Tag Archives: Gnawa music

Artist Profiles: M’alem Abdellah Boulkhair El Gourd

M’alem Abdellah Boulkhair El Gourd – Photo courtesy of The New School for Jazz

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 Splendid Master Gnawa Musicians Of Morocco Featuring Randy Weston (Verve World, 1994)
Spirit! The Power Of Music, with Randy Weston African Rhythms Quintet And The Gnawa Master Musicians Of Morocco (Gitanes Jazz Productions, 2000)


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: Orchestre National de Barbes

Orchestre National de Barbés in 2008

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.


En concert (1997)
Poulina (1999)
Alik (2008)
Rendez-vous Barbès (Le Chant Du Monde, 2010)
15 ans de scène, live (2012)
Dame de coeur (2014)


Artist Profiles: Gnawa Diffusion

Gnawa Diffusion

The members of Gnawa Diffusion, who are based in Grenoble in the South East of France, come from a rich mix of musical and cultural backgrounds. Fusing their individual influences into a collective sound, Gnawa Diffusion have woven elements of rap, ragga, jazz, reggae and rai into a vibrant musical patchwork.

The group’s name is a reference to the Gnawa, black Africans who were deported to North Africa in the 16th century by the rulers of Fes and Algiers. While the Gnawa were officially converted to Islam by their new leaders, they continued to worship their own African gods in private.

The way Gnawa Diffusion sees it, this historic tale of people uprooted from their homeland and forced to begin a new life in a foreign land is remarkably similar to the lives of modern-day immigrants growing up in France. Indeed, the group’s lead singer, Amezigh, son of the famous Algerian writer Kateb Yacine, considers himself to be a 20th century version of the Gnawa.

Amezigh, who arrived in France in 1988 at 16, has been closely involved in the struggle to defend immigrants’ rights and abolish racial prejudice. When Amezigh formed Gnawa Diffusion in 1992 he saw the group as an alternative means to get his political message across. Amezigh, Gnawa Diffusion’s lead singer and songwriter, writes his lyrics in three languages, Arabic, French and English.

Gnawa Diffusion started their career in 1993 with the release of a mini 5-track album named “Legitime difference”. Following the release of their CD album the group began to concentrate on their live career, with an extensive tour of France, performing concerts with a host of French stars including FFF, Zebda, Massilia Sound System and Princess Erika.

Gnawa Diffusion’s innovative musical fusion and the hard-hitting lyrics of their protest songs have certainly made them one of the most prominent new groups on the French music scene. The group’s single “Ombre-elle” and their first full album “Algeria” (released in 1997 on GDO) served to increase their popularity – and Gnawa Diffusion’s live shows began to attract an impressive number of fans! When they hit the road for the Chibani tour – Gnawa Diffusion’s personal tribute to the past – the group’s lively on-stage performances attracted huge audiences across the world and led them to play in such places as the Africa Festival in Wurzburg, the Francofolies in la Rochelle, the Berlin Music Fest, Montreux Jazz festival in Switzerland, Reading/Leeds festival in the UK, Pirineos Sur Festival in Spain, Rascimus Beat It in Netherlands, Fete des Cent in Belgium, etc.

In January 1999, Gnawa Diffusion returned to the studio to work on their second album “Bab El Oued-Kingston” (which was released in May). The album featured the band’s usual fusion sound, but this time Gnawa Diffusion also began experimenting with traditional music, recording their own innovative version of “Chara’Allah” – a three hundred years old song. Following the release of the album, Gnawa Diffusion went on the road again, kicking off an extensive tour in Toulouse. Before the end of the year, music fans flocked to see the group playing concerts all over Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Gnawa Diffusion also performed at various music festivals throughout the summer of 1999.

Gnawa Diffusion rocketed back into the music news in June 2000 with a new album entitled Bab El Oued 2. At the end of the year the group also headed out to perform a tour in Algeria and flew back there again in 2001 for a mini-series of four dates. Renowned for their energetic live performances, the group returned to the festival circuit in the summer and traveled to such countries as Yemen, Syria, Jordania and Sudan.

After their Algerian tour, following the murderous confrontations in Kabylia, the band released a double live album titled Live DZ – the first live album ever recorded during a tour in Algeria.

in June 2003, the band came back with a new album, Souk System. Sung in French, Arabic and English, the lyrics were more political than in the previous albums. They referred to international news, denouncing as well as satirizing the events. As for the music, it consisted in the usual mixture of reggae and raga muffin, chaabi and Gnawa music. They began another worldwide tour from France to Canada and from Europe to North Africa.


Légitime différence (1993)
Algeria (Melodie, 1997)
Bab el Oued – Kingston (Musisoft, 1999)
Bab el Oued 2
DZ Live (Next Musique, 2002)
Souk System (Warner, 2003)
Fucking Cowboys (D’Jamaz Production, 2007)
Shock El Hal (2012)


Tawassol by Gabacho Maroc Tops the Transglobal World Music Chart Album in March 2018

Gabacho Maroc – Tawassol

Tawassol, the album released by French band Gabacho Maroc is the number one album at the Transglobal World Music Chart in March 2018. The band performs a captivating fusion of North African traditions, jazz and trance music.

Current band members include Hamid Moumen on vocals and guembri; Aziz Fayet on vocals, ud and percussion; Frédéric Faure on African percussion, ngoni and backing vocals; Illyes Ferfera on tenor saxophone and backing vocals; Pierre Cherbero on keyboards and backing vocals; Eric Oxandaburu on bass; and Vincent Thomas on drums.

