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03:14:37 PM Sunday Aug 12, 2007

Gnawa home songs


Gnawa is a special genre of music originating in Sub-Saharan Africa that combines both prayers and “mdih” (i.e. spiritual praises) along with ritual dance performances. Gnawis traditionally use just three simple instruments: the gimbri, the tabl, and the qraqeb. The gimbri is a simple stringed instrument made out of goat skin, and has been described as the forefather of the African American banjo.

The tabl is simply a drum and the qraqeb are percussion noisemakers. It is said that gnawa music was spread throughout Sahelian and Northern Africa by the slaves who were traded between the African and Berber kingdoms, and it can be found as far east as the Sudan. The word “gnawa” is said to come from “Ghana” although places like Mali and Timbouktou are more commonly referred to in gnawa music.

A traditional gnawa song involves use of much repetition. The same lines and praises may be sung over and over, and uses “call – and –response” where the lead singer shouts a line and the followers repeat and respond. This technique has traveled all through west-equatorial African music all the way to the American South where the slaves maintained many of their African traditions and heavily influenced the culture of the South including its musical flavor. African American gospel music until today still uses much of the same techniques.

More traditional Sufic forms and use of gnawa music are deeply spiritual and follow very carefully observed patterns and sequences. The singers call upon the saints of their “tariqa” and recite prayers or the “hizb” taught by their group’s spiritual leaders. The lead is called a “maalem” while the lead woman dancer/trance performer is referred to as the “mqadima” or "sheikha" and often go into rural areas where they will dedicate an entire night or “lila” to the memory of a saint or certain spirit. Some believe that these trances involve jinns. Basically, the dancers try to achieve a state of “hadra” or spiritually elevated presence and closeness to God, or to that saint/spirit – “sidi so-and-so” as you’ll hear repeated in the songs. It can get very intense, with dancers seemingly becoming possessed or losing themselves in the dance as the beat becomes more and more rapid and intense – this may go on until daybreak. Sometimes another person would be standing by to support the dancers as they may fall and hurt themselves or go unconscious and faint without realizing what they are doing. The irony in this is that it’s supposed to be symbolic of getting closer to Allah – when the reality is that Islam has taught against such exaggerated forms of worship, such as the head-dance and trances, the calling upon saints instead of upon god, as it stems from pagan traditions that the Prophet cautioned against following. It is still practiced today though - perhaps less than in the past since today modern forms of gnawa have taken center stage and are often more entertainment-oriented than trance-like.

Modern groups have often incorporated elements of gnawa and created fusion forms with the aid of more modern instruments such as the electrical guitar. The Algerian group Gnawa Diffusion is a great example, with flavors of reggae, roots, and gnawa. With modern instruments also come more contemporary themes – take the song “Visa Vie” by Gnawa Diffusion – a heavy gnawa influence but the song is about a very modern dilemma that our Berber and Malian originators of Gnawa likely did not have to worry about, especially for those tribes who were nomadic - who needs a visa when you've got a camel?? =)

More about the history and origins of Gnawa here on wikipedia. Samples below. Share what you know!!

Ya Samiya - Said Oughassal

Aicha – Hamid el Kasri

Hamid el Kasri (note the parts where he says “yehdar ou ychouf Allah” and “bichfa3a ya nabiy Allah” – asking God’s presence (the “hadra”) and the Prophet’s intermediacy for forgiveness “Shafa3a” – very commonly repeated concepts and heavily emphasized in Sufi music all around the world.

Baba Salem – Gnawa Diffusion

Visa Vie - Gnawa Diffusion

Saharagga - Gnawa Diffusion

The content of this page —graphics, text and other elements—is © Copyright 2007 prospective author, and Raioo, Inc., only when stated otherwise, and may not be reprinted or retransmitted in whole or in part without the expressed written consent of the publisher.

