ESSAOUIRA: GNAWA

GNAWA TRADITION AND ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT IN ESSAOUIRA // 27.02- 5.03.2023

IT SHIMMERS IT SCREAMS

There are daily meetings at Ayoub and Rie’s home filled with mutual care and music. We play gnawa accompanied with Polish acordeon and Polish traditional songs accompanied with gimbri.

Gnawa music was created by enslaved people brought to Morocco from different areas, mostly sub-saharan Africa. Its melodies carry memories of other places, assembling old stories in Subsaharian, Amazigh and Arabic languages, a multi-generational struggle for freedom and livable world, shackles transformed into an instrument.

Pull the strings, turn your head vividly, shake the shoulders, sit low, sit on yourself, sink in, be gentle.

Bass is needed for trance.

Trance is needed for liberation.

ABOUT GNAWA

“The Gnawa are a Sufi order in Morocco that identifies with the descendants of formerly enslaved West Africans. (…) Gnawa music is believed to heal people afflicted with spirit possession. In Islam, the jinn (spirits) are said to be made of vapor or flame. The jinn are not necessarily evil; like human beings, spirits have different personalities and temperaments – they can be kind or cruel. (…) In popular Islam, spirits inhabit people; sometimes they can be exorcised, at other times the possessed must simply surrender to them.

The Gnawa are called upon to appease the spirits, which they do through animal sacrifice, incense, and colors but especially through music and chants in praise of God, the Prophet, and the saints in their pantheon. The intoxicating rhythms of the Gnawa – produced by the repeated bass line of the sintir, and the heavy clacking of large metal castanets (qraqeb)– have the ability to reconcile the possessed with their spirit; once the possessed submits to the jinn, that spirit is mollified and the inhabited person can avail herself of the spirit’s powers.”

Essaid Rhat, renowned gimbri maker based in Essaouira, talks in his workshop about the instrument and bass – their origins and connection to spirituality
Shaymae Maallema at Restaurant Tagna8

GNAWA GATHERINGS HOSTED BY AYOUB AND RIE

Witek Zalewski, Ayoub El Ayady, Rachid Amrani & Borys Słowikowski play traditional Polish song accompanied with gimbri

DERDEBA / LILA

“The derdeba is a celebration. Everyone knows this. Those who pray as well as those who don’t. Everyone.

That which constitutes a derdeba, from beginning to end, each detail, has a signification. It’s a code.

(…) The right hand represents the living, the world of life, the world as it appears, and the left hand stands for the world beyond, the ahira. And the songs of the Gnawa start with the clapping of hands.

The possessed person is taken over, meaning they are a living-dead. It isn’t them- it’s no longer them dancing. It’s the energy in them that will dance. they’ll express themselves through the language of the dance, because dancing and singing are metalanguages. They aren’t defined by words, but they will take on the colors of these forces, that’s to say, the seven colors, which follow one another according to a strict rule, that of cosmogony.

(…) The other way to explain the relationship that exists between members of a society and the metaphysical world consists of speaking with images and metaphors. It’s a method of expression that is accessible to everyone and leaves freedom to use one’s imagination and creativity.

(…) But words are not the only way to communicate.

Once again,…this intuitive knowledge can only be expressed through metalanguages and not at all by words, because we can’t ever define them.” 

“A Gnawa healing ceremony – a lila, as it’s called – is an intense, all-night affair, often starting shortly after ‘isha, the night prayer, and lasting until sunrise. (…) Seven spirits are usually invoked by the Gnawa – not all of them will manifest in a lila, but one can tell which spirit has arrived by the emotions and movements of the possessed. “A Gnawa healing ceremony – a lila, as it’s called – is an intense, all-night affair, often starting shortly after ‘isha, the night prayer, and lasting until sunrise. (…) Seven spirits are usually invoked by the Gnawa – not all of them will manifest in a lila, but one can tell which spirit has arrived by the emotions and movements of the possessed.

Among the main jinn are Sidi Musa of the sea, whose color is blue – and when he manifests, the possessed begin to dance as if they are swimming or drowning – and Sidi Hamou, the spirit of the slaughterhouse, whose color is red. Lala Mira, whose color is yellow, is known for her joy and vanity – when she appears, the possessed begin chuckling and laughing; Sidi Mimun, whose color is black, guards the forests. The last spirit to manifest is Aisha Kandisha, the most tyrannical and terrifying of them all.”

Aïcha Hamdouchia

Ayoub El Ayady talks about Aïcha Hamdouchia spirit and gnawa cosmology, together with Rachid Amrani and Borys Słowikowski they play a song related to her spirit.

“It’s not clear where the myth of Aisha Kandisha comes from. Some folklorists believe the she-demon came from the Sudan and “married” the eighteenth-century saint Ali Ben Hamdouch, whose shrine lies in central Morocco; others say she is a figure of Iberian provenance, known as Aisha la Condesa – a character similar to the “enchanted Mooress”, who fled Portugal with the Moors after 1492 and fought alongside Muslims when the Portuguese invaded Morocco in the early 1500s.

Whatever her origin, Kandisha’s changing significance is at the heart of debates about Gnawa. The youth don’t particularly fear the she-demon. In 2011, a group of Moroccan feminists launched a magazine named Qandisha, casting her as a strong female heroine. (“The fact is, any time a woman claims her rights in Morocco, she is called Qandisha,” says the editor.)”

