List of Gnawa maâlems
Mahmoud Guinia (“the King”) or Gania (as spelled in passport) Moroccan musician birth-1951- dead-August 2, 2015, – He played with the likes of Pharaoh Sanders and Carlos Santana, to name but two. guitarist Jimi Hendrix spent a few months in his house in ESSAOUIRA-MOROCCO, to take some lessons. He is the son of the late Maâllem Boubker Gania, and his two brothers Abdelah and Mokhtar are also distinguished maâllemin (masters). The Gania family also includes Zaida Gania, a very popular medium and clairvoyant at the nights of trance (leelas) as well as the head of a group of female gnawas, The Haddarate of Essaouira.
Brahim Belkane (“The traditionalist”) – He has played with Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant, Adam Rudolph, Randy Weston, and Jimmy Page. He says: “There are many colours on earth: red, green, blue, yellow. You have to find these when you play, to be bright like the sun.”
Hamid El Kasri – He now lives in Rabat but his origins are in the northern town Ksar El Kbir, thus the nickname Kasri (i.e. the one from Ksar). He is one of the biggest stars on stage and is particularly renowned in Morocco for his great voice. In his youth Maâllem Hamid was much associated with the gnawa scene in Tangier and masters such as Abdelwahab “Stitou”. He began his apprenticeship at the age of seven. He has the gift of being able to fuse the music of the north with that of the south: gharbaoui from Rabat, marsaoui from Essaouira and soussi or Berber from the south of Morocco.
- H’mida Boussou (“The grand master”) – As a child H’mida immersed himself in Gnawi culture as taught to him by the Maâlem Ahmed Oueld Dijja, and became a Maâlem himself at the age of 16. He also worked with Maâlem Sam from 1962 to 1968. Maalem H’mida Boussou died on 17 February 2007, but his son, Maalem Hassan Boussou continues the gnaoua tradition and played a concert in homage to his late father at the 10th Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival in June 2007.
- Chérif Regragui (“The communicator”) – He became a Maâlem by the age of 18. He worked with Tayeb Saddiki in theatre andhe was behind the group Taghada.
- Mahjoub Khalmous – His skills took him to many festivals in Europe. In 1993 he formed his own group and became a Maâlem. He has worked for several years with Professor Bertrand Hell, head of the anthropology department at Besançon University in France.
- Allal Soudani (“The dreamer”)- His grandparents M’Barkou and Barkatou were brought from Sudan as slaves. “When I play I no longer feel my body, I empty myself. And when I reach the state of trance I become nothing more than a leaf on a tree blowing at the mercy of the wind,” he says, describing his trance moments.
- Abdellah El Gourd – He learned Gnawa music as a young man, while working as a radio engineer in his hometown of Tangier. He has collaborated with jazz musicians Randy Weston and Archie Shepp and blues musician Johnny Copeland. With Weston, he co-produced The Splendid Master Gnawa Musicians of Morocco, which received a 1996 Grammy Award nomination for Best World Music Album.
- Omar Hayat (“The showman”) – He was taught by Mahmoud Guinea and the late Maâllem Ahmed. He formed his own group in 1991. His style is particularly influenced by reggae, but Omar Hayat nonetheless plays true gnawa and is a great source of inspiration for the young gnaoui in Essaouira. He participated recently at the festival of Avignon and has also been working and touring with the German circus Afrika! Afrika!.
- Abelkebir Merchane (also known as Cheb) – He is from an Arab family, none of whom are gnawa. His style is a mixture of marsaoui (Essaouira) and Marrakchi (Marrakech). He was taught by Maâllem Layaachi Baqbou and he possibly has the greatest voice in Moroccan gnawa today. His son Hicham is also a gnawa master.
- Abdeslam Alikkane and Tyour gnawa – He is a Berber from the region of Agadir. He learnt to play the krakebs at the age of nine. He is particularly interested in the healing aspect of gnawa. He has performed at many international festivals, playing with Peter Gabriel, Gilberto Gil (currently Brazil’s minister of Culture) and Ray Lema.
- Abderrahman Paca – He is one of the founding members of the group Nass El Ghiwane. In 1966 he briefly joined the Living Theatre, then two years later met the legendary Jimi Hendrix.
- Mohamed Kouyou – In 1984 he played at the opening of the Moroccan Pavilion at Disney World. He also plays in Essaouira’s gnawa festival.
