The Sacred and the Profane : Gnaoua and World Music Festival, Essaouira, 2016

The Sacred and the Profane : Gnaoua and World Music Festival, Essaouira, 2016

Choosing between the sacred and the profane has always been problematic; making that choice at an African music festival is a particularly difficult decision.

The Gnaoua and World Music Festival at Essaouira, Morocco, is a unique opportunity to see and enjoy animist African culture embedded within an Islamic country. Gnaoua music is widely considered to have been introduced to Morocco from sub-saharan Africa when Sultan Moulay Ismail  introduced thousands of slaves to form his Black Guard armies. (more…)

Zaouia Aïssaoua,  Essaouira

Zaouia Aïssaoua, Essaouira

Despite its less traditional interpretation of Muslim faith, Morocco remains a devout country. Mosques remain the centres where Islam is worshipped, but a series of other religious institutions, called Zaouias, have an immersive spiritual and civic role. These are often formed around a particular saint or Sidi and maintained by that person’s family.

A variety of spiritual, cultural and civic activities occur at these centres. Reflecting the spiritual nature of traditional Gnawa music, two Zawiyas hosted a number of concerts over the Gnawa festival.  These events started at 11pm and lasted about 3 hours. They took the form of shorter ‘lilas’, where music, incense, dance and trance encourages personal transformation and relief from either illness or spirit-possession. Possession by djinns ( bad spirits ) remains a commonly held belief today.

These photographs depict members of the Zaouia Aïssaoua preparing for the procession and opening of the 19th Gnaoua and World Music Festivalcommencing 12th May 2016 at Essaouira.  I had visited most of the zouias in Essaouri several days earlier and this particular brotherhood was the most welcoming of all,  inviting me back to watch their preparations.