All Gnaoua Festival photography and
reports by Alice Mutasa.
© Alice Mutasa
Every year in June the tranquil fishing port of
Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic coast bursts into a frenzy
of music and colour, when the town hosts the annual ‘Festival
Gnaoua et Musiques du Monde d’Essaouira’. Previously
quiet dusty streets, shady squares and sunny roof terraces become
home to thousands of music-hungry young Moroccans, music aficionados
from Europe, (last year’s festival saw over 500,000 attendees)
and some of the finest musicians from Morocco and around the globe.
Essaouira, (also known as Mogador / City of Wind) has long flourished
as a Mecca for artists and musicians, and its location on Morocco’s
west coast has lent it a unique ethnic, spiritual and cultural
diversity. The Festival began 11 years ago, primarily as a celebration
of the ‘Gnaoua’ musical heritage and tradition *.
Whilst Gnaoua (or Gnawa) is firmly rooted in Essaouira, its origins
lie in West Africa, and the music of the slaves who were brought
through Essaouira three centuries ago. Several of the Gnaoua ‘Maalems’
or Masters playing at this years Festival are directly descended
from African slaves.
It is therefore fitting that over the years the festival has
evolved into a celebration of world music, and of the connections
and historical lineage between the Gnaoua tradition; music from
other parts of Africa, and jazz & other western musical traditions.
The Festival organisers are rightly proud of the unique space
they have created for this ‘musical dialogue’ between
musicians from seemingly very different cultures. Many of the
performances are improvised fusion jam sessions with Gnaoua Maalems
playing alongside invited artists from Europe and the USA. For
example at this years festival, the likes of Jaleel Shaw, Andy
Narell and Frank Vaillant.
In the words of the Festival organisers ‘A3’, the
Festival Gnaoua et Musiques du Monde is a Festival which celebrates
music ‘qui a pour premier instrument le coeur’ (whose
main instrument is the heart).
*Gnaoua is a musical ritual
of deliverance for the body and the mind, combining elements of
black African culture and Islam. A key element is the ‘Lila’,
or rite of possession. During this ritual, spirits are invoked
and followers abandon themselves to dance until they eventually
fall into a trance. Some elements of the Lila ceremony are included
every night during the Essaouira festival from 12.00 midnight,
often lasting until dawn.
Click an image for
individual festival photographs & reports. Days 1-4
Click Bassekou Kouyate's image to view more amazing photographs
by Alice Mutasa...
Click the Festival Gnaoua logo to go to their official website...
back to the soul gallery.