Gnawa Music Festival


I’m a big fan of the website Roads & Kingdoms for its travel coverage and generally weird stories. A friend of a friend recently wrote an article on Morocco’s annual Gnawa music festival in Essaouira, and it’s worth checking out. Gnawa is a type of music brought by West African slaves to North Africa between the 11th and 13th centuries. Over time, it has evolved into a conversation between north and west African musical elements, with strains of Sufi mysticism woven into the largely West African melodies, influenced by metal castanets, lutes, and lots of chanting. 

The festival in question happens each June in the beachside town of Essaouira, and attracts a ridiculous number of foreigners – mostly European to the musical events. There are free events each night, featuring some jazz and fusion acts, as well as smaller sessions – but for a few hundred dirhams a piece. Sarah Souli’s piece delves into the complicated relationship between foreigners, Moroccans, former West African slaves, and the “fusion” that does and doesn’t occur during this tourist festival in a small, conservative town. Read the whole piece here, and check out the photos and accompanying video as well.

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