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World Music Features

Morocco's Gnaoua Music Festival

By Lisa DiMatteo
Published April 7, 2009

For the past ten years the Moroccan city of Essaouira has come alive with the music of the Gnaoua.

For the past ten years one weekend every June the Moroccan city of Essaouira has come alive with the music of the world. From traditional Moroccan Gnaoua to jazz and blues the Gnaoua Festival and Musics of the World Essaouira offers music to suit any taste and is a must-see for music lovers worldwide.

The Gnaoua

The Gnawa are descendants of African slaves who came together to establish brotherhoods throughout Morocco. Despite being Muslim, the Gnawa blend African and Arabo-Berber customs to create their unique music-based rituals. These rituals are based on djinn – or spirits- that come straight from the African cult of possession. Their most important ceremony is Lila during which the maalem – or musicians – call upon the saints and supernatural entities to take possession of their followers. The followers and listeners of the music then fall into trances, the ceremony itself is said to be therapeutic.

The Festival

Beginning as a place for the Gnaoua to emphasize and appreciate its musical diversity and heritage The Gnaoua Festival invites jazz, blues, electric fusion, and Moroccan contemporary artists from around the world to perform at one giant festival. It is now celebrating its 11th Edition with over 500,000 festival goers. The city of Essaouira comes alive with the hums, beats, and dancing of thousands of music lovers uniting under one sky.

The 11th Edition

The festival itself is comprised of 10 different stages, in different parts of the city, each one representing different artists and music from around the world.

Bab Doukkala
This year, in celebration of 10 successful years of the Gnoaua Music Festival, the Gnoaua musicians will be honored with a new stage.  This stage, dedicated to them at Bab Doukkala, will allow their most dedicated followers and ardent listeners to experience a 100% Gnoaua concert.  Gnoaua stars such as Hamid El Kasri and Abdelkebir Merchane will be performing the traditional Lila ritual every evening at midnight.

Bab Sebaa
On the Bab Sebaa stage jazz and world musicians will be playing, offering audiences a taste of music from around the world.  From the Korean traditional percussion group Salmunori to the English bluesman Justin Adams, this stage is sure to delight and engage the crowd with its wide variety of sights and sounds.

Moulay Hassan
The Moulay Hassan stage, which is located at the beginning of the me