Posts Tagged ‘gnawa’

Celebrating 20 years of Essaouira’s Gnawa & World Music Festival

Posted on July 26th, 2017 in Recent posts by .

Gnawa-blog

Tim Cumming joins in the 20th anniversary celebrations in Essaouira 

Some ten hours after pulling an all-nighter at an off-festival lila (the all-night healing/trance ceremony of the Gnawa) at Zaouia Bilal in the depths of Essaouira’s medina, I was shuffling sans sleep through Casablanca’s international transit lounge wondering if this was what taking the drug spice felt like. I then heard the familiar bass sound of the gimbri, and spied a young man in Gnawa robes on a sleek sofa set outside a luxury goods concession, arranging his robes, fingering his strings and looking decidedly decorative in a setting far removed from Gnawa culture’s sources. Gnawa is almost a brand for Morocco now, and 20 years of Essaouira’s Gnawa & World Music Festival has helped make it so.

Earlier that night, from mid-evening to about 3am, I’d sat with Mokhtar Guinea’s band of Gnawa as they shuffled in and out of the back room behind the musicians and trancing audience crowding around them, three young women up on their feet and head-banging right in front of the musicians, sheets of white cloth draped over their heads as the spirits of the lila descend into them one by one in the form of specific songs with specific symbolic colours attached, accompanied by the scent of incense, hashish and mint tea.

In its 20th year the festival must accommodate both extremes – of cultural decoration, and of personal immersion and revelation. Both are quite real, and both play out across Essaouira’s stages, decorated with sponsor Renault’s advertising. The old rules forbidding cameras at the intimate, after-midnight performances at places such as Dar Loubane clearly do not apply to smartphones these days – will the spirits of the lila survive smart-screen culture, or will they fade to local colour, then fade out? I think not, because what underlies it is as hard and resilient as the music itself, a common currency, and everyone of all ages in Morocco seems to know and to sing the songs of the Gnawa.

TimCummingThe Riyad El Medina by Tim Cumming

For its 20th edition, the festival had its wings clipped – four days cut to three – and a paucity of prominent jazz headliners, Snarky Puppy’s Bill Laurance aside. Why a fairly obscure, self-aggrandising soul-blues singer named Lucky Peterson got three hours of main stage on the closing Saturday night is inexplicable. Luckily, Bahia artist Carlinhos Brown opened (with maalem Mohamed Kouyou) and closed the festival with two excellent sets, while Friday saw festival regular Titi Robin joined by rising Moroccan star Mehdi Nassouli and percussionist Luis Nascimento at the intimate Dar Louban with maalem Abdenbi El Gueddari, where the following night a young all-girl Gnawa group, Bnat Timbouktou, led by Asmaa Hamzaoui, was joined by one of the festival’s founders Loy Ehrlich. Female Gnawa are rare – for the moment – and Bnat Tombouktou were one of the gems of this 20th edition.

The next night, Nassouli and Nascimento joined Hindi Zahra’s band on the windswept Borj Bab Marrakech for an outstanding set featuring two drummers as the sun sank in the west behind the white rooftops and minarets of the medina. Ah, but how the wind blew. It was at its very worst for this edition. The beach stage, bedecked by the likes of Speed Caravan and Houssam Guinea, felt a little like being in a speeding hurricane. But the music never stopped. The wind blows, and the Gnawa play all night – it seems that here, the natural creative order doesn’t change, even as Gnawa becomes a brand for Morocco, a kind of symbol of its luxury goods.

Gnawa is reputed to have healing properties, and even this reviewer found it so – I flew in with a frozen shoulder, left loose-limbed, body healed and mind blown by rhythmic air and the raw pure Gnawa that takes you right down to the bottom and through a door into a dynamic world of rhythmic sound and raised spirits that can knock you out like a plank of wood. Those rhythms are a key that can unlock the mind and free the body. One of the great pleasures of this festival is watching the crowds, all 300,000 of this year’s visitors, and how they unleash themselves as the music takes hold. However far you have to come to experience it, it’s worth taking the trip.

To see more images of the Gnawa & World Music Festival by Tim Cumming, click here

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Songlines Essential 10: Sufi Albums

Posted on October 26th, 2016 in Features, Recent posts by .

