Thursday 4 July 2019
Ritual Gnawa music that will put you in a trance

Asmâa Hamzaoui was barely 20 years old when she started her Gnawa group Bnat Timbouktou as the first female gimbri musician in Morocco.

Gnawa is a rich tradition in which suggestive, ritual music is combined with poetry and dance.

Asmâa Hamzaoui inherited her passion for music from her father, the famous and recognised maâlem Rachid Hamzaoui (maâlem is a title that only the very best gimbri masters qualify for).

When Asmâa turned six, she first had a gimbri in her hand, the peculiar bass instrument that plays an essential role in Gnawa music.

Traditionally, the instrument has been reserved for men. When Asmâa took the stage at a Gnawa festival in Essaouira a couple of years ago, she was the first female musician to have ever been there, onstage for one of the most essential Gnawa events. Asmâa has talked about the many obstacles on her way to this recognition and how she still has to fight for it. But she says that she is in her element when she has a gimbri in hand.

The sound is made up of the gimbri and Asmâa Hamzaoui's distinctive vocals at the centre plus five female musicians on metal castanets, qraqab, and their voices. The rhythms and their chanting singing build an ecstatic atmosphere that in the ceremonies leads people into a trance.

Gnawa must be experienced live, and you should give in to the trance-inducing rhythms and structure of the music. This is one of the most exciting Gnawa groups right now.