Gnawa Maghreb is a new experience of jazzy-fusion world style from thespiritual & traditional music from Maghreb.the band is formed by various musicien of the north africa: ahmed ben bali in lead voice & gembri from algeria , Oussama Elkarrichi in acous & elec guitar & arab percussions from morooco, mohamed altounssi in darabuga & krakeb from tunis, then two guests from italy , renato salento in sax flute and pipes , and luigi romano in latin & brasilian percussions ,good listen for all funs froma spiritual gnawa in jazz.
Sooner or later, nearly every visitor to Morocco encounters the Gnawa, acrobatic performers in cowrie-covered clothing, who twirl the long tassels on their caps like tops as they dance to the polyrhythmic accompaniment of double metal castanets and two bass side drums. Gnawa troupes perform for tourist buses at the gate of the Casbah of Tangier, and they bring down the house at the annual Festival of Folklore in Marrakech. Most famously, one or two groups of Gnawa appear each afternoon on Jamaa el Fna, the great entertainment square at the heart of Marrakech, where the performers spend less time in twirling their tassels than in passing the hat to spectators.
Public performances by the Gnawa appear to be light entertainment, and rather frivolous at that, but there is another domain where Gnawa music is very serious indeed. In all-night ceremonies, known as derdeba or lila, Gnawa musicians and officiants perform for the pleasure of beneficial spirits and for the propitiation of malicious ones, in order to secure peace of mind and cure the diseases of their devotees. The ritual is structured around a series of dance suites dedicated to seven families of saints and spirits, each characterized by specific colors, odors, flavors, feelings, actions, and sounds. In short, this is quite literally (or spiritually) a different world, marked by transformations of all the senses.
The Gnawa have their roots in communities of Sub-Saharan Africans, mostly from the region of the old Mali empire, who were brought to Morocco as slaves and mercenaries, starting in the 16th century. (Similar communities, with similar practices, exist in Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya as well.) Their background is reflected in their belief system, which draws on both Islam and traditional Sub-Saharan religions. Many of the spirits in the Gnawi pantheon have close analogues in West Africa, and others bear the names of tribes in the Sahel, such as Bambara, Fulani, and so forth. At the same time, members of the group consider themselves to be good Muslims and they behave accordingly, praying, fasting, and carrying out other religious duties. The musicians sing primarily in Arabic, and their songs constantly invoke the name and epithets of Allah; furthermore, at least two of the families include Muslim saints, like Moulay AbdelQader Jilali and Moulay Brahim, who are well known in Morocco and the rest of the Islamic world; finally, several other sections of the derdeba --even those dedicated to Sudanic spirits--begin with hymns of praise to the Prophet Mohamed. In short, the Gnawa are nothing if not practical and ecumenical. The duality--or multiplicity--of their beliefs is resolved in the character of their patron saint, Bilal, the freed Ethiopian slave who became the Prophet's first muezzin (caller to prayer).
A lila (lit., night) generally lasts from sunset until dawn, and in some cases a full derdeba may stretch over several nights. The length depends in part on the mood of the participants, the number of spirits who must be propitiated, the seriousness of each case, and the resources of the sponsors. Some sections may get little more than a perfunctory run-through, but all seven families of spirits must be acknowledged in the music.
Drums (tbel, pl. tbola) figure in the lila just as they do in public performances, but their ceremonial role is relatively limited. The barbell-shaped castanets (qaraqeb), on the other hand, are as indispensable for trance-dancing as they are for entertainment music. The principal instrument, however, is a three-stringed lute known by a variety of names (guimbri, sintir, hajhouj). The guimbri has a semi-spiked construction, with a skin-covered body, sliding leather tuning rings, and a sistrum-like sound-modifier at the end of the neck. The morphology and the playing technique of the guimbri have obvious connections to West African instruments like the khalam and kontingo, as well as to the American banjo. Indeed, there are many parallels between the Gnawa and African-American music: the responsorial singing and the interlocking clapping patterns have the spiritual attraction and propulsive drive of good gospel singing, while the pentatonic riffs and deep percussive sound of the guimbri remind some listeners of a bass laying down the harmonic and rhythmic foundation in a jazz or rock group.
The history of the Gnawa is largely oral. Apart from a few books in French, there is hardly any scholarship on the Gnawa at all. Even the slave records from that time period are difficult to access. Unlike other Sufi-influenced groups in Morocco like the Aissawa, for example (see Dermenghem 1954), or the Hamadsha (see Crapanzano 1973) there is no shaykh who has left writings, not even any oral hagiography that is passed on from generation to generation. The transmission of Gnawa culture has been in the gestures, movements and attitudes of the body possessed. And in the musical and aesthetic repertoire, of course. The history is in the songs all 243 of them. But even the songs themselves do not recount stories. There is no narrative line in the lyrics, only invocations to the different saints and spirits recognized by the Gnawa Sidi Bilal, Abdulqadr Jilani, Sidi Musa, Lalla Aisha, Si Buhali, others. The names of these mluk (or possessors) are repeated over and over, their qualities praised, their aid solicited. The spirits of the ancestors are still alive. Why then would they need to be conjured in books when their presence is conjured regularly in the bodies of the entranced, the majdubin? As philosopher Edward Casey notes (1987), the body remembers the past as a form of presence. Body memory experiences the past as co-immanent with the present. By dancing to the spirits, moving to their dictates and rhythms (as Barbara Browning demonstrates in her 1995 book on samba), history is embodied and made to live in the present.