Sufi music, like that of Turkey’s whirling dervishes, occurs all across the Islamic world. Simon Broughton chooses the standout recordings, going for the more traditional and spiritual examples

Al Kindi EnsembleAl Kindi Ensemble
Aleppian Sufi Trance (Le Chant du Monde, 2003)
With singer Sheikh Habboush, the late Julien Weiss and his Al Kindi Ensemble pay a superb tribute to the amazing Sufi lodges of Aleppo. The Syrian city was a centre of Sufism from the 13th century and this two-CD digipack includes pictures and information about the different brotherhoods and lodges. Sadly they’re probably all gone now. Reviewed in #23.

 

 

Kudi Erguner EnsembleKudsi Erguner Ensemble
Ferahfeza Mevleví Ayíní (Imaj Muzik, 2001)
There are a lot of recordings of Mevlevi music, but this is one of the more historically informed. It features ney (reed flute) player Kudsi Erguner and his ensemble playing music for the sema ceremony commissioned by Sultan Mahmud II from composer Ismail Dede in 1839. There are excellent instrumentalists in the group.

 

 

Faiz Ali FaizFaiz Ali Faiz
L’Amour de Toi me Fait Danser (Accords Croisés, 2004)
Faiz Ali Faiz is probably the leading figure in qawwali music today, the most famous Sufi style in Pakistan and India. The music with solo voices and backing singers driven by tabla drums, breaks over you in waves. This well-produced album, with pictures and texts, takes its title from Punjabi poet Bulleh Shah. Reviewed in #27.

 

 

Nusrat Fateh Ali KhanNusrat Fateh Ali Khan
King of Sufi Qawwali (Manteca/Union Square, 2006)
There are countless recordings of Nusrat, who died in 1997, from superb concert performances on Ocora and Navras to fusion successes like Mustt Mustt on Real World. This double CD, compiled by Songlines contributor Jameela Siddiqi, includes his most representative repertoire opening with ‘Allah Hoo’ and concluding with ‘Dam Mast Qalander’ as his concerts often did. Reviewed in #40.

 

 

Ali Akbar MoradiAli Akbar Moradi
Mystical Odes and Secular Music (Inédit, 2001)
Unlike qawwali, the sacred tanbur music of Kurdistan is little known. The tanbur is a long-necked lute and is considered sacred among the devotees. Moradi is the living master of the tradition and accompanied on daf and tombak (drums) he plays and sings exquisite mystical songs. A gem of a disc.

 

 

 

 

Abida ParveenAbida Parveen
Ishq (Accords Croisés, 2005)
Abida Parveen, from Pakistan, is a living superstar of Sufi music and a rare woman performer in the Sufi world. She sings solo kafi songs, rather than qawwali. She’s always best seen live and untamed, but as that is a rare opportunity this well-produced disc with Bijan Chemirani on daf (drum) and Henri Tournier on bansuri (flute) is the next best thing. Reviewed in #31.

 

 

Sheikh Yasin Al-TuhamiSheikh Yasin Al-Tuhami
The Magic of the Sufi Inshad (Long Distance, 1998)
Given how widespread Sufi music is in Egypt – particularly at moulid (saints day) festivals – it’s surprising there are so few internationally available recordings. This features Egypt’s most celebrated inshad (Sufi singer) in two incredibly intense performances on two CDs. Sheikh Yasin AlTuhami is accompanied here by fiddle, ney (flute), oud, qanun and percussion.

 

 

Gnawa Home SongsVarious Artists
Gnawa Home Songs (Accords Croisés, 2006)
There are many Sufi brotherhoods in Morocco, each with their own music – the Aissawa with long trumpets and drums are the most spectacular. But the most celebrated are the Gnawa, and these recordings of some of the great masters are superb. A high-quality disc with deep gimbri (three-stringed bass) playing and soulful songs. Reviewed in #45.

