Trance Gnawa

22/05/2024Elmir Records Releases A Collection Of Ritualistic Trance Music From Iconic Moroccan Group Nass El Ghiwane

Healing is a process that is best accompanied by music. Rooted in North Africa are spiritual ceremonies called 'ziara', "where people come to exorcise demons, purify their bodies and loudly reaffirm their attachment to God, the prophet and the deities who claim to embody him."  During these ceremonies, ritualistic music provides the appropriate setting to conjure up ecstatic outbursts and attain a higher state of consciousness. "The most brilliant performers of this type of ceremony are called the Gnawa. Originally from black Africa, mainly Sudan and Senegal, they were forcibly implanted in southern Maghreb by Tuareg raiders seeking to use them as slaves. After several decades of servitude, they managed to emerge from their painful condition, [regrouped] in mystical brotherhoods, the most important of which were based in Morocco, and devoted themselves to rituals through which, while attesting to the greatness and omnipotence of Allah, they pursued their fatal liaisons with the djins or djenoun, genie-like spirits that may be either benevolent or hostile."

Among the most acclaimed and widely known Moroccan chaabi groups authentically furthering the Gnawa tradition and reconstituting its spirit are Nass El Ghiwane. Established in Casablanca in 1970 and originating in avant-garde political theatre, Nass El Ghiwane was the first popular music group to bring Western instruments such as the banjo into the fold. And although they might well be one of the most prominent proponents of the Moroccan Gnawa tradition – "which borrows from both Middle Eastern arabesque and African percussion" – this particular collection of tunes on Elmir Records (the Paris-based purveyors of the North African and Middle Eastern musical heritage, a subdivision of mlp-music) pays tribute to the group's extensive discography and should serve as a wonderful introduction to their craft or simply an able compilation of some of their stand-out recordings to add to the collection. Fun fact: Martin Scorsese called Nass El Ghiwane "The Rolling Stones of Africa" and picked the 1981-released music documentary "Trances", directed by Ahmed El Maanouni, to be the World Cinema Foundation's first release in 2007, in which the groundbreaking group takes center stage.

Titled "Trance Gnawa Music From Morocco", this six-track excursion into the stimulating universe of Nass El Ghiwane comes in a beautifully designed sleeve and includes liner notes by veteran music journalist Rabah Mezouane. More importantly, however, the track selection tells a story of its own, opening with the litany of "Ya Chafi, Ya Afi" ('O Healer') and ensuing with "El Mekkaoui" ('The Meccan'), "Lahdia ('The Offering'), "Hamdouchia", "El Gasba" ('The Flute') and, finally, "Antiwa". With most tracks exceeding the eight-minute mark, listeners are in for an intoxicating treat that is genuinely fulfilling and surprisingly accessible. There is an inherent warmth to these repetitive compositions that breeds familiarity and closeness, prompting you to let your guard down and the healing commence, as the music leads the way.

AUTHOR: Lev Nordstrom