Manal Benchlikha, our Moroccan phenomenon (interview)

Written by FDM

In the Moroccan artistic landscape, Manal Benchlikha stands out and proves her authenticity. The edgy singer shines with her grace, her musical style, and the theme of her songs that continue to push the lines without taboos.

You studied business for a long time, and at the same time, you started singing. Has singing been an obvious choice to you?

Being a singer was obvious to me when I was barely 7 or 8 years old. But nobody believed me, and they thought it was just a little girl’s whim. But, I was deeply convinced that I was going to become a singer and that I had to do everything to get there … I did not give up my studies, however, because I believe that education is very important. Of course, it was not easy to combine the two, and I had to double the efforts, but thank God, I succeeded …

Through the themes addressed in your songs, we can sense a commitment to women’s empowerment. Do you consider yourself a feminist?

I have always been a feminist. But for me, being a feminist also means accepting your faults, talking about them, and not telling yourself that you are perfect. I believe that it is necessary and essential to talk about all the themes, and particularly those considered taboo. This is reflected in my songs which tackle subjects concerning women, society, but also men… This is the case for example of “Niya”.

In “Niya”, an image from the clip shocked the audience, the droplets of blood on a white sheet, evoking the virginity of the bride…

First of all, “Niya” does not deal at all with the topic of virginity, but rather with the history of Moroccan chikhates. The blood on the sheet was simply a nod to a tradition lived by our mothers and grandmothers who had to show the stained sheet to everyone. This gesture, whether I approve it or not, remains a personal choice that is part of our culture and our traditions. I think it’s good that it sparked a debate, even if the heart of the matter lies elsewhere …

Precisely “Niya” is a tribute to the chikhates, these unknown and despised artists. Is this still the case, in your opinion?

Indeed, chikhates are treated with contempt. Their name has a negative connotation. Chikhates are independent women who have sacrificed everything to live their dream, their art, and their passion.

As an artist, it seemed important to me to talk about them through the story of a chikha who wants to marry the man she loves, to start a family while continuing to practice her art. But the reputation that chikhates drag, sometimes wrongly, condemns them to live lonely and without love.

How do you choose a topic for a song?

I draw my inspiration from my experience, a disappointment in love, my entourage, social facts, and taboo subjects. I can sometimes shake things up, and choose to tackle the theme not from the point of view of the victim, but rather that of the culprit to better understand their motives and what pushed them to break the law. I know that I take risks and that certain themes can spark controversy. But I’m convinced that it is important because we need to shake ourselves up…

Let’s also talk about your news. Are there any new songs coming up?

Yes, an album that is coming out these days, and that we have been working on for 2 years. This is our first child, to Monsef and to me. Since our marriage, people keep asking us questions on the topic, but for now, our baby is this album called “360”. We have put all our love, all our energy, and all our focus into it. We can’t wait to share it with the public. It is a personal project that represents me as a person and an artist. I had fun and I addressed a lot of topics through different musical styles. It goes from ballad to pop, to hardcore rock.

Has singing in Darija been a challenge for you?

Writing in Darija has been a real challenge for me. Our Darija is quite “rough”, the phonetics and pronunciation of some letters can be off-putting, and I had to work on it so that the text was beautiful, soft, pleasant to listen to and that it rhymes well, it was a real challenge. The truth is, I didn’t imagine myself singing in Darija, and I was trying to sing in French and English. But over time, I get more and more attached to my roots, my origins, and my identity and I always do my best to sing in Darija. We must be proud of our language, and make our Moroccan dialect known outside the country …

With this pandemic, the public is deprived of shows and concerts. As an artist, how do you deal with this situation?

It is a great frustration not to perform. The stage is a very important part of my activity, I really like to perform and share my art with my audience. Financially, too, it’s very difficult, either for me or for any artist in the world. Shows and concerts are a very important source of income for us, but we have no choice… We have to be positive. This is why I think that we must have the spirit of initiative, and undertake things to multiply our resources in order to be able to get out of it and overcome a crisis like the one we are currently experiencing.

In this regard, you’ve launched your own brand this year. Tell us about the adventure?

Let me tell you that we are really proud. We have been working on this 100% Moroccan brand for 2 years, and our challenge has been to manufacture everything locally. “Bari & Soch” is the name of this Moroccan brand, unisex, aimed at young people, and which conveys strong messages, such as independence, strength and freedom. These are the values that represent us… I think that many young people (and not so young) are in search of this freedom, but for that, we must dare to take risks, provide more effort, etc. “Bari & Soch” was well received and we are preparing to launch a spring-summer collection very soon.

Who designs the models for your ready-to-wear collections?

We are four partners, in fact, two couples. With my friend Meriem, we draw the models, then the boys take care of the follow-up. The collection is exclusively online, and you can order on our website, our Instagram page and even on a WhatsApp number …

Speaking of fashion, what’s your personal style?

Frankly, I like anything that is comfortable, fashionable, and of great quality. Fashion is very important to me, but it must represent me and reflect my personality. In other words, you will rarely see me wearing heels, because it is real torture for me but sometimes I have to submit to them …

What advice could you give to someone who is starting out and dreams of following your footsteps?

Never give up and don’t be afraid of failure. When people see someone succeeding, they imagine it was easy for them, but remember that a successful person has failed many times but has never given up. Failure can be a great springboard to bounce back and appreciate success when it happens. Then, you should never surround yourself with negative people, but rather those who pull you up, and finally stay focused on your goal.

What are your goals for 2021?

Live a normal life and travel (laugh). Seriously, release my album, continue to do what I love, share moments with my community, help people, be happy and enjoy the company of family.