 

 

SufiSongsVarious Artists
Sufi Soul (Network Medien, 1997)
This is the best available compilation of Sufi music from across the Islamic world. In a two-disc digipack, Sufi Soul includes 21 selections from Senegal to Afghanistan covering all the main genres and more. There are standout tracks from Kurdish singer Ostad Elahi as well as Mevlevi music, the Sabri Brothers and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

 

 

Troubadours of AllahVarious Artists
Troubadours of Allah (Wergo, 1999)
This splendidly titled double album, compiled by Peter Pannke, features the incredible diversity of Sufi music in Pakistan. There are a couple of qawwali tracks, but mostly it’s solo singers and groups of fakirs playing the music you hear at shrines across the country. There’s a superb booklet with information and pictures too.

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Sufi music: a beginner’s guide

Posted on July 21st, 2015 in Features, Recent posts by .

whirling-dervishes-sufi-music
Islam is frequently portrayed as a religion that disapproves of music or even bans it outright. But for Sufis, the Muslim mystics, it’s their way of getting closer to God. Simon Broughton investigates Sufi music – and its message

Peaceful, tolerant and pluralistic. It’s not the image of Islam predominantly presented by the Western media. But it is the essence of Sufism – and its music is some of the most uplifting in the world. Unfortunately it’s hardline Islam that grabs the headlines and gets powerfully propagated around the world. Sufism takes many forms, but unlike the fundamentalists, the Sufis aren’t politicised and, their music aside, represent a silent majority who uphold tolerance and love. From West Africa to Indonesia there are hundreds of millions of Sufis. Clearly, with its message of peace, Sufism is needed more than ever right now and its ecstatic music can be heard increasingly on concert platforms, but most excitingly at religious shrines across the Islamic world in Morocco, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. This is a guide written by a non-Muslim, from a musical rather than spiritual point of view, looking at just some of the highlights. Islam is obviously central to the music, but just as you don’t need to be Christian to enjoy gospel or JS Bach, Sufi music has an undeniable power that transcends religious boundaries.

Woolly beginnings

Exactly when and where Sufism started is difficult to say, but Islam and Christianity share roots in the deserts of the Middle East. Suf is Arabic for wool and the name suggests that the woollen clothes worn by the Christian desert fathers and mystics who sat on pillars and occupied caves during the Byzantine period were adopted by the first Sufis after the coming of Islam in the seventh century. The mystical veneration of local saints and holy men as intermediaries between man and God is an important part of Sufi practise and the music adopts its own local forms across the Islamic world. Because Sufi thought is commonly expressed through mystical poetry, there are broad linguistic territories in which particular figures are admired – for instance in the Arab world Ibn Arabi and Ibn Al-Farid; in the Persian world Attar, Rumi and Hafez; in the Indian subcontinent poets like Amir Khusrau, Baba Bulle Shah and Shah Abdul Latif.

Rumi and the Whirling Dervishes

If there’s one figure who transcends these boundaries and has also become the best-known Sufi in the West, it’s Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-1273) or Mevlana. The fact that he was the best-selling poet in the US in the 90s demonstrates his appeal. Rumi is the most universal of Muslim thinkers and his insistence that God is located in the human heart means you don’t need ritual to reach him. He’s as accessible to Christians and Jews as he is to Muslims. Musically Rumi is important for his mystical verses about the ney, the reed flute whose breathy tones make it the quintessential spiritual instrument in Turkish music, and as the founder of the Mevlevi, the famous Whirling Dervishes.

Rumi, born in Central Asia, lived and preached in Konya, the Seljuk capital (now in Turkey) where his shrine is now a place of pilgrimage. Music was central to Rumi’s philosophy and teaching. His most famous poem, the Mesnevi, opens with the sound of the reed flute. ‘Listen to the ney, crying out and lamenting its separation from the reed bed.’ It’s a poetic symbol of man’s separation from God. As ney player Kudsi Erguner explains:  “The ney must be animated by breath. A human being is the same, empty without the breath of God within him. That’s why in Mevlevi ceremonies the ney becomes the breath that invokes the name of God.”

It’s said that Rumi first started whirling to the sound of goldsmiths’ hammers in the Konya bazaar. What inspired him was not the formalised, classical music that accompanies the sema ritual today, but something much more elemental.

