Asmaa Hamzaoui is the leading female performer of Gnawa music. Together with her band Bnat Timbouktou (Daughters of Timbuktu), 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.
Her father is the celebrated Maâlem Rachid Hamzaoui. From an early age, Asmâa learned to play the guembri and accompanied her father at celebrations. Traditionally, Gnawa women don’t play during ceremonies. Asmâa Hamzaoui is the exception.
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.
Moroccan artist Karima Skalli is one of the leading classical Arabic music vocalists, inspired by the great voices of classical Egyptian music. At the age of 9 she sang one of Umm Khaltum’s songs in its entirety for her family. Her influences include Umm Khaltum, Suad Mohammed, Leila Morad, Mohamed Abdelwahab, and especially Asmahane.
She has collaborated with top composers and poets, specifically the great Moroccan ud player and composer, Saïd Chraïbi, who discovered her, and the eminent poet Abderrafie Jwahri. Both masters have composed elegant songs for her.
When she was invited to the Festival de la Goulette in Tunis, Karima skalli sang compositions by Nasser Shemma, the Iraqi ud master.
In November 1999, Karima was invited to perform at the Cairo Opera accompanied by the Egyptian Philharmonic Orchestra, a high point of her career. There, she dedicated the evening’s performance to the Egyptian diva Asmahane, who remains Karima’s model and inspiration.
Karima released one album, Wasla, for French label Institut du Monde Arabe.
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.
The concert Jajouka Meets New York will take place Saturday, March 30, 2019 at Roulette in New York City. This concert is part of the A World in Trance series.
Inspired by the captivating sounds of the legendary Master Musicians of Jakouka, this ensemble of musicians from both sides of the Atlantic – Morocco and the US – explore the potential for sound to trigger a state of ecstasy.
Bachir Attar is a multi-instrumentalist well-known for his mastery of the ghaita, a double reed oboe-like instrument that is essential to the sound of the Master Musicians of Jajouka, the group that he leads. His brother, Mustapha Attar, also a member of the group, plays drums as well as ghaita.
Saxophonist and clarinetist Ned Rothenberg, acclaimed throughout the world for his solo concerts and collaborations with diverse musicians, is particularly noted for his virtuosity of multiphonics and circular breathing.
Arrington de Dionysio, a saxophonist, vocalist and visual artist who has collaborated recently with Attar and Mustapha, draws on a variety of traditions, including Tuvan throat singing and Indonesian trance music, for inspiration. Innovative percussionist Ben Bennett has developed a commanding synthesis of extended and traditional techniques on the drums, and worked with cutting-edge improvisers around the world.
The Master Musicians of Jajouka, from the Rif mountains of Morocco, are noted for their trance-inducing ceremony that predates Islam and is thought to evoke the ancient rites of Pan, the goat-legged fertility god of ancient Greece. Embraced in the 1950s by artist Brion Gysin and writer Paul Bowles, the village of Jajouka became a popular spot in the 1960s and ‘70s for celebrities such as the Rolling Stones, Ornette Coleman, and Timothy Leary.
With their roots in traditional Berber music and alternative theater, Nass El Ghiwane concocted an uncompromisingly radical new music with driving beats and a barely concealed political edge in the early 1970s and went onto revolutionize music and attitudes throughout the Arabic world.
Five friends from the same district, Hay Mohammadi, in Casablanca, got together to form one of Morocco’s most legendary rock bands. Original members included Omar Sayed, Boujemaa Brahim, Allal Yaala, and Larbi Batma.
Soon the group became popular in Morocco and beyond. Nass El Ghiwane influenced some of the early Rai musicians in Algeria and other bands in Tunisia and Libya. The group suffered several crisis. Boujemaa died in 1974. Then there was the illness and death of Batma in 1997. Abderrahman Kirouj (also spelled Kiruch and Kirouche), alias Paco, left the band and returned to his roots, which is Gnawa music of his hometown Essawira.
The group is still active, but only two original members remain, Omar Sayed and Allal Yaala.
Nass El Ghiwane (Polydor, 1973) Hommage A Boudjemaa (Cléopatre, 1975)
A Paris (Cléopatre, 1975)
Wannadi Ana / Erraghaya (Disques Espérance, 1975)
Nass El Ghiwane (Cléopatre, 1976)
Instrumental (Disques Espérance, 1976)
Narjak Ana La M’Chite / Echams Ettalâa / Daïyne Cléopatre (Plein Soleil, 1977)
Taghounja / Lebtana (Cléopatre, 1979
Zad El Hame Edition Hassania 1981 Transes (Musique Originale Du Film De Ahmed El Maanouni) (Spalax, 1981)
El Maana (Le Sens Du Mot) Azwaw (Edition Hassania, 1983)
El Gharib / Oulad El Aalam / El Oumma / Ya Sayil (Triomphe Musique, 1985) Salama (Blue Silver, 1997)
Transe Musique Du Maroc (Night & Day, 1998)
Aalli Ou Khalli Aladin (Le Musicien, 2004)
La Légende – Volume 3 (Platinium Music, 2006)
Ghir Khoudouni (AMD, 2006) Best of: Nass El Ghiwane (EMI France, 2008) Double Best, remastered (Rue Stendhal, 2013)
Said Guissi’s Aissawa ensemble are from the holy city of Fes. It is Morocco’s most famous and accomplished group of the many such ensembles to emerge from the centuries-old Aissawa brotherhood. The group uses trumpets and pipes to pierce through a barrage of polyphonic drumming and thus create a trance-inducing wall of sound. Healing Sufi music of the highest order. Morocco Africa
Lala Rkeya – Art Aissawa (Tarab Productions, 2007)
The project Orquesta de Mujeres de Tanger was conceived by Jamal Ouassini with the aim of promoting and introducing to the European continent one of the most fascinating and at the same time least known aspects of Moroccan culture.
