This page has moved to

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Gnawa Festival D'Essouira 2010

I just got back from the Gnawa Festival in Morocco. It was great, unlike any other music festival i've been to in Europe. It takes place annually in the fishing town of Essaouira and attracts 200,000 people over 4 days of open air free music. Gnawa and all it's related offshoots and fusions are represented, you name it from Gnawa metal to Gnawa salsa, it's all there. For me, I was more interested in some of the more traditional forms.

It's North African trance roots are heavily apparent as the musicians jam into the night, though the songs originate in healing rituals not unlike Haitian Voodoo ceremonies or the Afro-Brazilian practises of Candomblé. Some of the shows go on till dawn, with the artists stopping only to changing into differnt coloured robes representing for each section (derdeba) of the perfromance, black, blue, white etc... Bands travel from all over Africa as well as the world to perform to massive crowds of people, mostly young lads who all seem to be into reggae too. The vibe was really chilled (and booze free) as hash smoke circled above the crowd and pople dance themsleves crazy. Here's a quick video I took at the end of a show by the excellent Gnawa master, Maâlem Saïd Ouressan.

I also caught a show by the legendary Maalem Mahmoud Guinia who was truly awesome, the deeply hypnotic bass sounds of his three string Gimbri were funky as hell.

Grab a great album download by him over at Snap Crackle & Pop.

Other than the Gnawa music, Morocco proved to be a brilliant place to indulge my growing interest in North African and Arabic stuff. The infamous Jemma el Fna square in Marrakech is an awesome place to hear anything from snake charmer music to all kinds of stuff I couldn't even begin to label. On the subject of snakes, some dude did actually sneakily put a live cobra around my neck while I wasn't looking :(

Anyway as dusk sets over the square and the smells of insense and merguez sausages fill the air, it's a truly special place to hear some of Morocco's amazing solo musicians playing though battered car stereo systems. Sublime Frequencie's Hisaham Mayet has recently release a film on DVD and album called Ecstatic Music of the Jemaa El Fna, a raw collection of some of the sounds. As they say..

For centuries, the Jemaa El Fna (Rendezvous of the Dead) has remained the stage for one of the most spectacular social forums on the planet. By day, this central square in the city of Marrakesh, one of Morocco's great imperial cities, fosters a kaleidoscope of entertainment for its local inhabitants; storytellers, acrobats, magicians and snake charmers all create intriguing displays of bewitching spectacle. As the sun sets, the evening grows frantic with the pulse of the crowd; it is then that the night musicians set up. Free from the restrictions and expectations of light entertainment for a tourist crowd, these musicians manifest ecstatic performances that animate the audience and players alike.

Here is the trailer for the film.

Record shopping was also a great experience. For some reason many of Marrakech's cd sellers are based in between orange juice stalls surrounding the square. I picked up some Moroccan Gnawa and percussion, Algerian Rai and some great comps of Syrian Dabka (Omar Souleyman style).

Here's a nice, sadly unlabelled Gnawa track that I picked up.

Unknown - Gnaoua Traditionnel

And I swear I'll make a little mix of some of the best stuff soon.


Mr Tear said...

I'm pleased you enjoyed the festival Vamanos, and I'm slightl jealous that I didn't make it over there myself. I went in 2008 and was completely blown away by Mahmoud Guenia's stellar performance on the saturday night. I have posted four or five Gnawa cd's on Snap, Crackle and Pops. My favourite is the one called Aicha which I bought on a trip to Essaouirra in 2004. More recently, I spent a week in the mountains around Tafraoute and picked up some beautiful music from the Souss valley region. This is not Gnawa music, but its also worth checking out, especially Fatima Tabaamrante and Izenzaren (got about 4 hours worth of this stuff posted on the blog)- banjos and hand drums galore, not unlike the stuff on the Sublime Frquencies lp.

Vamanos said...

Yo thanks for all the tips. Will def check em out. Love the Mahmoud Guenia tape you posted, so so good. Nice one.