The sight of the ritual is certainly a spectacular and uplifting one. After ceremonially greeting the sheikh who presides over the sema, the dervishes throw off their dark cloaks to reveal their white whirling robes and start to spin anticlockwise. The right hands of the dervishes face up and the left hands down, as if to convey the spiritual energy from above to the earth. “The whirling ritual isn’t a dance, it’s a prayer,” says Nail Kesova, sheikh at the Galata lodge, historically the most important in Istanbul. “Everything is whirling in the world from the smallest cell up to the galaxies of the universe. Everything is turning. Our whirling is to join this universal prayer.” The atmosphere of the sema is formalised and controlled. “We are in ecstasy,” explains Kesova, “but we don’t lose consciousness. You observe the separation of your spirit from your body, but you remain conscious.”

The Mevlevi Sufis spread thoughout the Ottoman Empire and became particularly powerful in Istanbul where some of the Ottoman Sultans were amongst the devotees. Gradually a body of Mevlevi music built up, much of it composed by musicians at the court. The instruments used are those of the Turkish classical tradition with the ney playing a leading role plus rebab (fiddle), ud (lute), tanbur (long-necked lute), kanun (zither) and the distinctive kudum drums, like small timpani. The most celebrated composer of Mevlevi music was Ismail Dede (1777-1845) who composed the music for seven sema rituals. At the end of the 19th century there were over 700 Sufi lodges in Istanbul and it’s hard to under-estimate the importance of the Sufis – especially the Mevlevi – in Turkish culture.

After the founding of the Turkish republic, Atatürk banned the Sufi lodges in 1925 partly because of their close links with the Ottoman regime, but mainly because they didn’t fit with his idea of a modern secular state. Things eased in the 50s and annual sema ceremonies were started in Konya, initially for tourist purposes, to mark the anniversary of Rumi’s death. All Sufi shrines have these annual celebrations, but, like Ramadan, they move according to the Muslim calendar. However, as a secular state, Turkey fixed Rumi’s anniversary on December 17th, the day it fell in the year he died, 1273. So unlike the equivalents in Pakistan or Morocco, the Rumi celebration is fixed in the Western calendar.

It’s ironic that Turkey uses Whirling Dervishes extensively in its tourist promotions, when Sufism is still technically banned. The beautiful Galata lodge in Istanbul is a museum with Whirling Dervish presentations each weekend. There are other Sufi lodges in Istanbul which survive under the category of ‘museum’, but more religious in atmosphere. And there are many groups of Sufis who meet ‘underground’.

Reconnecting a younger generation with Sufi tradition is the club Sufi Mercan Dede who, using Rumi as an inspiration, fuses the ney with electronic beats and whirling. He’s enjoying a cult success in Turkey and festivals worldwide.

Pakistan and India

While Sufism remains rather hidden in Turkey, it is omnipresent in Pakistan. There’s music at shrines on a weekly basis at least, on a Thursday evening (the eve of the Muslim holy day), and the annual urs (spiritual union) celebrations attract literally thousands of people. Sufism – and its music – is credited with spreading Islam to a predominantly Hindu population in the Indian subcontinent from the 13th century.

The best-known Sufi music from Pakistan and India is qawwali, which was popularised worldwide by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (1948-1997). Over pulsating tablas, vigorous handclaps and harmoniums, the qawwals’ voices soar like birds in flight. Nusrat believed in spreading the Sufi message by popular qawwali fusions like Mustt Mustt (Real World) and also recorded music for Bollywood and Hollywood films.

Qawwali was created by the poet and musician Amir Khusrau (1253-1325), disciple to the Sufi master Nizamuddin Aulia in Delhi. Qawwali has become the predominant Sufi music across North India and Pakistan. Khusrau’s qawwalis are still sung regularly at the Nizamuddin shrine in Delhi by the Nizami family, who’ve been resident there for 668 years. The music usually begins with composed sections of set verses, but then moves into faster, freer sections where the singers repeat the name of God or other saints, like Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed.

There are many magnificent qawwali groups in Pakistan – two of them related to Nusrat. His nephew Rahat Fateh Ali Khan performed regularly with Nusrat from a young age and has become a charismatic singer busy on the shrine circuit in Pakistan. The younger nephews in Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali are better known in the West having performed regularly at WOMAD and recorded for Real World. The Sabri Brothers, Mehr and Sher Ali and Bahauddin Qawwal are also highly recommended.

