July 30 2013
Of course it helps that I'm familiar with gnawa, Morocco and love to travel; but if I had some means, I would gladly return to Africa's most Northwestern nation and I'd go to see the annual Gnawa Festival of Essaouira and steep myself in the ancient mystical music tradtion known as gnawa.
What's gnawa? Fair question.
Gnawa (silent with the "g" homie) is a traditional form of music that unites the spiritual traditions of sub-saharan Africa with those of the North by way of a shared Islamic heritage and a particular trendency toward Sufi practice. Though modern gnawis seem to operate mostly from Morocco, the songs frequently refer to ancient Southern empires of the Hausa, Fulani and Bambara peoples and are encoded into the trance-inducing spirals of sound that comprise the rhythms of gnawa music.
And given a bit of time, these intoxicating, inward-seeking sounds have a way of getting into your bones; chant-based music has a way like that. And there is no better spot on Earth to catch it happening live than in the windy, sea-swept port of Essaouira on Morocco's West coast which is host to the world's largest and best-known gnawa festival.
Start your plans now, the 2014 edition is set for June 20th-23rd and will feature James Brown's horn player Maceo Parker, jazzman Richard Bona and the artist I played at 10am on Sound Travels, Hamid Hamid el Kasri. Dope!