Postcard from a Gnawa jam in Essaouira medina

Gnawa (Gnaoua) is a traditional form of music popular in sub-saharan Africa particularly amongst the Berber people of Morocco. It is still performed today and the instruments are sold on stalls in the medina.

It is believed to have originally been spread by black slaves within the region and was often performed as part of a ritual, commencing with an animal sacrifice and acrobatic dance movements. Fortunately our musicians only played with the puppies that were at their feet.

Accessorizing is especially important to the performers at such rituals with great care being taken to select compatible fabrics and jewellery.

It is characterised by a long song often several hours in length which is performed as a chant, with the few lyrics repeated continuously throughout which is designed to produce a trance-like state.

There are several instruments which are associated with Gnawa especially the gimbri (also known as sentir) which is a form of lute which the musician here is playing. The thumb is apparently ‘dropped’ onto the bass string in a percussive pattern whilst the fingers provide an accompanying rythmic beat. Krakebs are like large iron castanets which provide yet more hypnotic rhythm.

Essaouira hosts the International Gnaoua Music Festival each June when local performers mix with jazz musicians from all over the world. This year will be the fifteenth festival and it is being held 21st – 24th June 2012. It sounds like a great excuse to visit the North African city if one is really needed!

More from Morocco – Marrakech Medina – Berbers and souks

Traditional Gnawa musician playing a gimbri in the median of Essaouira, Morocco on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Jamming in the medina


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