In the Spirit and in the Red

Nour Eddine

Morocco: Traditional Songs and Music (ARC Music EUCD 2289, 2010)

It’s been a while since I’ve heard a new recording of good old raw Gnawa trance music, so this is a welcome disc. The songs mark a path toward one particular aspect of the Gnawa ritual ceremony meant to cleanse participants of undesirable spirits and indwell them with good ones: the bahja, a Sufi spirit corresponding to the color red.

Leading the way is singer and musician Nour Eddine Fatty, a Moroccan of Berber descent who plays the three-stringed guembri bass lute (also called a sintir) in addition to several other stringed and percussion instruments.

The circular rhythms of qarqabas (a type of metal castanets) swirl at the core of these songs, which set call-and-response vocal patterns in praise of God and the seven spirits of the cleansing process.

Percussion and lute join in alone or together depending on the phase of the ritual or the sounds needed for spiritual appeasement, and there is indeed something very spiritual about hearing this sort of music in its purest form.

Bands like Nass Marrakech and such solo artists as Hassan Hakmoun have created some splendid Gnawa fusion music, and the unplugged, soulful sparseness heard on this CD (the title of which really ought to be more specific as to its content) is an excellent reminder of just how hypnotic and soothing the deeper roots of it can be.

You don’t need to believe in spirit possession; simple faith in the healing power of music (or perhaps just a good ear for it) is reason enough to obtain the album. Highly recommended.

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Author: Tom Orr

Tom Orr is a California-based writer whose talent and mental stability are of an equally questionable nature. His hobbies include ignoring trends, striking dramatic poses in front of his ever-tolerant wife and watching helplessly as his kids surpass him in all desirable traits.


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