In part, the absence of any written history protects the Gnawa from criticism from other Moroccans, as the syncretic beliefs of the Gnawa, expressed in a system of African aesthetics, are less than what most consider to be mainstream Islam in Morocco. Indeed, of all the mystic cults in Morocco that employ trance as a way of communing with the spiritual world, the Gnawa are the least understood. They are often compared to black magicians that is, they are accused of practicing black magic and are also the targets of racism. "The Slaves of God," as anthropologist Viviana Pacques calls the Gnawa (1991), have reason to be circumspect about their manner of practicing devotion. Although the masters of a generation or two ago are still remembered in conversation, they are not reified.
The pantheon of spirits is not represented in any of the images displayed in Dar Gnawa. Moroccans do not portray the spirits in images except as they incarnate in the bodies of the believers. In the Gnawa worldview, the spirits are all around us, sometimes taking fleshly form, sometimes not. The images we do see on the wall in Dar Gnawa, however, are somewhat surprising. Abdullah El-Gourd refers to them as the "ancestors":
Ha huma an-nass al-qdam, there are the ancestors, the mallam remarked when I approached the photographs to read the inscriptions in small print on the bottom. There were pictures of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Eric Dolphy, Dexter Gordon, Thelonius Monk, Milt Hinton, Roy Eldridge, Johnny Copeland, Ben Webster, Archie Shepp, and, of course, Randy Weston, who is surrounded by pictures of the Gnawa masters.
How is it that African-Americans jazz legends come to define the ancestors in Dar Gnawa?
Abdullah told me that one could not just decide to "become" a Gnawi (sbah Gnawi). A Gnawi endures a long process of induction, initiation and instruction. On the other hand, he said, there are people who are linked, martabit, to saints and spirits of the Gnawa pantheon. The word in Arabic comes from the root ra-ba-ta, to be linked or tied. "Randy Weston," said the mallam, "came all the way from Brooklyn martabat, or linked to the spirit Sidi Musa and to the color blue." We know Sidi Musa as Moses, who delivered the Jews from slavery in ancient Egypt and into freedom. When I asked Randy Weston if he remembered his first encounter with Sidi Musa he said, "Yes, I remember very wellIt was one of the most incredible musical experiences of my life. I had an experience really African. I heard the string instrument out front. Like having an orchestra and having a string bass as the leader. And I heard the black church, the blues and jazz all at the same time. I really realized that we're just little leaves of the branch of mother Africa."
There are links between the pantheon of spirits in Morocco, who, like Sidi Musa, are ancestors, and the ancestors of jazz. One clear contiguity is between the slaves that went to the Americas and those who stopped earlier in the journey, at the tip of North Africa. Commenting on the lack of a written record of history, Abdullah El-Gourd told me that the slaves in Morocco would go through the city singing certain songs, songs known only to them, in order to be reunited with their loved ones that had been separated from them in slavery. "There were no telephones, then," he said jokingly, "no portables (or cell phones). Slaves had their own language in song. When they would come into a new city, they would sing the songs, trying to find their own." Songs served as auditory icons of identity, as sound "links". Weston found such a link to Africa in Morocco.
For Weston, Africa is the source (to invoke Abdullah El-Gourds term), the birthplace, the mother of all traditions. Encountering Sidi Musa was also an encounter with the great jazz masters, however. Whats more, it was an opening into a different mode of being in the world. "When I heard this particular [version of] Sidi Musa, after the ceremony I was in trance for about a week. And when I say trance, I was functioning I was moving, but the music took me to a very high level, it took me to another dimension"
There is an inversion, as well as a complementarity to the way Abdullah El-Gourd and Randy Weston define and pay homage to the ancestors. Both acknowledge the source in Africa itself Abdullah El-Gourd by invoking the mallemin (pl.), the early Gnawa masters that left their legacy to the present in the bodies and songs of those who possess tagnawit today, and Randy Weston by making frequent reference in his performances and presentations to mother Africa the place also defined as the "source" of musical and spiritual tradition. When I asked Randy Weston, for example, what he found so powerful about Moroccan Gnawa music he responded, "Its like after being away from your parents for a long time, your mother and father, whom who love very deeply. And you know they are there, but you may never see them, or maybe you have seen them but youve been away a long time, when you do see them and you realize that what you have they gave you, you become very humble" For Randy Weston, however, Africa becomes the primary place of return, whereas for Abdullah El-Gourd, at least in Dar Gnawa, the ancestors that crossed the Atlantic become primary symbols of genealogical display. These ancestors African-American jazz men are, we can postulate, just as tied to Africa (martabtin) as Mr. Weston himself possessed, or inhabited by the spirits of Africa who know no spatial limitations, who dont recognize borders, who are, in effect, outside of time.
"You cant say that the mluk, the owners or spirits, were once alive and are now dead," the mallam once chided me. "No! They were alive and are still alive today, baqi hayin heta lyum, huma ma-nah, "they are with us." The spirits corporealize in different forms and bodies, but the spirit of Sidi Musa, for example, animates and literally inspires breathes life into the jazz music of Randy Weston just as it animates the ritual music of Abdullah El-Gourd.
Ba Masud and Ba Hamid, two venerated Gnawa masters, now deceased, are displayed with a photograph of Randy Weston and another of Abdullah El Gourd and Weston together
As I mentioned, there are a few pictures of the older masters of Gnawa Ba Masud and Ba Hamid The visitor also sees the history of Abdullah Al-Gourds career as it took him and his musicians to Spain, to France and to the United States. These last images are like postcards sent back home from abroad. They are not images for export; rather they document "there" in the "here" of Dar Gnawa, a self-reflexive display of cultural tourism as enacted by the Gnawa (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 1998). The photos are emblems of internationalism at the level of the local