Words by Tim Cumming
The first University of Gnawa release came in 2011, when Sahmaoui, a founder of Orchestre National de Barbès, brought together Senegalese players Cheikh Diallo on kora, guitarist Hervé Samb, bassist Alioune Wad and Moroccan percussionist Adhil Mirghani. For their second release, the crack African quartet fuses sweet Moroccan chaabi with Gnawa music and the textures of Senegalese kora and guitar. There are gorgeous layers of harmony vocals throughout.
Moroccan and Senegalese flavours mix with melodic pop and exploratory contemporary jazz to make an album of strong tunes and great variety. The opening tracks are sweetly melodic African pop fusions, while ‘Une Dune Pour Deux’ is more stripped-down, a sociopolitical fable about a man who plants a tree in his neighbour’s garden but can’t gather its fruit. Its strong Gnawa bass rhythm and keening Moroccan call-and-response vocals are overlaid by the beautiful thin, wispy flute of Naïssam Jalal, one of several guest players here. Where the Maghreb meets the sub-Saharan is the sweet spot from which the University of Gnawa works its magic.