The show proposes a symbolic reconstruction of a tradition peculiar to the cities of Tanger (also known as Tangier) and Tetuan. There, in accordance with a tradition dating back thousands of years, during the three days in which a wedding is celebrated, at the house of the bride’s family the music is entrusted to a musical ensemble made up exclusively of women.
The first day of the ceremony, called ‘El Henna’, involves just the closest relations and friends of the bride. Here the performance of an instrumental and sung repertoire follows in a continuous crescendo and reaches its peak with the ‘Zagharid’, the typical cries of the Maghreb’s women, in this way accompanying the complex and refined decoration of the bride’s hands and feet with a pigment (called ‘El henna’) derived from the leaves of a plant that grows along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts of Morocco.
This tradition dates back to very early times, to the 7th millennium B.C., a fact confirmed by the archaeologists, who associate it with the fertility rites at Cathal Hayak, considered to be one of the earliest villages of the Neolithic period. ‘El henna’ is therefore a day of preparation for the actual ceremony itself: In this case the invitation is extended to all the acquaintances. And the music played during this second long day of celebrations includes both pieces of the Arab-Andalusian repertoire to accompany the bride’s frequent ‘changes of dress’.
The climax of the event occurs in the late evening when the percussion and dancing unite in a continuous crescendo that announces the arrival of the bridegroom and his relations, who ‘abduct’ the bride at the end of the day. During the third, conclusive day of this ancient ceremony, ‘ESbah’ (The Morning), the orchestra moves to the bride’s new abode and accompanies her awakening.
Omar Metioui was born in Tanger (Tangier), Morocco, in 1962. He studied Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Brussels. In 1973 he studied Western European musical notation, Andalusian chant and lute at the Conservatory of Music and Dance of Tanger. Between 1976 and 1980 he was the lute player and singer at the Andalusian Music Main Orchestra of Tanger.
In the year 1987 he became become First Lute player of the Orchestra of the Conservatory of Tanger under the direction of the Professor Zaitouni, carrying out up to 1.993 several tours for different European countries and of the Arab world.
In those years he also recorded three nubas under the direction of the Ministry of Cultural Matters of Morocco and the Maison des Cultures du Monde of Paris.
Through the Ministry of Culture he played several concerts in 1995, together with the Renaissance choir Juan of Triana.
He has received important awards along his career, as that of Arab Andalusian Music of Rabat. In the year 1994 he began to transcribe Nubas for the center of Musical Documentation of Andalusia.
His recordings include several albums with the group Ibn Baya and a few more with his ensemble or as a soloist (“Masterpieces of Arab-Andalusian Chant”, “Omar Metioui”, “Andalusi Lute and Ritual Sufi Andalusian”, all with Sony).
Omar Metioui has an ensemble. It’s group of Arab musicians group specialized in the interpretation of Arab-Andalusian Music (Hispano-Arab Music from Centuries IX to the XIV), directed by the Master Omar Metioui. It is without a doubt the best group from Morocco that visits regularly the Iberian Peninsula to perform the exotic musical result of combining medieval compositions of Al-Andalus and North African influences.
Musicians: Omar Metioui – Arab Lute and voice; Ahmed Al-Gazi – Rebab and Viola; Said Belcadi – Darbuka and voice’ Abderraja Hassani – Kemanja; Sidi Abdeslam Amrani – Tar, voice.
Abdeljalil Kodssi, Moulay M’Hamed Ennaji (a.k.a. “Sheriff”), Abdelkebir Bensaloum and Mohamed Bechar formed Nass Marrakech in 1991. All are members of Gnawa families or have intimate ties with the Gnawa community, and Abdelkebir is considered the youngest Gnawa maestro in Morocco.
Although they strived to preserve the traditions of their ancestors, Nass Marrakech were also modern Moroccan musicians, open and receptive to new musical experiences. Abdeljalil, for example, had toured with Don Cherry, and various other members of Nass Marrakech had worked with the Casablanca School of Jazz. They were all equally knowledgeable about Gnawa music and popular Moroccan sounds.
On “Sabil ‘a ‘Salaam,” Nass Marrakech skillfully blended traditional pieces with new songs that connected with contemporary audiences. “An a, An ta” (“You and me”) spoke about equality of rights. “Salaam Aleikum” addressed the need for peace, while “Allah” reflected an ecological idea of God. Traditional songs included “Yo Mala,” a song which has existed for over 900 years and is performed in the ancient bambara language.
Nass Marrakech’s sound mixed West African drums (jembes, sabar) with mandolin, Indian tabla, sentir (3-stringed bass lute) and the omnipresent karkabas (metallic castanets) to create a solid musical landscape over which the voices perform the traditional “call and response.”