Hardzazat Hardcore Fest is a free, annual music and arts festival that takes place in Ouarzazate. It’s guided by a proud punk aesthetic and fierce anti-colonial, anti-fascist rhetoric. Punk rockers, rappers, circus artists and graffiti writers from Morocco and abroad converge in the city for two days of performances, film screenings and workshops.

Following this year’s festival in March, its organizers are now looking towards a fifth edition in 2019. On May 14, they posted a statement on their Facebook page, written in Arabic, French and English and declaring that next year’s Hardzazat Fest would explicitly not invite any French artists.

The decision was pointed in its purpose: “France … which colonized Morocco under the pretext of the protectorate, has not yet finished with its imperialism and monopolism, whether on the economic, political or even cultural side …. We oppose the excessive importance of Europeans and the way in which they occupy spaces for cultural creation and dissemination.” Denying French artists at Hardzazat would allow for a unique creative space made by and for Moroccans.

To justify the decision, Hardzazat described an imbalance of power between France and Morocco, from institutions to individuals. “[The] French have myriad privileges … not only in their country, but also when they are in Morocco, privileges that Moroccans do not have in their own country.” Europeans, as they point out, can enter Morocco with ease but Moroccans, including artists, face great obstacles to travel in Europe. “Moroccans are returned to a paradox in which they must make the effort to master French culture while maintaining what European vacationers see as exotic or folklore: jellabas, couscous, mint tea.”

Even well-intentioned French visitors can be culpable of continuing these dynamics, Hardzazat explained. “Under the pretext of doing humanitarian work and providing aid to the ‘underprivileged’ Moroccans, the French are affording everything to themselves but not realizing that they are reproducing colonial practices that render the (formerly) colonized dependent on the colonizer.”

“The good thing for white people to do,” Hardzazat suggested, “is to stand back when initiatives are taken and act only when they are asked to.”

The announcement was met with mixed, but largely negative, responses. In the impassioned, trilingual Facebook discussion that followed, the Hardzazat community expressed many of the often-heard arguments regarding decolonization, racial privilege and cultural exchange. Here, in one of the more radical segments of Moroccan society, is a reflection of global conversations.   

Some of the European and Moroccan commenters decried the move as “racist,” even “fascist,” and counter-productive to the politics of Hardzazat. Such a decision, one commenter wrote, could itself lead to anti-Moroccan racism or “retaliatory nationalism.”

Another commenter suggested that it would be better to look past racial and national boundaries. In response, one of the most active defenders of Hardzazat’s statement, Nabil Belkabir, explained that ignoring race or nationality would be ignoring “the oppressions and power relations at stake, [thus] perpetuating a racist system ….”

Although some supported Hardzazat’s intent, French and European commenters tended to react defensively, deflecting blame for the legacy of the 43 years of the French protectorate. Hugo Sa’Hdkorova wrote, “We are not all like that .… Don’t put everybody in the same bag .…We are not responsible for what our ancestors did to other peoples and, believe me, we are ashamed …. Here, we clearly fight against fascism.” Commenter Hassan Haiboul added that “French artists are not responsible for the abhorrent choices of their politicians. [They] are artists, not politicians.” Another described it as “misplaced frustration,” suggesting institutions, not individuals, are to blame.

These arguments echo conversations around reparations for slavery in the United States and for colonialism worldwide: Are descendants of oppressors responsible to the descendants of the oppressed? If they are not, who is? Belkabir explained that “nobody chooses to be white, privileged, men, or anything …. but we still are.” The responsibility for past injustices belongs to those who continue to reap their benefits, he suggested.

Responding to an incredulous commenter, Belkabir summed up his reasoning that Hardzazat’s decision was necessary: “You think … that saying to white people they have too much privilege and they won’t be able to have ONE [sic] of them ONCE is racism …. And because you think it’s mainly Moroccans’ fault that the French are privilege[d] … and [that] anyone doing his best to take a firm decolonial position is aggravating the situation ….”

European influence and aesthetics have a clear hand in public arts in the country, whether the well-funded, European-run cultural centers like L’Institut Francais and the Goethe Institute or Morocco’s many music festivals. In 2017, Rabat’s Mohammed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art hosted a large exhibition of works by Pablo Picasso, the Spanish artist who denigrated African art while also drawing great influence from it. There is, however, a web of homegrown, youth-led alternative cultural spaces like Hardzazat Hardcore Fest, Tilila in Rabat, Tabadoul in Tangier and Boultek in Casablanca.  

Even so, as Youssouf El Idrissi commented, there are “infinite festivals where whites can practice their art, but for Africans there are less and less [sic].” Belkabir added that many French events have no African artists, with no consequences. Yet, he wrote, “for once, an African festival tries to have a program without French artists and it’s shocking … there are French artists in all Moroccan programs.”

Hardzazat’s statement comes at a heated moment of public discontent with powerful institutions. The boycott of water from Sidi Ali, milk from French-owned Centrale Danone, and oil and gas from Afriquia is making an impact. There are now demands to boycott the Mawazine Festival, which some deem a misuse of public money in that the festival hires expensive pop stars with little popular benefit. Though Mawazine officially reports using no public money, critics argue that sponsorship comes from state-owned or supported companies.

Hardzazat, as a small, crowd-funded project that refuses support from commercial interests, stands in stark contrast to Mawazine. A French-Tunisian DJ, Missy Ness, saw incoherence in the fact that Hardzazat would “accept money from support concerts in France but not invite French artists.” Commenter Simo Sajie responded, “France has already taken all the riches of Africa.”

Several of the commenters argued that Hardzazat is itself a radical gathering and should be used as a platform for friendly, progressive dialogue between French and Moroccans. The responses to Hardzazat’s statement made clear the divisiveness of such deep-reaching conversations, even in such a small and close-knit community.

After much heated debate, Belkabir reminded the commenters that “the purpose of this communique is to reflect on the privileges and positions of power that everyone can have.” In that, it has kindled a small conversation with broad implications.