Gnaoua Music and the Gnaoua Festival Tour

Maalem Ismaïl Rahil performing at Gnaoua festival tour in Casablanca 2022

The much-awaited Gnaoua Festival of Essaouira is back after the 2years pandemic break. This time as a festival tour making stops in 4 of the biggest cities in Morocco : Essaouira, Marrakech, Casablanca, and Rabat.

We were lucky enough to be on the 2nd day of the Casablanca stop, and we are here to tell you about the show in case you missed it!

What is Gnawa music?

With the influence of Moroccan and West African music, Gnawa (or Gnaoua) was born. The genre combines rhythmic melodies and spectacular dances with ritual poetry, consisting generally of religious lyrics invoking spirits and ancestors.

Gnawa music has a distinctive rhythm that is centered around two main instruments: the Guembri (also known as the Sintir and Hajhuj) which is a three-string lute, and heavy and large iron castanets named Krakebs.

Maalem Abderrahim Oughassa performing at the Gnaoua Festival Tour 2022 in Casablanca

Where did Gnawa music originate from?

The origin of Gnawa can be traced to the West African region that had long trading ties with Morocco. It was originally practiced by people from the slave trade dating back to at least the 16th century.

Today, Gnawa is considered as an important part of Moroccan culture and identity, and it got inscribed in 2019 as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.

A Gnawa Maalem performing

The Gnaoua Festival:

The Gnaoua festival (also known as the Gnaoua World Music Festival) is an annual festival held in the city of Essaouira in Morocco to celebrate and emphasize the Gnawa heritage and provide a scene where Gnawa meets world music. The festival welcomes international artists with different musical backgrounds such as Jazz and Rock, in order to explore new horizons and create a musical fusion with Gnawa masters.

Cimafunk, Jowee Omicil x Maalem Ismaïl Rahil performing at the Gnaoua festival tour in Casablanca 2022

Credits:@karimtibari and @zikzak_studio 

This year, the Gnaoua Festival reinvented itself, becoming the Gnaoua Festival Tour, and making stops in Essaouira, Marrakech, Casablanca, and Rabat.

Gnaoua festival in Casablanca:

Many artists set the stage on fire at the Mohammed V Complex of Casablanca, on the 17th of June. The night was filled with a variety of rhythms from the world with the presence of top-tier Gnawa artists like Trio Assala, Maalem Ismaïl Rahil, Maalem Abderrahim Oughassal, and Maalem Khalid Sansi. The Gnawa artists were also accompanied by the star of world music and Amazigh music Hindi Zahra, the Jazz musician Jowee Omicil and the Cuban artist Cimafunk that brought funky, Cuban, and Afro-Caribbean rhythms to the concert.

Cimafunk performing live at the Gnaoua festival tour 2022 in Casablanca, Morocco

The artists were able to showcase the beautiful synergy that Gnaoua music has with world music through their collaborations on the stage. Firstly, we were blessed with the blend of Gnawa, Jazz, and Amazigh music thanks to the collaboration between Maalem Ismaïl Rahil, Hindi Zahra, Trio Assala, and Jowee Omicil.

Maalem Ismaïl Rahil, Hindi Zahra, Trio Assala, and Jowee Omicil performing at the Gnaoua festival tour 2022 in Casablanca, Morocco

Cimafunk and his band were also joined at the end of the show by Maalem Khalid Sansi, mixing the funky afro-cuban rhythms with Gnawa.

Cimafunk and Maalem Khalid Sansi performing at the Gnaoua festival tour 2022 in Casablanca

Even though the show took place in an open space, the joyful rhythms of this Gnawi night left us feeling everything but cold.

One thing for sure is that the Guembri riffs and the Jazzy vibes of this show will leave us patiently waiting for future editions.

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