Zaida Gania and Zaouia des Gnawa

Zaida Gania and Zaouia des Gnawa

I had tried on three previous occasions to visit Sidna Blal,  the zaouia des Gnawa,  but the formidable woman who seemed to live there steadfastly refused all my entreaties to enter.  Today I visited with this woman’s son,  Youssef,  a guimbri player training to achieve Maâlem status like his three uncles Mahmoud, Abdellah and Mokhtar Gania.  These are perhaps three of the most famous of all Maâlem from Essaouira. 

Youssef’s mother Zaida was a sister to these Maâlem;  he said there were originally 7 brothers and 2 sisters in total however  all had died except Mohktar and his mother.  He said his family had originated from slaves appropriated from Mali.

We waited for his mother at the entrance,  the local shopkeeper providing tea.  Eventually Zaida Gania arrived and putting out her hand for Youssef to kiss,  unlocked the 2 padlocks to allow entry through the heavy door and into the shrine. 

 

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Pilgrimage : Moulay Brahim and the Gnaoua

Pilgrimage : Moulay Brahim and the Gnaoua

“You will fly over the ocean,” he continued, “by the power of baraka, the blessing of Sidi Moulay Brahim,  tair lajbal, indicating the spirit bird that flies over the Atlas Mountains”

Memoir of a Berber by Hassan Ouakrim

The young girl got up from the cushion and stood beside the figure in colourful, flowing robes already dancing directly in front of the line of musicians. The low monotone of the hajhuj and the rhythmic clacking of the qraqebs crackled through the cold November air.  She imbibed heavily from a white cloud of burning incense and a cloth of colour was placed over her head. Blind, her own dance joined that of the dancing figure beside her.

The girl was endeavouring to cure or treat a ‘malady’ of some description,  either by invoking or pleasing benevolent spirits or by propitiating malicious ones.  She was entering trance,  a dissociative state which permits the fording of dimensions between this world and the world of the troublesome, mischievous jinn.

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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…)