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8:07 am    November 26, 2007
ana brite baba hamou iwali fia 15/08/1994 meknes zitoune

4:57 am    November 4, 2007
gnaoua top de music

2:28 pm    September 19, 2007
the first one brought tears to my eyes and goose bumps..... I miss home. I dont see how people say they hate it and will never go back there.....they dont know what they are missing....raht el bal is pricelss....may be im just talking like this cpz im very nostalgic and I probably would not last more than a week over there....still is worth it to me rite now....ash gadir

4:40 am    September 8, 2007

Salem message
This drumer does not need sophisticated equipment!


1:23 pm    September 1, 2007

9:32 am    August 30, 2007
cava gnawa y3ajboni bzaf gnawa likaynin ftmazk

1:07 pm    August 20, 2007
Allah y7afdek ya Hudhud, Kif ma 7fed Lsan bin Snan...

12:53 am    August 20, 2007

hudhud message
de rien. although i also sometimes feel like an endangered species.. ;o))
zide ektoub more notes!

7:35 pm    August 18, 2007

Salem message
Thanks Hudhud. You're a precious resource. I succeeded in posting my first note. I hope you'll enjoy the two videos.

6:24 pm    August 18, 2007

hudhud message
well when you log in you should see a little blue banner at the top under where it says "chez raioo" :) you will see "profile - inbox - friends - notes" then just click on "notes" and you will see below it another little blue box that says "write a new note" or something like that =)

have fun!


5:59 pm    August 18, 2007

Salem message
Thanks hudhud. I created an account, but still don't where to start a note.

11:14 am    August 18, 2007

hudhud message
sure Salem, you have to log into your account (or create one if you don't have one yet) and write a new note and in the note you simply copy the "embed" code from YouTube.
I think Adnane should enable a way to allow us to post the videos or images in our replies too, but for now I think that's not possible. have to write a note and put the pictures and vids in it.

looking forward to seeing them!

2:05 am    August 18, 2007
Hudhud, tell me how you did to bring thes videos from youtube. There are a couple of videos I wanted to share. Thanks in advance.

3:39 pm    August 17, 2007
I think it has more to do with psychotherapy, popular psychotherapy as opposed to modern psychotherapy. The point is not about some kind of substitutes to God as it's often the case of people with the Marobouts. Some People who come to attend Gnawa ceremonies are seeking healing of psychic wounds. People who enter the trance enter in a therapy process. As I saw many times, after the 7adra or Jedba (kind of Jerk), relatives or friends or just spectators congratulate them for that, saying things like : "Bessa77a wa Ra7a!". Afterwards, those who went through a Jedba or 7adra, feel much better and that could last months before they feel sick again.

Few years ago I had the opportunity to attend a debate opposing modern and traditional psychotherapy in Senegal where there was actually an open debate, not only at the academic level but also in the press. It was a very interesting debate, where you can see the limits of the two therapy options. I don’t know about any such a debate in north Africa.

One of the strengths of the traditional option is the integration of the patient in the community. As long as the patient is not frankly dangerous the community takes him or her in charge with care and affection. Among the means used is this ceremonial gathering through Gnawa music or other kinds of music and food (lewzee3a). The impact of such treatment is tremendously positive on the patient, while the weakness of the modern option resides mainly on "imprisonment" in hospital "cells" and strong drugs. Of course this is only an aspect, there are strengths and weaknesses in both options that's why the debate is interesting in the sense that it could reach kind of complementarity between the two options (cooperation).


9:02 am    August 17, 2007

hudhud message
scary thing. apparently this invoking of such saints falls under the line of what scholars define as shirk because it involves tawakkul and tadaru3 and du3aa to other than god. allah yehdi ma khleq. one of mum's uncles explained that they do what they call "lewzee3a" where they'd slaughter sheep or cow and distribute to the entire village, rich and poor alike, and do family gatherings with song etc. but not in the name of any saint. he said it was a way to help support the poor of the area without making it look like sadaqah since everyone got a share, but they didn't do it at a grave or call on any ancestors' names, etc. I guess it was their more deeny version =)

12:00 am    August 17, 2007
Today is maybe the 5th day of Cha3ban. Ramdan is next in about 3 weeks time Allah idakhlou 3lina belkheir!. During this month of Cha3ban, the Gnaw nights are more frequent than usal. People crowd more to attend the "Lila d'Gnawa" in many cities.

