RABAT (Reuters Life!) - Morocco's first female rap group Tigresse Flow defied a conservative society to carve out a place in the kingdom's flourishing hip-hop scene and now have their eyes on a first album, a video and a foreign tour.
Miss ND, Soltana and Miss Wiba trained as a receptionist, air hostess and criminal lawyer but a fruitless job search led them to try a career in music.
They formed in 2005 but only got their big break last year with an award at the Mawazine music festival in the Moroccan capital Rabat and another at rap gathering "Ouf de Bled."
"It wasn't easy at the start. In Europe, a girl just gets up on stage and sings. Here it's a bit different," Soltana, 23, told Reuters. "There were music managers who promised us help and support but did nothing."
Tigresse Flow have performed at the Boulevard of Young Musicians in Casablanca, on radio and television. Their two hits so far are "Maghribiya" (Moroccan Woman) and "Kifach" (How?).
As a prize for winning last year's Mawazine award, the festival organizers have offered to pay for the group's first album and video. Tigresse Flow hope one day to perform abroad.
Mawazine is one of a growing number of well-funded music festivals aimed at promoting an image of tolerance and modernity in the Muslim north African kingdom.
This year's edition (www.festivalmawazine.ma), which runs to Saturday, features Kylie Minogue, Ennio Morricone, Khaled and Alicia Keys and has drawn tens of thousands of spectators.
Moroccan Islamist politicians have denounced pop concerts as encouraging immoral behavior, although rumors of promiscuity and heavy drinking remain unproven.
Tigresse Flow's lyrics contain none of the swearing, sexual references and "bling" attitude of many U.S. rappers.
They claim U.S. rappers Tupac Shakur, Foxy Brown and Lil Kim as inspirations yet their style is closer to French rap with its sparse drumbeats and dour social critique.
Their lyrics address violence, unemployment and poverty in the kingdom's large northern cities and advocate more rights for Moroccan women.
That marks them out from some male rappers in Morocco who emphasize traditional values and a conservative lifestyle.
"Most of our fans are women and they are who we're aiming at," 23-year-old Miss MD said after Tigresse Flow's Mawazine concert late on Tuesday. "We rap about the problems of our generation -- unemployment, violence -- but also about joy and all the good times we've had together."
Tigresse Flow rap mostly in darija, the country's home tongue that reflects Morocco's diverse heritage, mixing Arabic, Berber, French and Spanish.
"Our next song Mama Africa will be in darija with some Spanish, French and English," said the dreadlocked Soltana. "We don't yet make enough money to get by without help from our families... But it's coming together, thanks to God."
Editing by Mark Trevelyan