With just a few musical instruments, Gnawa creates magical music with storytelling and words of wisdom to keep the body on the move.
Rabat – The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has added Morocco’s traditional Gnawa to the list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (ICH) on December 12.
The UNESCO added the Moroccan centuries-old music after Morocco submitted a file nominating Gnawa to the ICH Service in september 2018.
Gnawa music infuses poetry and traditional music along with dancing.
Performers takes you to a spiritual journey with the rhythm, adorned by the famous genburi, an instrument with three strings. The rhythm is incomplete without the steel castanets called “krakebs” or “karkabat.”
Morocco’s nomination file, published by UNESCO, stipulated that the Gnawa, “especially in the city, practise a therapeutic possession ritual through all-night rhythm and trance ceremonies combining ancestral African practices, Arab-Muslim influences and native Berber cultural performances.”
The description added that the art is a “sufi brotherhood music” with lyrics of religious content.
The nomination file emphasized that Morocco considers the art as part of its culture and identity. The music exists in every region in Morocco, but it is mostly common in Morocco’s old medinas, including Rabat, Sale, Fez, Marrakech, and Essaouira.
The art has also become very common in music festivals across the country, with an exclusive annual international festival The Gnawa International Festival taking place in Essaouira every summer.
Gnawa performers make the art vivid with their loose colorful dresses and hats decorated with false braids.
The band is divided to several subgroups, with the master of the group leading the music and the rhythm. The band consists of the dancers, who can jump higher with the rhythm and Karekabs, as well as the chorus performers, andthe master or M’alam.
“The number of fraternal groups and master musicians is constantly growing in Morocco’s villages and major cities, and Gnawa groups – organized into associations – hold local, regional, national and international festivals year-round,” Morocco’s nomination file reads.
This is not the first time for Morocco has submitted a nomination file to inscribe Gnawa on UNESCO’s ICH list.
Neila Tazi, the head organizer of the Gnawa and World Music Festival, made a first attempt previously.
She said that the “file [was] quite complex to build and we now wait on our Ministry of Culture and our delegation to UNESCO to help us make it.”