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Gnawa or Gnaoua (
Arabic alphabet: غناوة) refers to an ethnic group and a religious order, in part descended from former slaves from Sub-Saharan Africaor black Africans who migrated in caravans with the trans-Saharan trade, or a combination of both.
The name appears to originate from the
Saharan Berber dialect word "aguinaw" (or "agenaou") (Arabic: أݣناو), meaning "black (men)". This word in turn is possibly derived from the name of a city significant in the 11th century, in what is now western Mali, called "Gana", in Arabic "Ghana" or "Jenna" and in Portuguese and later French "Guinea" or "Jenné".
The Gnawa population is generally believed to originate from the
Sahelian region of West and Central Africa, which had long and extensive trading and political ties with the Maghreband Algeria specifically, including gold and slave trades.
Popular history particularly credits the Moroccan Sultan Ahmed Al Mansour Ad-Dahbi's conquest in
1591of part of the Songhai Empire, in particular Timbuktu, with bringing large numbers of captives and slaves back across the Sahara to form the Gnawa. However, the slave and gold trade with sub-Saharan African states had existed for centuries prior to al-Mansur's conquest, and it is unlikely the Gnawa community was in fact formed from one invasion but rather over centuries.
Islam, Gnawa continued to celebrate ritual possession during rituals where they are devoted to the practice of the dances of possession and fright. This rite of possession is called "Derdba" (Arabic: دردبة), and proceeds the night ("lila", Arabic: ليلة) that is animated jointly by a master musician ("maâlem", Arabic: معلم) accompanied by his troupe. Gnawa music mixes classical Islamic Sufismwith pre-Islamic African traditions, whether local or sub-Saharan.
Many modern Western scholars see parallels between
African Americanmusic such as the blues, that is rooted in Black American slave songs, and Gnawa music as well as Sufi tariqa. This influence also resonates from other spiritual sub-Saharan black groups such as the Boriin Nigeria, the Stambouliin Tunisia, the Sambaniin Libya, the Bilaliin Algeriaand those outside Africa such as the Voodoo religion or the Candomblein Brazil. These similarities in the artistic and scriptural representations are seen by such scholars as reflecting a shared experience of many African diasporic groups.
Gnawa and music
The term Gnawa musicians generally refers to people who also practice healing
rituals, with apparent ties to pre-Islamic African animism rites. In Moroccan popular culture, Gnawas, through their ceremonies, are considered to be experts in the magical treatment of scorpionstings and psychicdisorders. They heal diseases by the use of colors, condensed culturalimagery, perfumes and fright.
Gnawas play deeply hypnotic
music, marked by low-toned, rhythmic sintirmelodies, call-and-responsesinging, hand clapping and cymbals called "krakeb" (plural of "karkaba"). Gnawa ceremonies use music and dance to evoke ancestral saints who can drive out evil, cure psychological ills, or remedy scorpion stings.
Gnawa music has won an international profile and appeal. Many Western musicians including
Bill Laswell, Randy Weston, Adam Rudolph, Robert Plantand Jimmy Page, have drawn on and collaborated with Gnawa musicians. Some traditionalists regard modern collaborations as a mixed blessing, leaving or modifying sacred traditions for more explicitly commercial goals. International recording artists such as Hassan Hakmounhave introduced Gnawa music and dance to Western audiences through their recordings and concert performances.
The centre for Gnawa music is Essaouria in the South of Morocco where festivals of Gnawa music are held periodically. The Gnawa of
Marrakeshhold their annual festival at the sanctuary of Moulay Brahimin the Atlas Mountains.
* [http://www.ibiblio.org/gnawastories/ Ibiblio.org: Gnawa Stories: Mystical Musician Healers from Morocco]
* [http://www.mincom.gov.ma/english/gallery/music/gnawa.html gnawa at the Moroccan ministry of Communication website]
* [http://www.worldmusiccentral.org/article.php?story=20030414201518943&query=gnawa WorldMusicCentral.org]
* [http://www.ptwmusic.com/gnawa.htm PTWMusic.com: gnawa by Chouki El Hamel at Duke University December 1, 2000]
* [http://www.britannica.com/ebc/article-55385: Etymology of Gnawa from Encyclopedia Britannica]
* [http://www.gnawa.net/music.htm Gnawa.net]
* [http://www.worldmusiccentral.org/article.php?story=200407300930188&query=gnawa Essaouira at WorldMusicCentral.org]
* [http://www.brickhaus.com/deepdish/the_gnawa_and_their_lila.htm gnawa at brickhaus.com]
* [http://www.dargnawa.org/ Dar Gnawa Website]
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