Category Archives: Artist Profiles

Artist Profiles: Gnawa Halwa

Gnawa Halwa

The members of Gnawa Halwa were born and still live in the heart of their Gnawi brotherhood in Marrakesh. Day to day life within this traditional brotherhood is interspersed with their European tours. The Gnawa Halwa are sought after musicians (collaborating with Randy Weston, Bill Laswell, Gnawa Diffusion) and are capable of sharing the warmth of African traditions with their public.

Gnawa Halwa have taken part in various international festivals: Montreux Festival, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris, New Morning, Paris, UFA Fabrik, Berlin, Afrika Festival, Wurzburg, not forgetting Amsterdam, Den Haag, Madrid, Zagreb, Palermo, Frankfurt

One of the group’s projects is Gnawa Impulse. Berlin scene meets Gnawa tradition. Ritual breakbeats and virtual trance. With their intensive vocals and rhythms the Gnawa musicians, playing nightly rituals, are able to bring varied audiences to trance, a state of open-mindedness, sometimes hypnotic then ecstatic.

In September 1998 the traditional Moroccan Gawa musicians Abdenbi Binizi, Samir Zgarhi and Majid Karadi met Jan-Claudius Rase and David Beck, both multi-instrumentalists of German origin.

Abdenbi Binizi – solo voice, percussion and drum

Kamal Ifir – voice, sintir (three-string bass lute) and dance

Samir Zgarhi – voice, karkabas (metal castanets) and dance


Rhabouine (Melodie, 1997)


Artist Profiles: Gnawa Sidi Mimoun

Gnawa Sidi Mimoun

The Gnawa Sidi Mimoun of Casablanca, led by the prestigious m’aalem Sam (Mohammed Zourbat, deceased) and Amida (Ahmed) Boussou, have played many times abroad, doing performances from the portion of the Lila ceremony that precedes the ritual phase. In some special instances, they have celebrated the Lila, an ecstatic night ritual, but only for the initiated.

The Gnawa Sidi Mimoun of Casablanca, was later led by the prestigious m’aalem, Abdenbi Elgadari.

The group performs regularly in Casablanca.

Abdenbi Elgadari – vocals, guimbri, tbola

Ahmed Ghani – vocals, karkabas

Said Tougha – vocals, karkabas

Oughassal Abdellatif – vocals, tbola

Mostafa Aglaou – vocals, karkabas


Artist Profiles: Hamid El Gnawi

Born in Morocco in a family of Gnawa masters, Hamid el Gnawi – i.e. Hamid Faraji – is the herald of a young generation of Moroccan musicians. With his guimbri (a 3-string lute, one of the strings being used as bass, which is characteristic of Gnawa rhythms), which he has electrified, percussion, and the active participation of Issam Issam, a great lover of Jazz, on keyboards, Hamid el Gnawi has livened up the traditions which are also his principal inspiration.

He founded his band El Orbane in 1979. “My father wanted me to continue my studies, but the Gnawas, with whom I grew up, were the only thing that moved me. You had to watch and listen in order to learn. According to them, you don’t need a master. If you don’t learn alone, it means that a master will never be able to teach you.” Hamid calls this the spirit of tagnawity, or “gnawity”, inherited from his maternal godmother, a gnawi priestess, whose husband, Sellam Alouane, a virtuoso on the guimbri, was a master of gnawi music.


Saha Koyo (Detour, 1994)


Artist Profiles: Hassan Erraji

Hassan Erraji

Hassan Erraji offers a complete performance of Arabic music and song from North Africa, whether solo or with his innovative band Arabesque. Erraji is a stunning musician on the ud, Arabic harp, Ney, violin and a range of percussion, as well as being a seductive and dramatic singer. His group brings a touch of jazz to the traditional sounds of Morocco and performances are often enhanced with the addition of an African dancer. Workshops taught by Erraji are available for all age groups in music, percussion, song and dance.


Nikriz (Riverboat Records, 1989)
Ia Dounia (Riverboat Records, 1990)
Marhaba (Riverboat Records, 1993)
Music For The Arabian Dulcimer & Lute (Saydisc, 1996)
Awal Mara (World Village, 2010)


Artist Profiles: Hassan Hakmoun

Hassan Hakmoun

Hassan Hakmoun was born in Marrakech in 1963. At the age of seven he began to study tagnawit, the Gnawa related arts and lore, under the renowned Hmida Boussou. Starting with a few dances and songs, he gradually moved on to learn drumming, sintir playing ( sintir is a three-stringed long-necked lute), litanies, chants, costume and knowledge of the spirits. Hakmoun began to play for the Derdeba (Gnawa ceremony), which can last from ten in the evening into the next day. It is believed to release spirits that have inhabited a person or place.