During the performances, Sidi Hammouda, Sidi Salem, Sidi Mimoun, Mouly Abdelkader Jilali, Sidi Hammou, Sidi Moussa, Lalla Mira and maybe others, will be much invoked.

There is much in common between the songs "Sidi Hammouda" and "Baba Salem". I wonder if the songs on the other "Saints", if there are any, are similar.


10:34 pm    August 16, 2007

hudhud message
if only it could be that simple. why do people make life so complicated nowadays?? part of me wishes i were never born into civilization, just spend my life roaming the mountains with my sheep til i find the right shepherd.

dance for hours under the stars...

a nice smile with nice teeth..

maybe he'd drive a fancy camel. maybe his name be jamel. come on baby whyn't you herd this way i've gotta get someone to care for my sheep baby.. la-da-da-ra-da..

oh the silly things this brain comes up with on a sugar high..


4:26 pm    August 16, 2007
The Legend of Morocco Imilchil Wedding Festival

"There once were two young people who fell deeply in love in Morocco. Unfortunately, they were from enemy tribes. Their families wouldn't allow them to marry. Out of grief, they wept bitterly. They continued their crying day and night until they created two lakes made of their tears. Their despair was so great, they committed suicide by drowning in those two lakes. The Imilchil fiances moussem and festival has been created to pay homage to those two young lovers. Henceforth, all the families granted total freedom to their children to marry whomever they chose. The engagement festivities take place every September (...) in the largest souk in Morocco in the Ait Hddidou Tribe. The lakes are called "Isli", meaning bridegroom and "Tislit" meaning bride (in berber). The neighboring tribes gather together near these lakes, and the women choose their husbands. There is great feasting after the solemn and respectful ceremony.

For the young men and girls of the area, it is a tradition to get married on the day of the Moussem in ancient times, a holy man used to bless the betrothed at Agdoul, and legend says they were always happy. The fiance festival is staged on the site of the tomb of the marabout, who is venerated in the high atlas mountains. It is a time for some 25000 people from the mountains to assemble under tents for three days with their flocks, their horses and camels. It is an occasion for the young girls to wear their finery, their sumptuous silver jewelry, and to dance for hours under the sun and under the stars".


5:55 am    August 16, 2007

Rasta Gnawi message
maybe sidi hamouda was really a "sidi" hamouda not a lalla hamouda.

Yeah.. I read the scarf thing somewhere. I always wondered what they talked about when they gathered. I mean... people in Morocco or anywhere else that is hadari have an awkward time communicating with the opposite sex on matters of marriage etc. Is it like "hey.. you got nice teeth," .. "thanks.. you too.. nice hips. what's going on.." I don't know. Imilchil always sparked my curiosity.


12:59 am    August 16, 2007

hudhud message
did you say... hide their mouth in their scarf and only show to the girl they like??
I like the way that sounds.. =D

I think Mami is doing more pop crap these days, which is a shame in my opinion, but his voice will always remain beautiful. he's from a small town called Saida close to Oran. I love lezreg s3ani, and some of his older stuff is just awesome. not sure i like the modern pop crap. youm wara youm is played at almost all the parties I've been to here this summer. the arab kids out here love him to death. he's making them all convert to algeria-o-philes. this syrian kid at the jami comes up to me every time she sees me "LIKE OMG ooh leeykee bedee rooh lel jazaair" and squeezes my bones and tries to practice her "wesh raki" on me. I just tell her "Go. Sellmi 3lihoum. Triq eslama." lol.
yeah. Mami. some of his songs really pull those chords.

re: gnawa in dzayer, yes, according to my mom they still have these huge tribal meet-ups annually which they call a "zerda" where they'd go slaughter a lamb or cow in the cemetery near the grave of sidi so-and-so (each region/tribe has a different one - it's usually one of their own direct ancestors), they do perform the music and drumming and dances, and the elders who call on the spirits are still very much in business. they charge villagers fees for visiting. sometimes they take on the name of that sidi or spirit that they claim to be honoring. they are picky about colors and do not perform healing or any service until paid either in cold hard drahem or in gifts that they specify and demand (like a burnoos of a certain color).

