Asmaa Hamzaoui is the leading female performer of Gnawa music. Together with her band Bnat Timbouktou, she performs Gnawa music that goes back in time when this community was held as slaves and the music revolved around storytelling about their suffering.
Asmaa Hamzaoui and Bnat Timbouktou sing in the native Gnawan language. They advocate for equal rights and for the preservation of traditions and spiritual practices in modern-day Morocco and throughout the world.
In the fall of 2019, Asmaa released her first album Oulad Lghaba, focused on Gnawa spirituality.
The lineup in 2019 included Asmaa Hamzaoui on guembri and vocals; Aicha Hamzaoui on karkabas and vocals; Soukaina Elmeliji on karkabas and vocals; and Lamgammah Hind on karkabas and vocals.
The air conditioned Theater Stage at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 presented Hà Nội Duo and Mehdi Nassouli on Day 1, Friday, July 12, 2019.
Hà Nội Duo is a project featuring traditional Vietnamese singer and dan bau player Ngô Hồng Quang and renowned jazz guitarist Nguyên Lê. The music performed at the Rainforest World Music Festival combined Vietnamese tradition with cutting edge technology. While Ngô Hồng Quang delivered passionate performances on vocals and mesmerizing tradition and high tech, electric guitar ambiance, beats, virtuoso performances.
Mehdi Nassouli’s Gnawa quintet provided a spellbinding show with Massouli on guimbri and four smiling acrobatic dancers and musicians on the karkabas (metal castanets). Band members included Abdesslam El Ouassif, Mohamed El Gasmi, Rachid Bobros and Driss Yamdah.
headliners on Saturday, July 13th, are reggae artist Macka
B, La Chiva Gantiva, and Estonian band Trad Attack.
Acclaimed Moroccan event Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music
Festival 2019 will take place June 20-23. The festival is held in Essawira, on Morocco’s
The festival will feature Gnawa music masters (maâlems) along with Cuban music, Tuareg grooves, Tamil sounds, jazz, flamenco, and reggae.
The lineup includes Osain del Monte (Cuba), Tuareg act Tinariwen (Mali), flamenco artists Maria del Mar Moreno and Jorge Pardo (Spain), Amazigh group Imdiazen, Congolese musician Baloji, and Tamil-British singer Susheela Raman.
The event also includes rising talent such as young maâlem
Houssam Gania, Moh! Kouyaté, and Betweenatna.
Mehdi Nassouli was born in Tarudant, southern Morocco, engaged
in Gnawa culture. A phenomenal musical talent, he learned to play various
musical instruments at an early age, becoming especially passionate about the
three-stringed Gnawa bass lute, the guembri (also known as sentir and hajjuj).
Before launching his international career, Mehdi Nassouli spent
a decade traveling throughout Morocco, studying the diverse regional musical traditions
under some of the leading musicians in the area. In southern morocco, Mehdi
learned Malhoune poetic arts and Deqqa folkloric percussion.
Introduced to the international world music scene by
festival director Brahim El Mazned, Mehdi now has many projects and
international collaborations, and also leads many different types of bands.
Receptive to the fusion of musical genres, he has collaborated with many leading international artists. He worked together with French guitarist Titi Robin for five years, including the 2012 Les Rives project and their joint 2015 album Taziri. Nassouli has performed with Fatoumata Diawara, Benjamin Taubkin, Justin Adams, Herbie Hancock and Alpha Blondy, mixing traditional African, Amazigh (Berber) and Gnawa music with sounds of the wider world.
In 2016, Mehdi showcased at the World Music Expo held in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
Sometimes the best music is the result of misery. Think about it, a good number of rock songs revolve around the miserable cuss with anger issues going out to kick some ass and break the law. Gospel songs are all about being a miserable sinner seeking salvation or the miserable rejoicing after getting salvation. Folk songs are rife with a litany of the miseries of the average Joe and the need to stand together to fight The Man. Blues, well, the blues dole out miseries left and right, anything from your woman left, your man left, your dog don’t want you and Santa ain’t giving you anything for Christmas.
Country music is equally steeped in miseries. But interestingly enough music makes it possible for those miseries to heal. In essence, music becomes a balm. No matter the misery, the affliction, the landscape or even the weather there’s a piece of music with your misery written all over it, ready to cauterize the wound.
This has been the way since we humans started gathering in fire-lit circles armed with drums and flutes. Of course, Western musical traditions used to heal are downright puny in comparison to the deep well world music traditions have on tap for putting the sick and suffering to rights. From the healing vibrations of the classical Indian raga to the sacred business of Native American drum circles to the potent rhythms of African shamanic drumming and all the magical songs, chants and rites across the globe, humans have bent the will of voice and instrument as response to miseries real and imagined. We still do this.
One of those following that path is Houssam Gania, the Moroccan guimbri player and singer, who also happens to be the youngest son to the late Maalem Mahmoud Gania. Delving into the rich musical ceremony of the Gnawa, Mr. Gania’s recording Mosawi Swiri, available on the Hive Mind Records, dazzles listeners with songs from the Musawiyin Suite, part of the trance ritual music invoking master of sky and sea spirits Sidi Musa.
