Musical Performance: Alwan Festival of Sacred Music: Gnawa Music of Morocco

Sat, September 29, 2007 9:30 pm at Alwan for the Arts

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The Third Concert in the Alwan Festival of Sacred Music

Gnawa Music of Morocco: Rituals of Healing With Ma'allem Hassan Ben Jafar & Nass Al Hal

Admission Fee: $15 ($10 for students with valid ID)

The Musicians:

Ma'allem Hassan ben Jafar

The son of a famous Gnawa master from Fez, Hassan Ben Jafar has made his mark on the New York City music scene since 1998. He performed with Sout al Ghorba and also with Nass al Hal, traditional Gnawa ensembles. Nass al Hal also featured Achmed Alaoui and Mohamed Bachar, and was active for 3 years. Hassan has also performed with many Gnawa fusion ensembles, and has appeared as a special guest with the Master Musicians of Jajuka, The Balkan Beat Box, and and in various festivals and fetes on the East Coast.

NASS AL HAL is a new generation of Gnawa musicians, living in New York City. They are the sons of master Gnawa musicians from the Marsaoui genre - from the cities of Marrakesh, Casablanca, and Fez. Performing traditional Gnawa music, these young men bring the healing traditions of Morocco to the heart of New York City.

The Music:

The Gnawa population is generally believed to originate from the Sahelian region of West and Central Africa, which had long and extensive trading and political ties with the Maghreb and Morocco specifically, including gold and slave trades.

Popular history particularly credits the Moroccan Sultan Ahmed Al Mansour Ad-Dahbi's conquest in 1591 of part of the Songhai Empire, in particular Timbuktu, with bringing large numbers of captives and slaves back across the Sahara to form the Gnawa. However, the slave and gold trade with sub-Saharan African states had existed for centuries prior to al-Mansur's conquest, and it is unlikely the Gnawa community was in fact formed from one invasion but rather over centuries.

While adopting Islam, Gnawa continued to celebrate ritual possession during rituals where they are devoted to the practice of the dances of possession and fright. This rite of possession is called Derdba, and proceeds the night (lila) that is animated jointly by a master musician (maâlem) accompanied by his troupe. Gnawa music mixes classical Islamic Sufism with pre-Islamic African traditions, whether local or sub-Saharan.

In the context of music, Gnawa musicians generally refers to people who also practice healing rituals, with apparent ties to pre-Islamic African animism rites. In Moroccan popular culture, Gnawas, through their ceremonies, are considered to be experts in the magical treatment of scorpion stings and psychic disorders. They heal diseases by the use of colors, condensed cultural imagery, perfumes and fright.

Gnawas play deeply hypnotic trance music, marked by low-toned, rhythmic sintir melodies, call-and-response singing, hand clapping and cymbals called krakebs. Gnawa ceremonies use music and dance to evoke ancestral saints who can drive out evil, cure psychological ills, or remedy scorpion stings.

Gnawa music has won an international profile and appeal. Collaborators outside the Maghreb, such as musicians Bill Laswell, Adam Rudolph, and Randy Weston, have drawn on and collaborated with Gnawi musicians. Some traditionalists regard modern collaborations as a mixed blessing, leaving or modifying sacred traditions for more explicitly commercial goals.

Last updated: 2007-11-21 11:34:47

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