BODY-INGS AND PERMEABLE ENVIRONMENTS

“There are many explanations and theories of what we mean when we say ‘body’, but within this complexity two central but contrasting points of view stand out. The first emphasises the separation of mind and body, termed Cartesian following the philosopher Rene Descartes. This entails a notion of body or person as individualistic, measurable, quantifiable. The second view of ‘body’ speaks of the fundamental interconnectedness with and inseparability of a person or being from their surroundings. Such permeable and pervasive environments include other humans, ancestors, animals, plants, atmospheric phenomena such as sound or rainfall, and much more, nowadays also summed in the term ‘more-than’.

(…) The diversities of cellular and material compositions of bodies, as evidenced, for example, through fascia and microbiomes, emphasise that the human body is not singular.

(…) Replacing the noun ‘body’ with the dynamic verb form bodying, or even using the plural bodyings as the new noun, are clear ways of acknowledging and activating new knowledge around fascias and microbiomes, and how bodying is always a process. (…) Using bodying, the verb form of body, aims to join up holobiontic microbial activity and other ways of how the body is continuously shape-shifting-sliding, with somatic experience and socio-political co-presence, as continuously emerging processes. Shifting-sliding from the fixed body to ecosystemic bodying, opens up different perspectives into what and how are capacities to be social. This awareness of bodying as process and potential, further supports joining up verbs into compositions such us moving-sensing and thinking-perceiving. We cannot move without sensing, and we cannot think without perceiving. There is nothing ‘in here’ or ‘out there’, other than to understand our bodyings as occasions of energetic concentrations; as resonant sound vessels; and most importantly as tensionally responsive to even the slightest impulse or shift.

DEEP LISTENING

:// Pauline Oliveros, Quantum Listening

“Deep Listening is active.

What is heard is changed by listening and changes the listener. I call this the ‘listening effect’ or how we process what we hear.

(…) Listening shapes culture, locally and universally.

Listening is directing attention to what is heard, gathering meaning, interpreting and deciding on action.

Quantum Listening is listening to more than one reality simultaneously.

Listening for the least differences possible to perceive – perception at the edge of the new. Jumping like an atom out of orbit to a new orbit – creating a new orbit – as an atom occupies both spaces at once one listens in both places at once. Mothers do this. One focuses on a point and changes that point by listening.

Quantum Listening is listening in as many ways as possible simultaneously – changing and being changed by the listening. 

I see and hear life as a grand improvisation – I stay open to the world of possibilities for interplay in the quantum field with self and others – community – society – the world – the universe and beyond.

(…) The skin listens too.

In fact the whole body listens in this heightened state of awareness. 

(…) Listening involves a reciprocity of energy flow; exchange of energy; sympathetic vibration: tuning into the web of mutually supportive interconnected thoughts, feelings, dreams, vital forces comprising our lives; empathy; the basis for compassion and love. 

Yes, Deep Listening is the foundation for a radically transformed social matrix in which compassion and love are the core motivating principles guiding creative decision making and our actions in the world.”

GNAWA REGGAE – RADICAL TRANSNATIONAL POLITICS

“In Europe, where Sufism is generally seen as more compatible with liberalism and even good for what British officials call “social cohesion,” Sufi practice has been encouraged. (…) European city officials have found creative ways to use Gnawa music to celebrate “multiculturalism”. (…) In their eyes, Gnawa culture is malleable and useful – it’s African, Arab, Muslim, Berber, Mediterranean – and Gnawa musicians are invited regularly to perform at “festivals of diversity.” (…)

But there is a new subgenre – Gnawa reggae – (…) advocating a cross-ethnic, transnational politics that is more radical and is challenging the liberal multiculturalism that the Gnawa-loving city officials call for. (…) At the helm of this wave are a crop of left-wing artists hailing from Morocco, Algeria, Senegal, and the diaspora communities in Europe (…). These youths draw on Islamic and Rastafarian cosmogonies, evoking Muslim saints and Caribbean cultural icons, and use the language of Third-Worldism and Ethiopianism to explain their liminal position on the edges of Islam and Europe.”

ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT – AFOUS AFOUS #WASTEFREEMEDINA

Afous Afous fundraising event
Myriam from Afous Afous Collective talks about their coming together in the medina to care & embody the values of Community, Sustainability & Impact

Ida Ou Gourd sugar factory

:// Abdelkader Mana, The Gnawa and Mohamed Tabal

OUR PRACTICES

#3

Music practice as a way OF LISTENING TO the place

how can the sounds we create connect us to the place we inhabit rather than take over the space?

through music practice we try to activate auditial connectedness

it is based on acknowledging, focusing on and responding to various phenomena that shape, amplify and distort our voices: i.a. reverb, air humidity, other sounding processes, bodies and matters.

#4

BECOMING HOSTS

how can we co-create safe, welcoming, generous spaces for cross-cultural dialogue?

we work with music as a community building tool, following coincidental encounters and opportunities to build new connections and support generous exchange

Rie, Witek, Dorota, Ayoub, Karim, Aziza, Michael, Borys, Maud & Shaymae at Cafe Essaouira
Karim Alikan, Shaymae Maallema, Ayoub El Ayady and Borys Słowikowski play Aïcha Hamdouchia song at Café Essaouira at a gathering organized by our patchwork collective

#5

SOUND SHOWER

we gather in a circle 

each person at a time comes in the middle to receive a sound shower from the others around

the person in the middle says aloud one word holding a personal intention

this intention becomes a score for the rest of the people – we improvise with our voices that support the spoken intention in return

aUditial traces