2008 “Day ‘n’ Nite.”
During an exclusive interview with theGrio, Marouane — whose first name is his professional moniker, which he uses as a rapper — recounted how his life changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While his country was on lockdown, many people lost their lives, some were laid off from their jobs and others became hopeless. Marouane was one of those people who felt like he had hit rock bottom after pursuing a fulfilling career as a computer scientist.
“I lost my house. I needed my kids to stay with their family in the village. I stayed alone in my dad’s house and was like sort of homeless,” he revealed. “[I thought] What can I do with my time, with my talents? Music?”
“So, I started making song after song,” he continued. “I applied for this project from Belgium to make a musical project. … I ended up making an album with 18 songs.”
Marouane told theGrio he struggled to record the Sigou LP because he did not like rapping in front of people — not even his wife and kids.
“I get very shy singing in front of people,” he shared.
“It took me months to just get used to my voice in the microphone. I used to kick my kids and wife out and was like, ‘OK, take them to play games or go to the park or something so I can be home alone,’” he chuckled while recounting the moment.
Since then, the rapper has gone on to perform at music festivals in his North African country, garnering thousands of fans.
Music by Sigou is also broadcast on the radio, heard throughout Morocco and the United Kingdom. One of his most popular songs is called “Wld Fatima,” which was inspired by a well-known love song.
“We took a sample from an old song called ‘Lalla Fatima’ because it’s very familiar, and we changed it to ‘Wld Fatima,’ [which means] be careful and stay away from us,” Marouane explained as he reclined in his chair.
“I did it in an explicit way,” he said. “It went viral, however, it wasn’t for the radio. So, when the song went viral, they asked me to make the clean version of it so they can drop it on radio.”
Marouane said American rap icons like Rhymes, Snoop Dogg and Lil Wayne inspired him to pursue a career in music.
“When I watched ‘Gimme Some More’ for the first time I was like, whoa,” he said eagerly, describing Rhymes’ 1998 music video.
“Even if I didn’t understand the lyrics and stuff, the vibe was so dope,” he opined. “Then, Lil Wayne came in, ‘A Milli,’ then ‘6 Foot 7 Foot.'”
Although many hip-hop artists credit Tupac Shakur for inspiring their passion for music, Marouane admitted he had not listened to the “California Love” rapper growing up.
In recent years, he has incorporated Tupac’s music into his playlist and now understands why the late artist “is called a legend.”
Marouane became fluent in English at a young age while toiling alongside his father in the Medina and interacting with its scores of tourists over the years.
“I was part of the market for so long because my dad owned a bazaar, and I worked with him,” he said, “so I grew up in the market. That’s how I learned how to speak English.”
Little did Marouane know that learning English and taking an interest in hip-hop culture would benefit him later in life.
The on-the-rise rapper told theGrio that through his music, he strives to bring people “joy” and has chosen to rap in Arabic, French and English in hopes of becoming world-renowned.
“I want people to get to know Morocco,” said Marouane. “I want to be a voice for a lot of people around me.”
“We don’t live in tents. We have the internet. That’s the impression people have of Morocco and about Arabic countries in general. Like I’m over here driving a camel coming to work,” he joked.
So, what’s next for the Moroccan artist? He plans to open a space in Marrakesh that will be available to people around the world who need a place to record music, engage in photoshoots, conduct interviews and express their artistic talents. He aims to make the space accessible after this Friday, April 21, which marks the end of Ramadan, the annual month in which Muslims fast, pray and reflect.
“I know a lot of talented people” whose talent is going to waste, said Marouane, “because they don’t have the right place to record.”
He wants to change that.
Through the pandemic’s tragedy, Marouane was able to find a hidden talent and hone that skill to create music that he hopes will one day unify the world — and help others do the same.
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