Traditional Music of the Gnaoua (Gnawa) Cult-Part 1
1959 August 8, Video 2015
Miloud Ben Barka
Music of the Gnaoua
Cult-Part 1 Recorded in Essaouira, Morocco by Paul Bowles on August 8, 1959
The group is from
the environs of Tamanar, some
kilometers south of Essaouaira.
I went to Tamanar with the intention of making the
recordings there, bt there was no available
electricity, and consequnetly the musicians had to be
transported from Tamanar to Essaouira.
There were two
large drums (tbel) and five men with qarqaba (double hand cymbals of
sheet-iron).* The qarqaba are dumbbell-shaped; the length of
these was 27 cm., and the diameter
the disc at each end was 8 cm.
The Gnaoua cult is frowned upon nowadays, but
tolerated more widely than the other cults such as the Aissaoua, Hamatcha, Haddaoua, etc. They are useful medicine
men, it being the
custom to call them in
for psychic ailments, which they have a
skill in curing. The Gnaoua
are Sudanese; some are the sons of immigrants
from the Sudan, but the majority of them were born in the Sudan. The music one hears in these recordings is
what one would hear if one called them in to give treatment.
Unfortunately there is a near-gale
blowing the afternoon that they were made; I was unable to escape the roar of
the wind. The music by itself is
inclined to the monotonous, but the dance is varied and vigorous.
Of particular interest to American
listeners is the second piece on this tape, in which the unmistakably West
African character of the vocal line resembles the melody of a Negro
* They can also be made of bronze.
Source: Bowles, Paul F. "Essaouira" from Folk, Popular, and Art Music of Morocco.
The Paul Bowles Moroccan Music Collection. Washington,
DC: American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, 1959-1962.
The Paul Bowles Moroccan Music Collection (AFC 1960/001), American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., Courtesy of the Paul Bowles Estate and Irene Hermann / Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies