Rabat - For almost twenty years, the rhythmic sounds of Gnawa music have wafted across Essaouira’s stages each June, bringing thousands of fans of music, the outdoors and spirituality, for what has become one of the biggest music festivals in Morocco.
Rabat – For almost twenty years, the rhythmic sounds of Gnawa music have wafted across Essaouira’s stages each June, bringing thousands of fans of music, the outdoors and spirituality, for what has become one of the biggest music festivals in Morocco.
Gnawa festival has become a point of pride for Essaouira’s inhabitants since its founding in 1998. With music blaring over the streets of the city, the thousands of people who head to the three-day festival give a major boost to the touristic city’s economy, especially in the local restaurant sector.
Speaking to the manager of one of Essaouira’s restaurants, he explained: “profit from our businesses starts with the Gnawa festival and stops with the end of summer. Although the economy of the city depends on the Atlantic ocean, tourism is a big revenue for most of the medina’s population, and the festival does wonders, especially because we have visitors not only from Morocco, but from around the world.”
Pilgrimage in Essaouira
Each year in June, Essaouira is journeyed to by torrential numbers of visitors, something that some locals perceive as a bliss and others see as a plague.
Asking a few locals about their perception of the festival, the answers revolved around the same idea: the festival attracts all sorts of people, some of whom have no respect for the city’s integrity.
One Essaouira native told Morocco World News how her grows worry over the influence visitors may have on Essaouria locals’ lifestyle.
“People walk around smoking weed, wearing showy clothes, and the two genders show intimacy in the streets that should be kept in the privacy of a married household.”
Some other locals went as far as to claim that the festival was “used as a pretext” and was not about the music and culture as it should be.
“It is no longer an opportunity to celebrate Gnawa heritage but rather is a celebration of intoxicants and hippies. It is all for show now: who has the biggest hair and most rebellious look,” Ahmed, a 21 university graduate said.
Not a Minority
“I couldn’t not come, but I do have other reasons why I am here,” explained one of the festival’s attendees, who describes herself as a “free spirit and a lover of spirituality. “National and international artists have teamed up to create unprecedented fusions in this year’s festival.”
“In Essaouira, I do not feel as a minority. I am among my people, people who speak, think and feel music. Where I come from in Rabat, people perceive me as someone who stands out from the norm, thus creates a threat to the stability of the city. Here, I am the majority. Everyone has big hair, smokes weed, and just loves the present moment. Isn’t that a sufficient reason as to why the festival is the best thing that has happened to people like me?”
In the eyes of a foreigner, the festival is a chance to indulge in the spirituality of Gnawa culture and to make amendments to the past.
“Morocco has done a great initiative for allowing Gnawa music to travel across borders. I don’t think of the festival as simply a chance to sing and dance but also to confront the past and gaze back at it with tender eyes,” said Josh from the U.S.
“Gnawa music is central to the history of racism and slavery, and seeing white, black and Moroccan artists perform on the same stage is amazing. Music transcends history,” he added.