Tag Archives: Moroccan music

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.


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)


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: Master Musicians of Jajouka

Master Musicians of Jajouka

The Master Musicians of Jajouka are an all-male group from Jajouka, a small village in the foothills of the Rif Mountains about a hundred kilometers south of Tangier, Morocco.

Described by William S. Burroughs as “a 4000 year old rock’n’roll band,” they are born into a unique family of musicians who have received royal patronage for centuries. Exempt from all work except making music, the Master Musicians have done nothing else since birth. They are taught from a very early age by their Master Musician family to play an ancient music that is unlike any other.

Two of the great influences on the Beat Generation, Brion Gysin, the painter and inventor, and Paul Bowles, the writer and composer, first heard the wild music of Jajouka at a festival in the summer of 1950. Gysin was entranced and determined to hear the music regularly, for the rest of his life. These were the days of the Inter-Zone, when Tangier was an international city, where anything could and did happen. In this adventurous climate, Gysin opened the now-legendary restaurant, The 1001 Nights, in the kasbah of Tangier, hiring the Jajouka musicians as the house band. However, it wasn’t until after 1968 when Gysin brought his close friend Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones to Jajouka, that the sacred music was brought widely to the attention of the Western world.

The Jajoukans musically recreated festival music from their most important religious holiday and Jones eagerly recorded seven hours of the captivating, complicated sounds. It was this festival that led Gysin to believe that there were connections between the ancient rites of Pan, the ancient Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia, and the local tradition in Jajouka of a young boy dressing as Bou Jeloud, the Goat God, Father of Skins, and dancing madly, whipping the villagers into a frenzy, and ensuring the health of the village for the coming year.

Jones drowned a month after returning from Morocco and the album he recorded, Brian Jones Presents The Pipes of Pan at Jajouka, was released two years later, in 1971. Jones had manipulated the recordings, using various psychedelic sound treatments, that were somewhat popular at the time, yet which left the music lacking its original haunting, penetrating authenticity.

The release of “Brian Jones presents The Pipes of Pan at Jajouka” was very influential and led to scores of people visiting the village in the following years, including Ornette Coleman, the saxophone player, who recorded a track for his album “Dancing In Your Head” in the village. In 1995, the album was reissued on Point Records with extra tracks left intact, representational of the original sound.

The music of Jajouka has always been highly respected and sought after by those living in the region. The Master Musicians were the Royal Court musicians for seven kings of Morocco prior to Morocco’s occupation by France and Spain. Villagers come to Jajouka on pilgrimage, to visit the shrine of the holy man Sidi Ahmed Sheikh, who brought Islam to the valley centuries ago. It is said that this holy man plowed his field with a team of Berber lions, a feat which inspired the special Jajouka insignia, a lion created through the calligraphic weaving of sacred text from the Qu’ran. Sidi Ahmed Sheikh also had the power to heal mental illnesses and he blessed the music of Jajouka with this same healing power and to this day, the Master Musicians along with the Holy Man in the village heal the mental illnesses of the people sent from surrounding villages.

The Attar family, the keepers of the sacred music, are also the founding family of the village. They possess baraka, or the blessing of Allah, which gives them the power to heal, and the endurance required to play some of the most intense and complex music around. This family, though under tremendous financial strain, still carries on the traditional rites to this day.

Master Musicians of Jajouka

The music of Jajouka uses a number of traditional instruments, including the ghaita (the Arabic version of the oboe), the lira (a bamboo flute), and the guimbri (a three stringed lute), along with double-headed Moroccan drums. The music is composed of several fairly simple parts, which are then intricately woven together in a way foreign to most Western ears, so that the resolution of individual phrases and sections can be difficult for outsiders to discern. The music can be extended indefinitely, and many performances last for days at a time, with some musicians taking breaks and others stepping in to take their place.

In 1980 the Master Musicians of Jajouka began a series of European tours, but lost momentum with the death of their chief and band leader, Hadj Abdessalam Attar, in 1982. One of his younger sons, Bachir Attar, now fronts a rejuvenated group from Jajouka and the surrounding hills. As a kind of ambassador of Jajouka, Attar frequently journeys from his homeland to Paris, London and New York, working to get the music from Jajouka out to the world, composing new songs, and collaborating with other musicians, such as Deborah Harry, saxophonist Ornette Coleman, Maceo Parker, Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth and The Rolling Stones, with whom The Master Musicians of Jajouka also recorded in 1989 in Tangier, an event well documented in Paul Bowles’ diary with the title “Days: A Tangier Journal.”

Bachir Attar’s latest collaboration combines the ancient sounds of the Master Musicians with composer, producer, DJ, club promoter, and tabla player, Talvin Singh. The album “Searching for the Passions” will be released under the Point Music Label (Decca Music Group) in the Spring of 2000.

Regarded by Jagger as “one of the most musically inspiring groups still left on the planet,” legend has it if they ever stop playing the world will come to an end. So, in the words of the late William S. Burroughs, “listen to the music, the primordial sounds. Listen with your whole body, let the music penetrate you and move you, and you will connect with the oldest music on earth.”

Bachir Attar is the son of the late Hadj Abdesalam Attar, who was the undisputed leader of the Master Musicians of Jajouka. He has inherited that role and is now responsible for the preservation of an endangered musical tradition, a tradition now virtually non-existent in the Western world, where time and money take precedent over ritual and meaning. This responsibility includes the care of the entire Attar family, which easily numbers several hundred. Unfortunately, due to modern constraints and impoverished conditions, the band itself has quickly diminished in size, the simple reason being that many of the potential musicians move away from the village to attend school in the city instead of learning the complex music of the ancestors. Bachir Attar has known since birth that he is the one with the baraka, the one to carry on the tradition, and so he devotes his life to securing performances for the musicians and documenting the rich and fascinating history of his family.


Brian Jones Plays With The Pipes Of Pan At Joujouka (Rolling Stones Records, 1971)
The Primal Energy That Is The Music And Ritual Of Jajouka, Morocco (Adelphi Records, 1974)
Tribe Ahl Serif: Master Musicians Of Jajouka ‎(Musical Heritage Society, 1975)
Apocalypse Across The Sky (Axiom, 1992)
Jajouka Between The Mountains (Real World Records, 1995)
Master Musicians Of Jajouka (Point Music, 2000)
Boujeloud’s Cave – 1974 ‎(2002)
Live Volume 1 ‎(Jajouka Records, 2009)
The Source ‎(Le Son Du Maquis, 2010)
The Road to Jajouka (Howe Records, 2013)
Apocalypse Live ‎(M.O.D. Technologies, 2017)


Artist Profiles: Najat Aatabu

Najat Aatabu

The emotionally charged voice of Najat Aatabu (Also spelled Aatabou, in French) is one of the strongest and most thrilling in popular Moroccan music, known as chaabi. On stage, her voice and presence are electrifyingsome of her movements derive from jedba exorcism/trance ritual from Northern Africa. Her dynamic performances and forthright views take her straight to the heart of the Moroccan public and have made her a star.

As a teenager, she liked to sing songs in Berber and Arabic. Her parents were not very pleased because they believed that being a singer was not a reputable profession for a woman. Najat Aatabu decided to move from her hometown, Khemisset, to Casablanca, where she got a record deal. with the Hassania label.

She receives inspiration from thousands of Moroccan women who write letters to her and she replies singing. Her lyrics are witty and she combines words from Arabic and Tamazight (Berber).


The Voice of the Atlas (Globe Style, 1991)
Country Girls & City Women (Rounder, 1997)
Najat Aâtabou (La Fa Mi, 1998)
La Diva marocaine (La Fa Mi, 2001)


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: 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)