UNESCO may add Gnawa music to its list of the world’s intangible cultural heritage.
By Rahma Ouled Cherif
Rabat – UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) will consider adding Morocco’s Gnawa music to its ICH list at its 14th session December 9-14, in Bogota. The ICH list seeks to enhance visibility for the traditions of communities without recognizing standards of excellence or exclusivity.
Mustapha Nami, a Moroccan senior curator of historical monuments, submitted a file nominating Gnawa music to the ICH Service in September 2018. Others had attempted to nominate Gnawa art previously.
Neila Tazi, the head organizer of the Gnawa and World Music Festival, made a first attempt, but she announced that, “the file is quite complex to build and we now wait on our Ministry of Culture and our delegation to UNESCO to help us make it.”
Tazi blamed the Ministry of Culture in a Facebook post for “lack of interest on the part of senior Moroccan officials and administration” that she said diminished the importance of preserving Gnawa art.
Minister of Culture and Communication Mohamed Laaraj refuted the claim, saying, “The Ministry of Culture has started the procedure (2014) and respected all the steps.”
Tazi stated further, “If we had not done this [Gnawa] festival and persevered against many obstacles … maybe the Gnawa culture would have disappeared.”
Gnawa music infuses poetry and traditional music along with dancing. According to Rene Basset, the word “gnawi” means “black man.” The art has West African roots and began as the music of slaves who were brought to Morocco. The West Africans brought with them the music that later evolved into what is known as Moroccan Gnawa today.
After Tazi’s initial attempt, Ahmed Skounti, a Moroccan social anthropologist who helped draft UNESCO’s 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, announced, “The file of Gnawa music will be presented to UNESCO in 2019.”
If Gnawa music is added to the list of ICH, Morocco would have eight pieces of heritage on the list.
Morocco has seven other cultural places and traditions on the ICH list: the Moussem of Tan-Tan tribal gathering, Marrakech’s Jamaa el-Fna Square, the cherry festival in Sefrou, the Mediterranean diet, argan practices and argan tree know-how, falconry as a living human heritage, and the taskiwin martial dance of the western High Atlas.
Adding Gnawa music to the ICH list for safeguarding would highlight this heritage as a symbol of ethnic and cultural diversity in Morocco.