At fourteen, Hakmoun left school to pursue a less formal education on the road. He traveled throughout Morocco, Spain and up into France, learning from his experiences and from the Gnawa masters he visited on his journey. Returning to Marrakech, Hakmoun continued to work as a Gnawa, performing as an entertainer on Jamaa el-Fna, the town square and working as a m’allem (master musician) in the Derdeba. Along with other young musicians in Marrakech, he has begun to broaden the repertory of Gnawa entertainment songs by performing Arab and Berber tunes in the Gnawa style.

Whether onstage, or visiting with friends in a small apartment, as Hakmoun sings and plays himself into a trance, people around him seem not too far from a trance-like state themselves. The pentatonic scale and driving rhythm of the Sintir are instantly appealing and familiar to Western audiences; music of the Gnawa, like much American popular music, is built from elements borrowed from West Africa. Clawhammer banjo enthusiasts will also find commonality in the percussive style of plucking the sintir.

Hakmoun made his U.S. debut in 1987 at Lincoln Center and has been living in New York City ever since. He performed at Woodstock ’94 and on the WOMAD ’94 tour. Besides performing traditional Gnawa music he has performed and recorded with jazz musicians such as Don Cherry and Adam Rudolph, pop stars like Peter Gabriel and Paula Cole, and world beat artists like Jamshied Sharifi.

In the year 2000, Hassan moved from New York to Los Angeles. He was romantically involved with pop singer Paula Cole.


Gift of the Gnawa, with Don Cherry & Adam Rudolph (Flying Fish Records, 1992) –
Pieces of Africa (1992)
Trance (Real World Records, 1993)
The Fire Within (Music of the World, 1995)
Black Mud Sound, with Cornelius Claudio Kreusch (Enja, 1995)
Life Around the World (Alula Records, 1999)
The Gift (Triloka, 2002)
Unity (Healing Records, 2014)


Artist Profiles: Marcel Stefanet


One day, Marcel Stefanet’s parents left the five year-old boy in the care of his grandparents. Everything seemed idyllic until Mom and Dad stepped out of the yard. Suddenly, Grandpa got indignant about the indecency he sensed in the length of this grandson’s hair. He then grabbed the huge sheep shears, sat the boy on a small stool in the middle of the yard and cut his hair. “It seemed to me that those shears were half my height”, Marcel recollects.

As he carried out his undertaking, Grandpa decided to comfort little Marcel, who was crying his pain and surprise outloud. He took out his violin and started playing some magnificent wedding music, commanding Grandma to dance around their grandson and clap her hands. And it seemed that the three of them entered a state of trance. So the whole thing took a while. In the evening, when the parents returned, the three of them were still dancing.

It may well be that Grandpa thus determined Marcel’s future. He was the one, out of all the musical sons and grandson, who inherited fiddles from both grandfathers. “I can’t figure out why it so happened and why it was I who got them“, Marcel Stefanet said, shrugging his shoulders.

Grandpa’s four sons used to play with him at wedding parties since they were very young, about 7 or 8 years old. They were like a family orchestra. One winter, they played for 9 days and nights on end at some wedding party in the neighboring village. Grandma would bring them exchange clothes in the sleigh. One of the brothers, who was playing the drum, was stolen in the middle of that party. The kind village women stole him and put him to bed, to catch some sleep.

Marcel’s father remembers that, as he grew old, Grandpa would fall asleep in the middle of the song, especially during the winter wedding feasts. But all it took was one of the boys losing the rhythm or playing a false note and he would wake up immediately and start shouting: Play, y’all! Don’t stop!!!

Grandpa was a fiery man. In those times, musicians used to play at weddings from Monday till Friday. They would play ceaselessly, days and nights on end. They only rested on Saturdays and Sundays. In their Northern Moldova village, there were three wedding orchestras, so the competition was fierce. All the three wedding processions, each with its own band, would meet near the only church in the village. Then every band would try to play better than their rivals.

The brothers would often get confused, as their band was the least numerous. But Grandpa, who was holding his violin as if it had been a weapon, would attack his contestants, go right in front of them and sing, sing, sing with all his might, never deviating from his own melodic line. And thus he would drive them away. He kept on following them, playing as he walked, and shouted: “Your music doesn’t have the heart that mine has!”

One day, the envious contestant musicians even used the knife. And they used it to cut the leather off the drum. The Stefanet family has kept this drum up to this day as well.

During the war, Grandpa was the conductor of the Balti Military Commissariat Orchestra. All his sons became musicians and continued playing. Their sons also became musicians: Marcel’s three cousins. But only Marcel graduated from the conductor faculty of the Conservatory.

