Tag Archives: Gnawa

The Lasting Influence of Maleem Mahmoud Ghania’s “The Trance of Seven Colors”

Maleem Mahmoud Ghania, Pharoh Sanders

Bassist, record producer, and “collision music” auteur Bill Laswell had been fascinated for years with the music of Morocco’s Gnawa people when he brought a jazz saxophone legend to play with them in 1994. “I thought to myself, ‘Maybe it’s a good idea to take Pharoah Sanders,’” Laswell recalls. “Just to do something different.”

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Album of the Day: Houssam Gania, “Mosawi Swiri”

The youngest son of legendary Moroccan singer and musician Maalem Mahmoud Gania, who sadly passed away in 2015, Houssam Gania is devoted to continuing his father’s indomitable legacy. His new album, Mosawi Swiri, finds the 23-year-old reveling in the region’s classic, indigenous sounds, and the rich cultural heritage embedded within them. Even the packaging is gloriously old-fashioned; its cover is a callback to the type of old, local cassette tapes that have since been reissued and popularized in the West, bringing Morocco’s distinct ripple of African music to a wider audience.  Continue reading

The Transcendental Sound of Moroccan Gnawa Music

Maalem Mahmoud Gania

Maalem Mahmoud Gania

“Gnawa has always played a spiritual role in communities,” explains Moroccan musician Samir LanGus, speaking from his current home in New York City. Originally from the coastal Moroccan city of Agadir, LanGus now plays his own updated take on traditional Moroccan music in New York, as well as performing as part of Innov Gnawa with fellow North African expats. “For centuries, it was practiced only by the Gnawa community [descendants of slaves in Morocco and Algeria], but within the last 60 years or so it has opened up to the whole Moroccan community.”

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Album of the Day: Maalem Mahmoud Gania, “Colours of the Night”

When some Westerners think of religious music, they may imagine choral voices and slow tempos—something serious and solemn. Of course, the truth is that religious music is diverse as secular music is; some of it is slow and sad, but much of it is uptempo and designed to get you to shimmy. That’s certainly the case for Maalem Mahmoud Gania’s recent release, Colours of the Night, Gania’s final studio recording, issued posthumously following his death in 2015. Gania was a Moroccan performer of Gnawa, an Islamic religious tradition of music, dance, and ritual poetry. He played the guembri, a three-stringed bass lute.

Gania had been involved in a range of eclectic collaborations, including the 1994 album The Trance of Seven Colors with Pharoah Sanders and a 1996 recording with Peter Brötzmann. Colours of the Night is a more traditional outing, though. The songs on the album all range from eight to 11 minutes in length, and they all blur into each other, a single, 70-minute long trance. The guembri sets up a supple, rhythmically intricate, shifting bassline and shaken percussion adds an itchy beat. Gania raises his voice in a wailing voice that’s half-sung, half-chanted, while background singers join in for a call and response.

For American listeners, Gania sounds less like the avant-garde jazz you might expect given his earlier collaborations, and more connected to acoustic blues and gospel; a soundtrack for staying up all night as you fall into the music and into the spirit. While you can find more familiar aural touchstones for Gania’s music, though, it really sounds most like itself; the album celebrates a unique, easy, and joyful devotion.

—Noah Berlatsky

Fawda Trio Brings Ancient Gnawa Traditions Into the Present

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Fawda Trio. Photo by Luca Sgamellotti.

Fawda Trio’s debut album is, in some ways, an unusual prospect. Building on the North African, ancient musical tradition of gnawa, it’s a music mostly listened to live—the krakab percussion’s thundering volume, paired with the simple, repeated basslines of the stringed guembri, have been honed over centuries to induce trance-like states in intimate, hours-long performances. Road to Essaouira translates those traditions onto record; channeling live gnawa’s meditative intensity, the album draws on outside influences—most audibly, jazz and hip hop—for a spiritually-minded focus guided by a wider musical approach.

Based in Bologna, the band are outsiders to gnawa culture. The northern Italian city has a fertile jazz and experimental scene, with each of them playing together in different projects over the years. Reda Zine, who—for Fawda Trio—plays an electric version of the guembri, is originally from Morocco. Hailing from Casablanca, it was only after moving abroad that he discovered an interest in his country’s traditional music. Before that, he was involved in a homegrown culture of abrasive, heavy metal bands, as documented in Mark Levine’s book, Heavy Metal Islam. But it was a a move to Paris changed his perspective.

“I started opening my eyes, because Paris is like London—it’s a big platform,” he says. “I started meeting with people from all over the world, and giving value to my own heritage.” Moving there in 1999, it was collaborating with Moroccan and French-Algerian bandmates—in acts like the Cafe Mira collective—that awakened an interest in music which, previously, hadn’t felt relevant to him.

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