Songlines Essential 10: Gnawa Albums


Gnawa music is notoriously difficult to record, but there are a few choice releases out there. Here is our selection of the best traditional and fusion Gnawa albums

Words by Simon Broughton, Tim Cumming, Alexandra Petropoulos

Majid Bekkas – Makenba (Igloo, 2010)
Although he began playing oud and guitar and is not Gnawa by birth, Bekkas has become a formidable gimbri player and the leading Moroccan name in Gnawa jazz with over a dozen albums. Here he works with bass clarinet and sax player Louis Sclavis, balafon player Aly Keita and Minino Garay on percussion. SB


Maâllem Mokhtar Gania – Gnawa Sufi Trance: Music of Morocco (Standard Records, 2004)
Mokhtar Gania, brother of Mahmoud Gania (also spelt Guinia), is from one of the great Gnawa dynasties. He leads some real lila trance sessions to various jinns. Powerful gimbri, clashing qaraqab and ululating women. It feels like the real thing. Reviewed in #28. SB


Gnawa Diffusion – Souk System (Warner Jazz France, 2003)
Gnawa Diffusion offer an all-inclusive type of fusion. You can find a bit of everything – Gnawa, chaabi, reggae, ska, rock, and even a hint of country & western. These all help to conjure a unique universe of Moroccan souks tucked within a French suburb. Gnawa Diffusion brings the lilting sounds of Gnawa into the 21st century. Reviewed in #24. AP


Hassan Hakmoun – Trance (Real World, 1993)
Hakmoun grew up in Marrakech and was schooled in the traditional sounds of Gnawa. He moved to the US in 1987 and began incorporating the various influences he picked up along the way into his music. Trance, recorded in just four days with his band Zahar, offers an exciting electrified brand of Gnawa that takes in driving electric guitars over the trance-inducing repetition of the gimbri. AP


Simo Lagnawi – Gnawa London (Waulk Records, 2013)
Maâlem (Gnawa master) Simo Lagnawi had already made his name in the UK as a collaborator in various musical projects including the Gnawa fusion band Electric Jalaba before releasing this, his solo debut, in 2013. Easing back from the electric fusion of his earlier work, it’s a subtler fusion featuring his arrangements of traditional tunes, and is very much in the spirit of an all-night lila with lilting gimbri and clacking qaraqab. Reviewed in #94. AP


Aziz Sahmaoui & University of Gnawa – Mazal (World Village, 2014)
Originally a founding member of Orchestre National de Barbès, Aziz Sahmaoui first put together University of Gnawa, a mix of Moroccan and Senegalese musicians in 2011. For Mazal, their second album, Sahmaoui, kora player Cheikh Diallo, guitarist Hervé Samb, bassist Alioune Wade and percussionist Adhil Mirghani perform another excellent set of Gnawa fusion that throws Moroccan chaabi into the mix. A Top of the World review in #105. AP


Various Artists – Anthologie Musicale des Gnaoua (Yerma Gnaoua Association, 2014)
This is a nine-disc box set that was assembled for the Yerma Gnaoua Association and Essaouira’s Gnawa Festival. It features a lila’s worth of performances from all over the region. The set documents Gnawa’s rhythmic, melodic, lyric and stylistic richness, documenting the intricate phases and stages of the lila repertoire. While it is not available to purchase, it will be distributed in libraries and conservatories as an excellent resource. TC


Various Artists – Gnawa Home Songs (Accords Croisés, 2006)
Beautifully recorded in the village of Tameslouht, which hosts the largest traditional Gnawa gathering, this features a selection of the best maâlem – Ahmed & Hassan Boussou, Hamid Kasri, Zef Zaf and others. Dispensing with the qaraqab brings the vocals and fine gimbri playing to the fore. Probably the best disc of traditional Gnawa music there is. Reviewed in #45. SB


Various Artists – Night Spirit Masters (Axiom, 1991)
This has been long admired as one of the benchmark discs of Gnawa music. Produced by Bill Laswell and made in the medina in Marrakech, this very lively recording with a large group of musicians keeps the qaraqab in check but has lots of atmosphere. Hard to find but worth it. SB


Various Artists – World of Gnawa (Rounder Records, 2001)
A comprehensive double-CD that includes lila music dedicated to different jinns and their associated colours. It features some of the best maâlem of the 90s including Mustapha Baqbou and Abdenbi Binizi. It is unbeatable for its hugely extensive notes and translations, but is probably better for research than listening. SB

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