Marcel remembers how, as he was a child, his other grandfather, the maternal one, used to give him 25 rubles (which was a considerable amount at the time!) in order to hear him play the violin. He was a violinist as well.

There is always some kind of secret knowledge in traditional music. This cannot be described in words. Could this be knowledge of the way in which souls can survive in this terrifying and at the same time fascinating world?

Being placed at the crossroads of all possible and impossible roads to Europe, Asia and the Mediterranean area, Moldova became a unique pot of history. Ever since ancient times, the vibrating spirits of countless peoples would melt and enter an unpredictable mixture here.

According to the data of the population census, this small republic is populated by representatives of more than one hundred nations. Moldovans, Ukrainians, Russians, Armenians, Poles, Gagauzi-Turks, Gypsies, Jews, Greeks, Bulgarians, Kurds, Albanians, Czechs, Germans, Azeri, Chechnyans “Of course, there is a long way to go till the New Nationality Day, which is celebrated in Brazil! But the carnivalesque of daily life here is as natural as in Latin America. How else could it be?”

Ever since the Soviet era, Marcel?s father had been doing tours in Algeria, Ethiopia, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia. And he brought new tunes and rhythms from everywhere he went.

During the last years, Marcel himself has worked a lot in Spain, France, Bulgaria, Belgium, Germany, Romania, Russia, Tartarstan, Ukraine, Poland, Italy, Turkey, and Finland.
He did not only bring songs from these countries. For example, he brought an incredible instrument from Transylvania. It is a violin that has a bugle-trumpet inside, which resembles more that of a gramophone! In each of the countries he visited, he and his fellow musicians played a lot of local folk songs apart from Moldovan tunes.

The ensemble Transbalkanica was conceived by Marcel Stefanet. He chose the players, wrote the music and coordinated the entire scheme. This is how the Transbalkanica album started to take shape. The debut album includes 13 songs (14 tracks) taking the listener on a cruise through environments as diverse as gorgeous rural Moldavia and the bustling metropolis, to inspire unexpected nostalgia and unanticipated joy.

Transbalkanica is the most ample musical project launched by MediaPro Music in the Romanian music market. Transbalkanica is not a band and it is hardly an orchestra. It is a concept. One cannot speak of Transbalkanica before having listened, lived, and breathed in their music. It is a mixture of Romanian folklore and electronic music.

Why the name Transbalkanica? It’s easy: the musical show of violins, percussion and unconventional instruments played by a fifteen-virtuoso orchestra simply did not admit of a different name.


Transbalkanica: A Balkan Ethno Fusion (Pro Video, 2005)


Artist Profiles: Amina Alaoui

Amina Alaoui

Amina Alaoui is a scholar of philology, linguistics, and dance, and a prominent exponent of the ancient music style gharnati. She was born in 1964 to a traditional Fassi family, and has pursued an eclectic musical path that lead her to work with musicians from medieval, Persian, and flamenco musical backgrounds. She is accompanied in many of concerts by the ensemble of Ahmed Piro, a native of Rabat who is considered one of the great Arab-Andalusian musicians.

Gharnati (Arabic for Granada) is one of the major Andalusian musical styles, migrated from Granada, Spain, to Morocco in the 15th century. Its roots lie in the diverse music schools of medieval Andalusia, where the Arab-Andalusian musical style originally developed some 800 years earlier. Gharnati was preserved by the Tlemceni families and other communities that fled Spain to settle in several places, Morocco, especially in Fes.

Amina Alaoui


Gharnati: Arab-andalusian Music of Morocco/Musique arabo-andalouse du Maroc (Auvidis Ethnic, 1995)
Alcántara (1998)
Gharnata Soul, Moroccan Court Music (King Records, 2005)
Gharnati: En Concert (Saphrane, 2009)
Siwan, with Jon Balke (ECM, 2009)
Arco Iris (ECM, 2011)


Artist Profiles: B’net Houariyat

B’net Houariyat

B’net Houariyat is formed by five women from the region of Marrakech, singing and dancing to the rhythm of their drums, performing traditional music of the Houara (the region between Taroudant and Tiznit), of the Hammada (plain of the Dra’a), together with Berber dances and urban styles like the Aitci (female seductive appeal) and the Chaabi, popular style that originated Rai music. The image of women as represented by the music of B’net Houariyat reflects the multiple facets of Islam on a daily life and the female condition, above and beyond the stereotypes, with emotion, humor and energy. Among the themes of their songs: the exaltation of love and beautythe cry of the young woman that refuses the combined marriage with a rich old manthe derision of the man that has more wives and that works to maintain themthe ritual dance of the woman possessed by her spiritsthe incitement to the Moroccan football team in occasion of the World Cup 1998the criticism of Bob Marley and pop’s fanaticism.

