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Godfather of Gnawa, Mahmoud Guinia, dies at 64

Mahmoud Guinia
Mahmoud Guinia

Rabat – Moroccan pioneer of Gnawa music, Mohamed Guinia, died yesterday at the age of 64.

Mahmoud Guinia was a Gnawa musician and guembri player, born in Essaouira in 1951. He passed away after fighting with a lengthy illness.

“It’s an immense sorrow that I have heard about the death of the icon of Gnawa Music, Maalem Mahmoud Guinia, after he was sick,” Neila Tazi, the founder of Gnawa Festival, stated to news website H24info. “On behalf of the association and the team of the festival I’d like to express my sorrow to his wife Malika and his children Bouchra, Houssam and Hamza as well as his whole family and his fans. May he rest in peace; surely we belong to Allah and to Him shall we return,” she added.

Mr. Guinia belonged to an artistic family, which played a major role in developing Gnawa music in Morocco. He is the second son of a legend of Gnawa Music, Maâllem Boubker Guinia, who passed away 15 years ago.

His grandfather was from Mali and confronted slavery in Africa’s desert before his father moved to Essaouira with the passion for Gnawa during times when it was a marginalized art known only to be performed by beggars to earn a living.

He started playing guembri at the age of 12, and is regarded as a master of fusion music by virtue of his participation in various worldwide festivals in France, Japan, Italy and the US along with Carlos Santana, Adam Rudolph, Will Calhoun, Issaka Sow and Aly Keita.

Mr. Guinia often spoke with pride about his ancestors and his journey with Gnawa during the openings of his shows.

He concluded a recent edition of Gnawa World Music alongside the Algerian artist Karim Ziad.

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