- Mokhtar Gania – Son of the great Maâlem Boubker. He is the younger brother of the legendary Mahmoud. He has played at the great Roskilde Festival in Denmark in 2003 sharing the stage with Bill Laswell, Jah Wobble, Gigi, Sussan Deyhim and others. He is currently considered one of the hottest gimbri players around.
- Mohamed Daoui – He teaches the younger generation of future maâlems, for which he has a widespread reputation.
- Abdelkader Benthami – He owes his education to some of the greatest Maâlems, such as Zouitni. He lives in Casablanca, and showed his strength on albums such as Bill Laswell’s Night Spirit Masters. His sons are both masters, and the youngest, Abderrahim, debuted in 2007 at the Festival d’Essaouira.
- Si Mohamed Ould Lebbat – At the age of 18 he began to play with Maâlem Sam, whom he accompanied to festivals in France.
- Ahmed Bakbou – He has worked with some of the great Maâlems: Ba Ahmed Saasaa, El Hachimi Ould Mama, Homan Ould el Ataar, Si Mohamed Ould el Fernatchi. He is the first son of Maâllem Layaachi Baqbou, and he is known as “the talking gimbri”, and even though he sings, he often plays the gimbri with close friends such as Abdelkebir Merchane or his brothers Moustapha and Aziz singing.
- Essaïd Bourki – His origins are in the south of Morocco. He performed with his group in Belgium in 1990. He is considered the secret master of Essaouira.
- Abdellah Guinea (“The Marley”)- He became a Maâlem at the age of 16. His nickname is due to his dreadlocks and fondness of reggae. He is the middle son of Maâllem Boubker Gania. Today Abdelah is by many considered one of the greatest maâllemin in Essaouira.
- Mohamed Chaouki – Formerly a horse trainer once worked in the stud farms of Rabat. At the age of 19 he became a maâlem. He formed a group with his brother, sons and nephews with whom he has performed in Europe 18 times.
- Saïd Boulhimas – He is the youngest Gnawi to play at the 7th (2004) gnawa festival. Saïd was taught by Abdelah Gania and is almost considered the son of the maâllem. He won the Festival de Jeunes Talents (Festival of young talents) in 2006 and is also part of the French/Moroccan Band Of Gnawa with Louis Bertignac and Loy Erlich.
- Hassan Hakmoun – By the age of four, he was performing alongside snake charmers and fire-breathers on Marrakech streets. His mother is known throughout the city as a mystic healer. He worked with Peter Gabriel. He is currently based in New York City.
- Fath-Allah Cherquaoui (Fath-Allah Laghrizmi) – One of the youngest Masters of Gnawa music, Fath-ALLAH was born in 1984 into a well-known family in Marrakech, Morocco. His eyes were opened to the ceremonies of Gnawa music by his grandmother, lmqadma lhouaouia. As a Moqadma or Shuwafa (clairvoyant), she would organize the Gnawa ceremony, or derdeba, two or three times a year with a renowned Master named Lmansoum. Thus, the entire family, including young children, developed a deep appreciation and interest in this genre of spiritual music. By the age of 19, his elder cousin, Maallem Lahouaoui, became a Master and began to play in the ceremonies for their grandmother. At seven years old, Fath-Allah was able to sing nearly all of the ritual repertoire, and play the qraqeb (iron castanets). By the age of eleven, he decided to build his own version of the instrument known as the gembry, using a glow bin, a broom handle, and an electric cable for strings. Five years later, he and his younger brother purchased their first gembry, and he began learning and practicing finger placement, as well as how to distinguish the correct tones. Although his father advised him to spend more time on his schoolwork, and cautioned him against the dangers and hardships of the music industry, Fath-Allah remained dedicated to teaching himself the instruments and music of Gnawa. After some time, he was invited to join his cousin Maallem Lahouaoui’s band, playing the castanets, dancing and singing. But he dreamed of playing the gembry in a real derdeba. His chance finally came on a night when his cousin asked him to stand in for him and finish playing what was left of the ceremonial songs. It was the first time Fath-Allah had ever played in front of a crowd, and during an actual Gnawa ceremony. The audience was amazed at how the youngest member of the band could so easily replace the Master, and actually play as well as he and many other Masters. This was the beginning of the Maallem Fath-Allah. His favourite Masters include: Maallem Lahouaoui, Maallem Mustapha Baqbou, Maallem Hmida Boussou and Maallem Abd Elkader Amili.