Malleem  Najib Soudani :  Gnawa of Essaouira

Malleem Najib Soudani : Gnawa of Essaouira

In 2016 I wrote an article called The Sacred and the Profane, describing the two forms of Gnaoua music ( see http://sannyassa.co.uk/sacred-profane-gnaoua-world-music-festival-essaouira-2016/ ).

In that article I identified the paradox that lay ahead for the Gnaouia;  to survive it had to become more popular,  but by becoming popular it denied its sacred form and would slowly kill itself.  Today, profane ( or popular ) Gnaoua can be heard throughout Essaouira.  I was told that there are now 1000 malleem musicians in the city and private Gnaoua parties are common.

Correspondingly, the sacred form of Gnaoua is now rare.  When held, it is mostly found in zaouias, for example that of Sidna Bilal, in Essaouira,  or the zaouia of another brotherhood,  such as the Hamadcha. It is mostly private and deals exclusively with the interaction between maleem and the jnoun.  Of the 1000 malleem reputedly in Essaouira,  I have also been told there are less than 10 who are sufficiently skilled or capable of conducting a truly sacred ritual.

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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…)