Other Sufi music in Pakistan

The most celebrated Sufi singer in Pakistan is now Abida Parveen, virtually the only woman in the genre. She’s frequently compared to Nusrat and her live performances are usually sensational as she works her audience into a frenzy. She shakes her head, hair flying, throws up her hands and then holds a note for what seems like minutes on end. Her father was a singer at Sufi shrines, particularly at urs celebrations, and she has followed in his footsteps. “God’s light is spotlighting the saint,” she says, “and when the poetry is sung it’s like a medication for humanity. The poetry is a conversation between God and man.”  She sings a form of music called kaafi – solo songs backed by harmonium and tablas – in Urdu, Punjabi and Sindhi.

Sindh, the southern province of Pakistan, is much poorer than Punjab, but contains even more Sufi shrines. The beautiful blue-tiled shrine of Shah Abdul Latif in Bhitshah is home to a remarkable musical tradition. Abdul Latif (1690-1752) was a poet and musician, often called the Rumi of Sindh and influenced by his work. He founded a music school and created an instrument called the danbur with five strings, a large belly and a long neck (the 18th century original survives at Bhitshah). They held night-time music sessions, intoning his poetry in an intense falsetto as they beat and plucked the danbur. Musicians have performed this music at the shrine every night since Abdul Latif died in 1752. “This is the only music in which there has been no change,” claims Khan Mohammad Fakir. “All others in the world have changed over time but not this.”

In Lahore, the Sufi minstrel Sain Zahoor sings some of the most beautiful music you could wish to hear at a Punjabi shrine. With multi-coloured tassles, he carries a one-stringed ektara which he plucks to accompany gorgeous love songs to God. He sings into the small resonator on the instrument and his voice seems to float in the warm evening light. The music is simple, but encapsulates the feeling of peace, tranquillity and benign warmth that you so often find at these shrines. By contrast there’s a drumming tradition using the dhol drums that provide the familiar beat of bhangra music. The Baba Shah Jamal shrine hosts an incredible ritual performed by pairs of drummers with huge dhols slung round their necks. Brothers Gonga and Mithu Sain raise the temperature with thunderous drumming until Gonga, with sweat pouring down his dreadlocked hair, starts to whirl around. The drum lifts off his chest as he turns faster and faster still playing as he spins. It’s thrilling and terrifying as it would be death by dhol if the string broke and the drum hit you. While qawwali music is magisterial and sophisticated, this is wild and raw.

Finally the celebrated drummer Pappu Sain plays and devotees whirl in abandon. It’s like coming full circle to the Whirling Dervishes – not the classical refinement of the Ottoman court, but Rumi at his most elemental.

The Arabic World

Some of the earliest accounts of Sufism come from ninth century Baghdad and describe love songs (to the divine) and whirling. While we can’t report on the current state of Sufism in Iraq, it’s important to point out that it transcends the Sunni/Shia divide. Sufi shrines are found in both Sunni regions (like Morocco) and Shia regions (like Iran) and there are shrines in Pakistan frequented by both. However, the Wahhabis, who came to power in Arabia in the early 19th century and are the progenitors of today’s fundamentalists, strongly disapprove of Sufism for its veneration of saints and music. They’ve destroyed Sufi shrines in Arabia and in Karbala, Iraq. The centres of Sufism in the Arab world are now Syria and Egypt. In Aleppo, Syria, the old city shelters hundreds of shrines where different brotherhoods will gather on different days of the week to hold a zikr (or dhikr), an ‘evocation’ of God. To the beating of drums, devotees will chant the name of Allah and other phrases over and over again, heaving their bodies back and forth and side to side. Hyperventilation, as well as the drumming and spiritual release, can induce a state of ecstasy. So-called munshid singers sing devotional songs. Aleppo’s most celebrated Sufi singer is Sheikh Habboush who holds a zikr every Wednesday evening. He has a voice and delivery which goes straight to the heart, whether or not you understand the words. He’s frequently travelled abroad with the Al-Kindi Ensemble taking Aleppo Sufi music on tour.