Joined by brother Hamza Gania and fellow qraqabs (cast iron castanets) players and singers Mohamed Benzaid, Khalid Charbadou and Amine Bassi, Mr. Gania takes lead on vocals and the guimbri, the three-stringed sintir of the Gnawa people on Mosawi Swiri.
Opening with the lush “Moulay Lhacham,” listeners are treated to guest musicians on guitar, keyboards and drums from the Atlantic fishing port city Essaouira region. This track is marvelously meaty with call and response vocals and the persistent rhythms of qraqabs edged with sleek jazzy guitar lines. Stripped bare of guitar, keyboards and drums, Mosawi Swiri takes on a respectful traditional feel as it moves through “Moussa Barkiy,” “Mosawi Swiri” and “Lah Lahrbi Ya Molay.”
For newbies to Gnawa music, the rhythmic clatter of qraqabs might come across as a little startling, but falling into its revolving rhythm enhances the trance ritual effects of the music. Vocals led by Mr. Gania and responses from backing singers along with the intricate thrumming of guimbri easily become voices from the earth, sea and sky.
Hypnotic, Mosawi Swiri encourages the Gnawa trance ritual effortlessly. I don’t know if I personally had a djinn (genie) problem, but I enjoyed the journey of Mosawi Swiri as I’m sure other world music fans seeking a musical ritual to ease their miseries will as well. I’m guessing if you’re a smirking little shit in a Maga hat you might want to steer clear.
M’alem Abdellah Boulkhair El Gourd is a Master healer Gnawa musician born in 1947 in the Kasbah of Tanger, Morocco. The Gnawa are a group of Black healer musicians of Morocco who are well-known for their purification ceremonies, their abilities to treat psychic disorders and other maladies, just by using the sheer, magnificent spiritual power of Gnawa music and rhythms. M’alem Abdellah has been playing this music since he was a very young boy and has perfected this skill until he became qualified to be a Master or M’alem. To be M’alem is considered a very honorable calling. M’alem Abdellah has played with Randy Weston, a U.S. jazz artist, and his African rhythms musicians in England, in Montreal, Canada and in Montreux, Switzerland.
M’alem Abdellah formed his own group in 1980 and called it Dar Gnawa “because it was an old dream for me.” The group has toured Portugal, Spain and all of Morocco. This is a very big honor to Dar Gnawa because there are many more groups of Gnawa in Morocco. Dar Gnawa also participates annually in “Moros y Cristianos,” parade in Concetaina, eastern Spain. In 1994, M’alem Abdellah and two other members of Dar Gnawa participated in the “Spirit of Africa” tour with Randy Weston & African Rhythms and with blues man, Johnny Copeland and other Gnawa musicians from Marrakesh, Morocco.
The connection between Randy and M’alem Abdellah began in 1967. Abdellah recalls, “With him I played a lot of his and our music. We performed in his ‘African Rhythms Club’ in Tanger (Morocco) with many jazz musicians from all over the planet. This wonderful experience came to its summit in 1972 when we played together in the First “Festival du Jazz in Tangier“. In 1992 Randy and Abdellah had the opportunity to realize an old dream, starting the search for the eldest masters “Malems” of various Moroccan cities.
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
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.
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.
Orchestre National de Barbés is a piece of North Africa stranded in the heart of Paris. In English, the name means The National Barbés Orchestra, implying that Barbés is a nation unto itself. It is a sentiment that few who visit the neighborhood would dispute.
The band’s story started in Belcourt, a working class section of Algiers, Algeria at the peak of the 1980 baby boom. Youcef Boukella’s older brothers listened to rock and bossa nova, people watched Cairo film classics on TV and tuned to Kabyl folk music on the radio. Outside the Belcourt alleyways, there were street peddlers, muezzins, Gnawa street performers, shaabi concerts, and ghetto blasters playing reggae, funk and raï.
“My style of music goes back to my childhood in Belcourt,” explains Youcef Boukella. In 1985 he was offered a slot playing bass for the first Arabic-language rock group, T34. But when Youcef heard what visiting jazz musician Jeff Gardner was performing, that’s when he decided to leave home. Raï was all the rage when he arrived in Paris. He worked with Cheb Mami and Kabyl native Takfarinas at diaspora parties. Safy Boutella introduced him into underground jazz.
Larbi Dida comes from the town of Sidi bel Abbes and is a founding member of Raïna Raï, the rock-raï group that transformed the Algerian rock scene. Recognized by the Algerian media as a historic breakthrough, this group was the first rock group to use raï in its repertoire. Ever since Larba Dida moved to Paris in 1989, his has been one of the great Arabic voices in the French capital.
Aziz Sehmaoui is another pillar upholding Youcef’s vision. Raised in Marrakesh, Morocco this Sufi artist was nourished on a combination of Gnawa Arab-African beats and British-American pop performed in Morocco with various traditional and electric groups (Association Ziriab, Lemchaheb and others). Like Youcef, Aziz attempts to weld the mystical power of healing rhythms with today’s sounds.