By Intissar Faouzi
Rabat-The 21st Gnaoua World Music Festival will kick off on Thursday, June 21, and run through Saturday, June 23, in the Atlantic coastal city of Essaouira.
If Essaouira becomes a leading tourism destination in Morocco, it will undoubtedly be thanks to the Gnaoua World Music Festival, which brings together a mixture of Moroccans, other Africans, and tourists from all over the world.
What is Gnaoua music?
Gnaoua music is a historic style of African spiritual music and rhythms; it is handed down from formerly enslaved black Africans who integrated into the Moroccan cultural community and created a special style to preserve the traditions and folkloric music of their ancestors.
The music combines ritual poetry with traditional music and dancing; it is closely attached to a prayer whose lyrics tell stories about the sensitive subject of their past slavery.
It is also believed that Gnaoua music can be used as a spiritual medicine to heal people possessed by a spirits.
The name Gnaoua is derived from Guinea, a place known for its slave trade, especially in the 11th century.
Gnaoua music is characterized by percussion and string instruments. The large iron castanets known as “krakeb” and the three-stringed lute called “gimbri” are the essence of Gnaoua music.
The African heritage is clearly reflected in the dances and the garments the singers wear.
The festival’s history
This unique musical event in Morocco began in 1998. Its purpose is to connect people with music and to allow listeners to forget life’s reality for a moment and indulge in spirituality.
“Since the birth of the festival, its unique character has given it a place of choice in cultural events that have confirmed to the world that Africa is more than ever a land of dialogue and creation,” said Neila Tazi, the director of the festival.
The Gnaoua festival attracts an audience of 500,000 visitors each year. It offers a varied program to celebrate the Gnaoua heritage and to invite the best global jazz artists to come and perform in Essaouira.
At the festival, the singers, called maâlems, begin to chant in Arabic or Gnaoui. The message is usually spiritual.
The 2018 festival
According to a statement issued by the organizers, the opening ceremony will feature Snarky Puppy, a powerful Brooklyn jazz band known for combining jazz with rock.
The band, led by guitarist Michael Leigh and pianist Bill Lawrence, will perform two concerts in the festival.
Also performing at the opening ceremony will be celebrated Hamid El Kasri, the most famous Gnaoua singer, who has admirably made Gnaoua music a multidimensional musical world.
In the festival’s 21st appearance, women and Africa will be in the spotlight. When Mâalem Hamid El Kasri will share the stage with the American group Snarky Puppy, Fatoumata Diawara and Asma Hamzaoui will also take the stage to dance.
In addition to Dar Loubane, Zaouia Sidna Bilal, and Issaoua, concerts will be held at the big stage of the square, which will welcome the group Hoba Hoba Spirit. The Borj Bab Marrakech opens its terrace to Mokhtar Gania, Africa Gnawa Soul, and Mâalem Omar Hayat, as well as many other Moroccan and international artists.
Morocco today is considered the epicenter of Gnaoua music, which preserves the heritage and culture of both Morocco and Africa.