In Egypt the veteran star is Sheikh Yasin Al-Tuhami. He’s a Sufi munshid who performs at religious festivals and private celebrations from Alexandria to Aswan. He has the exquisite vocal ability of a classical singer with a dynamic and popular touch accompanied by a traditional ensemble of kemanja (fiddle), ney, qanun (zither) and percussion.  Around Port Said on the Suez Canal, there’s a unique style of music which is unknown abroad and little-known even in Egypt. Suhbagiyya musicians play Sufi songs and folk music accompanied by wonderful Pharaonic-looking lyres called simsimiyya, drum and tambourine percussion and handclaps. The band Al-Tanburah – recent collaborators with One Giant Leap – plays some of the funkiest Sufi music anywhere.

Morocco

What gives Sufi music its tremendous variety is the way it absorbs regional musical traditions. Morocco is where the Mediterranean meets Africa and this cultural collision characterises its distinctive sounds and practices. Gnawa music is the best-known of these Moroccan styles. It is a real fusion as the Gnawa were brought to Morocco as slaves from sub-Saharan Africa. Their trance-inducing music is characterised by the deep, meaty plucking of the guembri and clacking of metal krakesh castanets. It’s been influential in popular music – thanks to Morocco’s most successful band Nass El Ghiwane and other fusion groups like Jil Jilala and Nass Marrakech. The Gnawa are celebrated for the healing powers of their music and all-night lila rituals and the way they communicate with the djinns or genies said to influence our lives. What’s remarkable, though, is many Moroccans will hesitate to call the Gnawa Sufis at all. Given that Gnawa rituals are laced with prayers to Allah and the Prophet, this amounts to racism and a feeling that the Gnawa are somehow ‘other’. Many aspects of the Gnawa rituals have been adopted by other Moroccan brotherhoods, notably the Aissawa, the most popular Sufi brotherhood in the country. They have the most spectacular music with wooden oboes wailing serpentine melodies over a thundering bed of frame drums and skin-covered pots. At key moments pairs of lengthy trumpets are blown and the players wave their bells around to dramatic sonic effect. The Aissawas, the Gnawa and other brotherhoods like the Jilala are also called on to put people into trance as a form of spiritual healing. It’s a regular practise at religious festivals or moussems.

Sufism is an important part of Moroccan religious life. Yet these loud and brash forms of Sufi music are only a part of the picture. There are also brotherhoods like the Qadiris and Tijanis who see themselves as more intellectual and refined and disapprove of the popular, folk-style brotherhoods. Others, like the Darqawi, have inherited the Arab-Andalus music of Moorish Spain where Sufism flourished in the pluralistic culture until 1492.

Ironically, while Morocco is a country politically open to the West, it’s one of the few where the mosques and shrines are closed to non-Muslims. This means that the Fes Festival of Sacred Music is one of the few opportunities non-Muslims have to experience first-hand the music of Moroccan Sufis. The festival was the brainchild of Faouzi Skali. “I wanted to create a place where people could meet and discover the beauty of each religion and culture on an equal footing. So in Fes people can see another image of Islam.” An increasingly popular part of the festival are the free Sufi Nights where different Moroccan Sufis sing and play their music. In a way these Sufi Nights have become symbolic of what Sufism offers on a wider level in the Islamic world. A pluralistic, non-dogmatic way in which anyone can feel closer to God through music. With extremism and terrorism dominating the headlines, never has that been more important than today.

This article originally appeared in Songlines #33 (Nov/Dec 2005). For more information about Songlines Magazine, visit: subscribe to Songlines.

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Songlines Essential 10: Gnawa Albums

Posted on March 6th, 2015 in Recent posts by .