The album also features Jean-Philippe Rykiel on keyboards; Pascuala Ilabaca on vocals; Ermanno Panta on flute; and Mixel Ducau on alboka and tin whistle.

The rest of the chart:

2. TootArd – Laissez Passer – Glitterbeat
3. El Naán – La Danza de las Semillas – El Naán
4. 3MA: Ballaké Sissoko, Driss El Maloumi, Rajery – Anarouz – Six Degrees
5. Samurai Accordion – Te – Visage Music
6. Monsieur Doumani – Angathin – Monsieur Doumani
7. Boubacar Traoré – Dounia Tabolo – Lusafrica
8. Júlio Pereira – Praça do Comércio – Tradisom
9. Okra Playground – Ääneni Yli Vesien – Nordic Notes
10. Omar Sosa & NDR Bigband – Es:Sensual – Otá

11. Elena Ledda – Làntias – S’ard Music
12. Gaiteiros de Lisboa – A História – Uguru
13. Sara Tavares – Fitxadu – Sony Music Portugal
14. Malagasy Guitar Masters – Volo Hazo – Buda Musique
15. Maya Youssef – Syrian Dreams – Harmonia Mundi
16. L’Alba – A Parulluccia – L’Alba
17. Efrén López, Stelios Petrakis, Bijan Chemirani – Taos – Buda Musique
18. Sinan Cem Eroğlu & Muhlis Berberoğlu – Hemdem – Ahenk Müzik
19. Son Palenque – Kutu Prieta pa Saranguiá – Palenque
20. Toto Bona Lokua – Bondeko – Nø Førmat!


Artist Profiles: Maâlem Abdallah Guinéa

Maâlem Abdallah Guinéa

Maâlem Abdallah Guinéa is descended from an acclaimed family of artists. His father, Boubker Guinéa, is considered as one of Morocco’s greatest of all maâlems. Guinéa began playing the guimbri at age 12, and became a full maâlem and master musician at age 16.

Together with with his band, Nasse Ejadba, he quickly developed his own musical style, somewhere between traditional and modern Gnawa, which he calls “Fusion Trance.” As well as guimbri, Guinéa plays guitar, banjo and mandolin and has continued the progression of his music by introducing Western sounds into the mix, building a musical bridge between different musical styles.

In 2012, Maâlem Abdallah Guinéa released http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008XFE85C?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B008XFE85C&linkCode=xm2&tag=musidelmund-20 | Fangnawa, a collaboration with French Afrobeat group Fanga. The collaboration had its roots in 2011, when the Détours du Monde festival in Montpelier (France) presented Fanga and maâlem Abdallah Guinéa.


Fangnawa (Strut Records STRUT096, 2012)


Artist Profiles: Hasna El Becharia

Hasna el Becharia
Hasna el Becharia

Hasna el Becharia is a female Gnawa multi-instrumentalist. She was born in 1951 in Béchar (formerly known as Colomb-Béchar, a garrison town during the time of the French colonization). This town in southwestern Algeria is a fertile musical ground, with styles such as Diwan, Foundou and the popular Haddawi repertoire to celebrate Arab-Berber weddings of this sub-region.

The daughter and grand-daughter of Gnawa musicians, she plays popular Saharan traditional songs and personal compositions. In 1972, she began to play by herself. With three friends of hers, including Zorah and Kheira who are still singing by her side, singing and playing drums and tambourines. Hasna played traditional desert tunes on the acoustic guitar. They became successful very quickly, playing at weddings, banquets, etc. Everybody wanted to hear Hasna and her pals. During their performance, people sang along all the songs. It was so noisy that Hasna began to play the electric guitar to be heard. At that moment, she became really famous. Beyond the little town of Bechar, her name was known all over the south of Algeria. Algerian producers tried to make her record some tunes on a tape recorder, but she refused because she didn’t trust them.

In less than 4 years, Hasna and her band built their own legend. In 1976, they were the guest stars of a great concert in Bechar, organized by the Union of Algerian Women, in front of a female audience.

She arrived in France in January 1999 when she was invited to a festival called “Women of Algeria. She was one of the two new-comers who emerged from this festival. Fascinated by her music, the organizers of the festival decided to put her on stage every night, although it was originally planned that she would only play one evening. Quickly, rumors spread throughout Paris about this incredible female guitar player from the desert. Journalists and producers showed up and the prestigious French newspaper Libération published an article about her.

Hasna decided to stay in Paris because her situation was too difficult in Algeria. In spite of singing about the Prophet, she did not conform with tradition. She is too free and does not accept the old fashioned patriarchal customs that still rule in her country.

The guimbri and karkabas (two instruments masterfully played by Hasna) are the pillars of North African black music. Hasna creates a powerful and rough guimbri sound and she has an astonishing sense of rhythm.

Like numerous Algerian Gnawa musicians, Hasna takes her roots in the popular wedding repertoire. In addition to guimbri and karkabas, she plays electric guitar, ud, darbuka, bendir and even banjo. At the age of 51, Hasna recorded her first album. She composed the majority of her songs in France. By no means corrupted by stage or studio performance, she took advantage of these new experiences to explore the sound of guitars, vocal timbres on different tonalities, to improvise and make new encounters. In order to make her recording, the producers brought together great musicians from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Niger.


Djazaïr Johara (Label Bleu, 2001)
Smaa Smaa (2010)

Part of the biography edited from a text by Camel Zekri. Courtesy of Magali Berges.