she told me the story of this one woman who called herself "sidi hamouda" and claimed healing powers. she said the woman was old, very cold and serious and mean, and spoke with a deep voice resembling that of a man. in order to get in to her home to see her, they had to pay the maid at the door whatever money they had, and also offer a gift of cloth of a certain color. the "lobby" or sitting room if you will was a simple room with pillows on the floor and it was full of women and sick people waiting for this lady sidi hamouda to show up and work her magic, but when she finally did she simply said some strange poetic words along the lines of "triq segemnah ou echouk nahinah" etc. i.e. the road has been paved and the thorns removed, all is well, go home. and people got up and left. but they come back for more. so that first visit was just the down payment and apparently you do these things by installment. anyway my grandmother found out about this hocus pocus and told mum don't you ever go back.

smart lady my grams.


colors. wonder what the connection is........


5:47 am    August 14, 2007

Rasta Gnawi message
Yep. Cheb Khalid did grace wejda during the rai festival. It was free and in the stade principale. I missed it by just a couple of days. I heard it was insane. Since it was free, everyone from a 200km radius drove to wejda. A combination of local Flags Special beer and energetic khaled made the evening hot. Oujda was a burning 42 degree too.

He did another concert just this past saturday in Saidia. I bailed because of my flight, but Adnane was there. He can fill you in on the details. I heard it was a success. I am itching to see Cheb Mami though. I saw him 6 or 7 years ago in Chatelet les Hall Paris. Man I love that gjuy. I connect with him more than khaled. Maybe because he's younger. Khaled always had mature lyrics in his songs. Mami's voice is eternally young and moves me more. When he's on stage with his violin player, man it makes me go all jedba. Someone was ragging on the song "lezreg s3ani" not long ago. Dude, it was one of his best work. Simple melody... maybe you can take the synthetiseur out and just leave him with the girl's voice in the background and it would be the most amazing song. Give the guy another chance :) He's out with a new album... cattering to a more internaitonal audience. I like the old stuff, but still.. Mami l'eternel.

Regarding Imilchil. I take issue with people spectating the ritual. I thought about heading there two years ago, but I thought that this is a proud tradition of proud bedouin people. They're constantly moving and have found a practical way for young people to meet up and marry. Unless I were there to find a bride, I wouldn't think of going there. The curiosity is burning, though, no question about that. It just doesn't feel right. I read somewhere that young men hide their mouth in their scarf and only show it to the girl they like. Can anyone confirm?


4:38 pm    August 13, 2007
There are at least two festivals and a Moussem I always wished to be. The International "Musiques Sacrées" Festival of Fez, basically spiritual Sufi, held yearly in early June with participation of musicians from all over the world. Also the famous Imilshil Moussem in the heights of Atlas Mountains which is a gathering where young people meet for the first time and get officially married by the end of the day, and of course the Gnawa International Festival of Essaouira.

The reason I never could is that my work is taking me too much at the festival times. Rush time for me! I think it's high time I organized my life in a better way so that a participation in the next festival is guaranteed.

By the way, did you know that the First International RAI Music of Oujda was organized late last July? Giant Cheb Khaled was there. From Algeria, I also noticed the participation of Chaba Zahouania and Cheb Reda Taliani, I don't know about Cheb Mami, maybe not. I unfortunately wasn't there, I just watched news reports.

Instead, I eagerly look for information/reports on the Essaouira Festival, the friends and relatives who attend for years in a regular basis, the news reports, and the videos like a Youtube one accompanying one of the examples attached by Hudhud.


8:31 am    August 13, 2007

Rasta Gnawi message
Essauiora, right? Been trying to for years. tough to find housing. It turns into this big hemp puff festival. Nice music though.

2:53 am    August 13, 2007

hudhud message
anyone here been to the big gnawa festival they do every summer?

4:55 pm    August 12, 2007
Got them.
A revived festival on Raioo.
Thanks a Million for the Note.

hudhud's notes (47)
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