The group played for the first time out of their traditional context in July 1995, in Milan, at the Festival Notti di San Lorenzo. Since then, B’net Houariyat has numerous international festivals and concert halls.

At the end of the 1990s, there were some changes made to the group by a French promoter that led to conflicts. Two groups ended up touring under similar names: B’net Houariyat and Binet Houariyat. The professional musicians formed a new band called Bnet Marrakech and B’net Houariyat remained with its traditional focus.

B’net Houariyat:

Zahi-a Bani: voice, ta`cuija, tubsil

Khadija Haliba: voice, dance, ta arija, bendir

Malika Rahmi: voice, dance, tara

Sai’da Madrani: voice, d’awd’a Halima Zeiter: voice, dance, naqqiis, triydr


Love Poems of the Women of Southern Morocco (Al Sur, 1995)
Voix Des Femmes De Marrakech (Al Sur, 1997)


Artist Profiles: Bnet Marrakech

Bnet Marrakech

The five women of Bnet Marrakech play the music of both Arabs and Berbers – the original people of Morocco. Invited to sing at births, weddings, and other ritual events within, and outside, their community, they have achieved an independence unusual for women in Islamic societies.

Bnet Marrakech is a spin-off of a previous group called B’net Houariyat, which is still touring with some of the original members.

To the traditional Berber repertoire they have added chaabi (popular urban, with lots of improvisation), Gnawa, and raï (from Algeria) songs. They accompany themselves on ud (Arab lute), kamanjah (Arab violin), guimbri (long-necked lute), darbuka (pottery drum), bendir (frame drum), and taarija (tambourine). Malika Mahjoubi punctuates the music with her energetic dances-be ready for the sudden somersault, or a tray of lighted candles balanced on her head!

B’net Marrakech


Chamaa’a (L’Empreinte Digitale, 2002)
Terres Du Sud: Hallel (L’Empreinte Digitale, 2003)


Artist Profiles: Arturo O’Farrill

Arturo O’Farrill

Arturo O’Farrill, born June 22, 1960 in Mexico City, is the son of renowned Cuban composer Chico O’Farrill (whose works have been recorded by Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, Dizzy Gillespie, the Machito Orchestra, and Mario Bauza).

Arturo pursued studies at the Manhattan School of Music and the Brooklyn College Conservatory, and played in the award-winning jazz band at New York’s High School of Music and Art with future luminaries Marcus Miller and Omar Hakim. He then went on to develop as a solo performer and an ensemble member on recordings and performances with a spectrum of artists: Wynton Marsalis, Dizzy Gillespie, Steve Turre, Noel Pointer, Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band. In 1987 he became musical director for Harry Belafonte. He currently directs the Chico O’Farrill’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Big Band.

Arturo O’Farrill leads the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. the ensemble exemplifies the best that Latin jazz culture offers: rich tradition through music and timeless appeal around the world. Latin jazz is a general term given to music that combines rhythms from African and Latin American countries with jazz harmonies from the United States. Afro-Cuban Latin jazz includes salsa, merengue, songo, son, mambo, bolero, charanga and cha cha cha. Originated in the 1940s, Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Kenton began to combine the rhythm section and structure of Afro-Cuban music. Latin jazz employs straight rhythm, not swung rhythm and the conga, timbale, guiro and claves are used in this unique music.

O’Farrill also directs the band that preserves much of his father’s music, the Chico O’Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra. He has performed with Dizzy Gillespie, Fort Apache Band, Carla Bley, Lester Bowie, Harry Belafonte, Freddy Cole and Wynton Marsalis. The Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra became a resident orchestra at Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2002 and has toured internationally, bringing the rhythms and heat of Latin jazz to places as far away as China. Performing the very best of traditional compositions in the canon of the Afro-Latin genre, the large ensemble commissions new work and leads education events when on the road and at Frederick P. Rose Hall. Ultimately, it seeks to provide an opportunity for a new generation of composers, arrangers and instrumentalists to further explore and define the music.


Blood Lines (Milestone, 1999)
A Night in Tunisia (32 Jazz, 2000)
Cumana (Pony Canyon, 2004)
Live in Brooklyn (Zoho, 2005)
Una Noche Inolvidable (Palmetto, 2005)
Song for Chico (Zoho, 2008)
Risa Negra (Zoho, 2009)
40 Acres and a Burro (Zoho, 2011)
The Noguchi Sessions (Zoho, 2012)
Final Night at Birdland (Zoho, 2013)
The Offense of the Drum (Motéma, 2014)
Cuba: The Conversation Continues (Motéma, 2015)