Tag Archives: Moroccan music

Houssam Gania’s Trance Ritual Music


Houssam Gania – Mosawi Swiri

Houssam Gania – Mosawi Swiri (Hive Mind Records, 2019)

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.

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Jajouka Meets New York at A World in Trance 2019

Master Musicians of Jakouka

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.

Recordings available include Brian Jones Plays With The Pipes Of Pan At Joujouka (1971), The Primal Energy That Is The Music And Ritual Of Jajouka, Morocco ( 1974), Tribe Ahl Serif: Master Musicians Of Jajouka ‎(1975), Apocalypse Across The Sky (1992),
Jajouka Between The Mountains (1995), Master Musicians Of Jajouka (2000), Boujeloud’s Cave – 1974 ‎(2002), Live Volume 1 ‎(2009), The Source ‎(2010), The Road to Jajouka ( 2013) and Apocalypse Live ‎(2017).

Roulette, 509 Atlantic Avenue at 3rd Avenue, Downtown Brooklyn
Box office: 917-267-0363

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Onebeat Mixtape Musical Exchange

Various Artists – OneBeat Mixtape

Various Artists – OneBeat Mixtape (Found Sound Nation, 2018)

The album “Onebeat Mixtape” is unlike any music that you have ever heard. In part, because the music comes from a project called OneBeat. Each year OneBeat brings together a select group of young, international musicians to create and exchange music together. Where else will you find the joy of Kenyan traditional percussion spun out alongside electric slide guitar? Think electronica meets folk and you begin to get some idea. Here is no forced fusion of genres: but musicians from different corners of the globe dancing together in new and unique ways.

One Beat – Photo by Alexia Webster

Two musicians stand out on this album, Mehdi Nassouli from Morocco and Rapasa Otieno from Kenya. Both work hard to teach and preserve the traditional music from their countries. Both bring true enthusiasm to their music that enlivens this set.

Mehdi and Rapasa feature at the opening of the album on “Wuoth” a track that moves at a meditative pace. The synthesizer draws out long, spacious notes, while Mehdi on the guembri or three stringed lute and Rapasa on the nyatiti an eight stringed lyre work a careful interchange, weaving in and out of each other’s notes. It is unclear exactly where one instrument begins and another starts, as their instruments whisper to each other. This is a cyclical song with repetition that brings to mind Philip Glass, catching your attention and pulling you in.

One Beat – Photo by Alexia Webster

A few tracks later “Yeah, Yeah” is a high energy number with the words, “Yeah, Yeah,” sung as a catchy chorus throughout. You are whirled into an area of Moroccan Gnawa music that makes you want to dance. Gnawa is spiritual healing music from North Africa that moves people into a trance. In Gnawa music one phrase or a few notes are played over and over to captivate the audience. Here Mehdi Nassouli hypnotizes, he draws steady circles on the guembri’s strings. Yet this is a new take on the Gnawa tradition. Out of nowhere, an electric guitar pulsates, bringing funk into the mix. The North African harmonies work well against the punchy trumpet notes of Mandla Mlangeni. The music is ecstatic. Haile Supreme, a vocalist on this song, is quoted in the liner notes, “I believe this song is OneBeat personified because of its message, cosmopolitan ingredients, and the extremely high energy participation it summoned from every crowd when we performed this piece on the OneBeat tour.”

One Beat – Photo by Alexia Webster

“Aduogo Ka” continues the high energy. The percussion moves to the foreground as the synthesizer adds a quiet pulse under it. A gentle atmosphere wraps around you. Here the traditional Kenyan percussion sounds good alongside the slide guitar. The nyangile, a Kenyan percussion instrument is the focus. Its name means box, and it’s hit with a stick. The musician plays two rings or “ogeng” at the same time as striking the box. The sound is unique. The musicians accompany each other well. About two thirds of the way through the track, the percussion rises in intensity: Rapaso Otieno hurtles out rapid staccato beats.

