BY Emmanuel Kwarteng, 2:30pm September 29, 2022,

Uncovering the slave roots of Gnaoua healing trance music from North Africa

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Akka1997

The Gnaoua World Music Festival is a yearly Gnawa music celebration held in Essaouira, Morocco. The occasion provides a forum for dialogue and musical exchange between worldwide artists and the enigmatic Gnaoua musicians.  

Gnawa music is a collection of Islamic religious melodies and rhythms from Morocco and West Africa. This genre birthed the Gnaoua World Music Festival. 

Gnaoua music is a type of spiritual music that has historically been performed throughout Morocco. It is from the sub-Saharan region but is made well-known by famous master musicians known as maâlems.

Islamic holy chants and rhythms from Morocco and West Africa make up Gnawa music. Ritual poetry, traditional music, and dancing are all part of the heritage that has been preserved.

The Sahelian area of Africa, which has substantial and long-standing political and economic relations with Morocco, is where the majority of Gnawa people are thought to have come from. The Gnawa are indigenous peoples whose origins may be found in sub-Saharan West Africa and who were taken to Morocco as slaves by Ismail Ibn Sharif.

As a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage since 2019, Gnaoua music tells the tale of Sub-Saharan African slaves. This ceremonial tune of folk music and dancing simply allows you to follow its rhythm. To the rhythm of the “Lguembri” and “Qraqeb,” two instruments used in Gnaoua music, the performers in vibrant costumes sing. 

It makes sense that well-known musicians like Led Zeppelin, Pat Metheny, Didier Lockwood, and Marcus Miller only traveled to Morocco to perform alongside the best players, according to the Times of Africa.

The Gnaoua World Music Festival offers the chance to learn about new and classic music from jazz, pop, rock, and a variety of other genres from around the world. The majority of the performances during this three-day event, which attracts more than 500,000 spectators annually, are free to watch.

Before the festival begins, Essaouira experiences many changes. The city has a population of about 60,000, but 2 or 3 days prior to the festival, people begin to arrive, causing the population to nearly double.

Rise to fame

Black Africans who were once under slavery created the Gnawa music, assimilating into Moroccan society and creating a model for preserving their ancestors’ customs and folklore.

As one of the most well-known genres of North African music, it gained popularity after being used in obscurity to treat persons who were under the influence of genie spirits. It has drawn admirers from all over the world in addition to notable American and European musicians like Randy Weston, Bill Laswell, and Robert Plant.

Gnawa is a reflection of how black African culture has influenced Moroccans. The dances and attire worn by the vocalists both clearly have an African influence.

Gnawa music has changed by incorporating jazz, blues, reggae, and hip-hop into its traditional spiritual music. 

Every June, for four days, the festival welcomes musicians from around the world who come to take part, exchange, and blend their own music with Gnawa music, becoming one of Morocco’s most open events. 

The number of attendees at the free concerts increased from 20,000 in 1998 to about 200,000 in 2006, including 10,000 tourists from other countries. 

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: September 29, 2022


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