Essential10gnawa

Gnawa music is notoriously difficult to record, but there are a few choice releases out there. Here is our selection of the best traditional and fusion Gnawa albums

Words by Simon Broughton, Tim Cumming, Alexandra Petropoulos

Majid Bekkas – Makenba (Igloo, 2010)
Although he began playing oud and guitar and is not Gnawa by birth, Bekkas has become a formidable gimbri player and the leading Moroccan name in Gnawa jazz with over a dozen albums. Here he works with bass clarinet and sax player Louis Sclavis, balafon player Aly Keita and Minino Garay on percussion. SB

 

Maâllem Mokhtar Gania – Gnawa Sufi Trance: Music of Morocco (Standard Records, 2004)
Mokhtar Gania, brother of Mahmoud Gania (also spelt Guinia), is from one of the great Gnawa dynasties. He leads some real lila trance sessions to various jinns. Powerful gimbri, clashing qaraqab and ululating women. It feels like the real thing. Reviewed in #28. SB

 

Gnawa Diffusion – Souk System (Warner Jazz France, 2003)
Gnawa Diffusion offer an all-inclusive type of fusion. You can find a bit of everything – Gnawa, chaabi, reggae, ska, rock, and even a hint of country & western. These all help to conjure a unique universe of Moroccan souks tucked within a French suburb. Gnawa Diffusion brings the lilting sounds of Gnawa into the 21st century. Reviewed in #24. AP

 

Hassan Hakmoun – Trance (Real World, 1993)
Hakmoun grew up in Marrakech and was schooled in the traditional sounds of Gnawa. He moved to the US in 1987 and began incorporating the various influences he picked up along the way into his music. Trance, recorded in just four days with his band Zahar, offers an exciting electrified brand of Gnawa that takes in driving electric guitars over the trance-inducing repetition of the gimbri. AP

 

Simo Lagnawi – Gnawa London (Waulk Records, 2013)
Maâlem (Gnawa master) Simo Lagnawi had already made his name in the UK as a collaborator in various musical projects including the Gnawa fusion band Electric Jalaba before releasing this, his solo debut, in 2013. Easing back from the electric fusion of his earlier work, it’s a subtler fusion featuring his arrangements of traditional tunes, and is very much in the spirit of an all-night lila with lilting gimbri and clacking qaraqab. Reviewed in #94. AP

 

Aziz Sahmaoui & University of Gnawa – Mazal (World Village, 2014)
Originally a founding member of Orchestre National de Barbès, Aziz Sahmaoui first put together University of Gnawa, a mix of Moroccan and Senegalese musicians in 2011. For Mazal, their second album, Sahmaoui, kora player Cheikh Diallo, guitarist Hervé Samb, bassist Alioune Wade and percussionist Adhil Mirghani perform another excellent set of Gnawa fusion that throws Moroccan chaabi into the mix. A Top of the World review in #105. AP

 

Various Artists – Anthologie Musicale des Gnaoua (Yerma Gnaoua Association, 2014)
This is a nine-disc box set that was assembled for the Yerma Gnaoua Association and Essaouira’s Gnawa Festival. It features a lila’s worth of performances from all over the region. The set documents Gnawa’s rhythmic, melodic, lyric and stylistic richness, documenting the intricate phases and stages of the lila repertoire. While it is not available to purchase, it will be distributed in libraries and conservatories as an excellent resource. TC

 

Various Artists – Gnawa Home Songs (Accords Croisés, 2006)
Beautifully recorded in the village of Tameslouht, which hosts the largest traditional Gnawa gathering, this features a selection of the best maâlem – Ahmed & Hassan Boussou, Hamid Kasri, Zef Zaf and others. Dispensing with the qaraqab brings the vocals and fine gimbri playing to the fore. Probably the best disc of traditional Gnawa music there is. Reviewed in #45. SB

 

Various Artists – Night Spirit Masters (Axiom, 1991)
This has been long admired as one of the benchmark discs of Gnawa music. Produced by Bill Laswell and made in the medina in Marrakech, this very lively recording with a large group of musicians keeps the qaraqab in check but has lots of atmosphere. Hard to find but worth it. SB

 

Various Artists – World of Gnawa (Rounder Records, 2001)
A comprehensive double-CD that includes lila music dedicated to different jinns and their associated colours. It features some of the best maâlem of the 90s including Mustapha Baqbou and Abdenbi Binizi. It is unbeatable for its hugely extensive notes and translations, but is probably better for research than listening. SB

LET US KNOW Have any other suggestions? Write and let us know, letters@songlines.co.uk

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