One Beat – Photo by Alexia Webster

“OneBeat is a catalyst in the lives of many musicians,” says Kyla-Rose Smith, a musician who has participated in OneBeat and is now Studio Manager for Found Sound Nation’s label. “Without the US. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, our work would not be possible. OneBeat has opened up a global network now consisting of at least two hundred musicians who came through its program. The intention is to open up conversation both between musicians and with audience, with people from all walks of life.”

On this album, the OneBeat musicians have opened up a masterful conversation. Theirs is a beautiful, often unexpected, musical exchange. Its musical excitement reaches out to you and draws you in. You cannot help but be entranced by the hypnotic dance of ancient and modern instruments.

OneBeat Mixtape is available for digital download at: fsnrecords.bandcamp.com

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Artist Profiles: Nass El Ghiwane

Nass El Ghiwane

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.

Discography:

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)

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Artist Profiles: Said Guissi’s Aissawa

Said Guissi’s Aissawa
Said Guissi’s Aissawa – Photo by Pete Sanders

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

Discography:

Lala Rkeya – Art Aissawa (Tarab Productions, 2007)

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Artist Profiles: Orquesta de Mujeres de Tanger

Orquesta de Mujeres de Tanger

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.

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Artist Profiles: Omar Metioui

Omar Metioui

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.

Discography:

Música Andalusí: Núba Al-Istihlál (Sony Classical, 1995)
Música Andalusí: Núba Al-Máya (Sony Classical, 1997)
Tres Culturas (Pneuma, 1998)
Al Ála Al-Andalusiyya (Pneuma, 1999)
Misticismo, Música Sufí Andalusí (Pneuma, 2000)
La Fuente Del Amor Secreto (Pneuma, 2002)
Música Andalusí: Sufíes De Al-Andalus (Pneuma, 2005)
Música Andalusí: Cantos De La Noche (Pneuma, 2006)
Dhikr y Sama’: Musica Sufi Andalusi (Karonte, 2009)
Ritual Sufi-Andalusf: Al-Shushtari (1212-1269) (Pneuma, 2013)

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Artist Profiles: Nass Marrakech

Nass Marrakech

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.”

Discography:

Sabil ‘A ‘Salaam (Alula, 2000)
Bouderbala, with Omar Sosa & Jorge Pardo (World Village, 2001)
Dal vivo a “Suoni Migranti” (Suoni Migranti/ Materiali Sonori, 2005)

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Artist Profiles: Majid Bekkas

Majid Bekkas

Majid Bekkas was born and still lives in Sale, Morocco. He learned Gnawa music through the teachings of the master Ba Houmane.

Bekkas includes elements of contemporary western music in Gnawa music and has worked jazz musicians such as Peter Brotzmann, Archie Shepp, Flavio Boltro, Louis Sclavis, Joachim Kühn, and Ramon Lopez.

His song “Daymallah” represents Morocco on the award-winning CD compilation Desert Blues 2.

In his Afro-Oriental Jazz Trio he plays with reed player Manuel Hermia and percussionist Khalid Kouhen.

Discography:

Soudaniyé (1991)
African Gnaoua Blues ‎(Igloo Records, 2002)
La Cité Invisible – Rencontre À Casablanca ‎(Nord Sud, 2003)
Mogador ‎(Igloo Records, 2004)
Kalimba (Act Records, 2007)
Out of The Desert (Act Records, 2009)
Passport to Morocco, avec Klaus Doldinger (Wea, 2009)
The Art of Baroque, Jazz, Dance & World Music (Keytone Records, 2009)
African Jazz ‘n Bar ‎(Hippo Records, 2009)
Makenba (Igloo Records, 2010)
Les Amants De Juliette & Majid Bekkas ‎(Quoi de Neuf Docteur, 2010)
Makenba ‎(Igloo Records, 2010)
In All, Marula (Morgenland Records, 2010)
Chalaba (Act Records)
Mabrouk (Bee Jazz, 2011)
Vodoo Sense (Act Records, 2014)
Al qantara ‎(Igloo Records, 2013)
Laafou (2015)

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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.

Discography:

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)

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