Tag Archives: culture

Essaouira Gnaoua Festival – 18th edition

Opening parade of 18th Gnaoua Festival 2015 EssaouiraEssaouira, 15 May 2015 – Yesterday, Essaouira‘s annual Gnaoua World Music Festival got off to a colourful start with the opening parade and concert featuring local and national gnaoua groups and international World Music artists.

This is the 18th edition of the event, which is the largest in the festival calendar of this small port town on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast. Other annual festivals include the Festival des Alizés, a celebration of international classical and traditional music held every Spring, and the Festival des Andalousies Atlantiques, a festival celebrating the Judeo-Muslim musical traditions of Al Andalous, which are also a frequent feature of Fes festivals such as the Sacred Music Festival, which begins next week in Fes on 22 May 2015.

Each year, the Essaouira Gnaoua Festival gets underway with a parade through the centre of the Essaouira medina of all the gnaoua groups in their finest regalia, embroidered costumes and caps studded with cowrie shells. The bands are often accompanied by standard-bearers carrying huge flags and feature the typical gnaoua instruments: the krakeb castanets, the stringed gimbri and the tbel drum, which is played with a crooked stick.

18th Gnaoua Festival 2015 EssaouiraEvery so often, the groups pause to demonstrate the fervent whirling and acrobatics which simulate the trance induced by the heavy beats of the instruments. In the street, though, in this carnival atmosphere, these movements are more for show than religious practice and the circles the gnaoua form resemble an elaborately coloured dance-off between rival acrobatic troupes.

Gnaoua music originated in sub-Saharan Africa. With the trade in goods and men across the great desert, African slaves brought their traditions and their experience of hardship and exile into Morocco. Over time, their traditions were absorbed into Islam and Gnaoua brotherhoods of adherents gathered around a maâlem (master) developed in zawiyas (centres devoted to religious learning). The Gnaoua tradition is strong in Essaouira, with its previous role as a major trading port and its centuries’ old connections to Timbuktu and other West African cities.

18th Gnaoua Festival 2015 Essaouira main stageSwiris -the natives of Essaouira – are particularly proud of their home-grown masters, such as Maâlem Mahmoud Guinéa and his brother Maâlem Mokhtar Guinéa, Maâlem Allal Soudani and others. However, they are also welcoming of the big names of Gnaoua music from other cities, such as Maâlem Hamid el Kasri, who opened the festival this year alongside Humayun Khan of Afghanistan. When a great maâlem is on stage, throughout the audience, one hears young and old singing along, responding to the chant of the master, and clapping out the frenetic polyphonic beat.

The Gnaoua Festival is also a stage for some of the best Moroccan and international stars of the World Music scene. The most exciting concerts are those on the main stage (on Place Moulay Hassan) late at night. The fusion concerts bring together a gnaoua group with artists from a completely different genre for a unique kind of mash-up unlike any other. Gnaoua jazz? Sufi-Voodoo fusion? Gnaoua-folk? Everything is possible under the starry skies and the gusting trade winds of Essaouira!

This article originally appeared on the blog, The View From Fez.

Essaouira Gnaoua Festival 2015 is underway!

The 18th Essaouira Gnaoua festival opened with a  colourful paradeThe Essaouira Gnaoua Festival 2015 started yesterday, 14 May with a colourful carnival parade of the gnaoua artists through the main street of the Essaouira medina.

The festival continues now until Sunday 17 May with concerts, exhibitions, open air shows and intimate gigs all over the city, much of it for free.

Continue reading

The Best of Essaouira: Cookery classes

couscous, the Moroccan national dish - made gluten free with cornmealThe cuisine of Morocco is becoming increasingly well-known abroad and a popular holiday activity is a cookery class where students can learn about the intricate blends of spices, the diverse influences on Moroccan cuisine and attempt to create their own culinary masterpieces. Over the past year, I have tried two cookery classes in Essaouira – one a well-established brand, the other a homely newcomer. I enjoyed both immensely, even though I could already make some key Moroccan dishes. If you want to do a cookery class in Essaouira, I recommend one of these two options. Continue reading

Herbie Hancock in Marrakech

Herbie Hancock live in MarrakechHerbie Hancock in Marrakech, 7 May 2015

The setting was magical: a modern rig of a stage placed at one end of the massive cortyard at the centre of the 16th century El Badi Palace in Marrakech. As the sun began to set, the heat of the day lifted and hundreds of candles set in lanterns around the place began to twinkle. The famous storks of the Kasbah (King’s Quarters) returned to roost on the crumbling ochre walls to watch the scene unfold. We were here to experience the magic – not only of Marrakech, but of one of jazz’s greatest legends, Herbie Hancock. Continue reading

New in Essaouira for Summer 2015

essential EssaouiraI have been spending some time over winter in the UK, but this weekend, I head back to Essaouira for a few weeks. I hope to hand over a tidy sum of donations which I have collected through my crowdfunding campaign for Association Bayti, as well as check out some favourite old haunts and some exciting new openings in the city.

In anticipation of an influx of British visitors with the start of new direct flights from London to Essaouira on 1 May, I thought I would round up what’s hot in Essaouira for summer 2015! Continue reading

The Best of Essaouira: My top 5 for the 2015 Essaouira Gnaoua Festival

Gnaoua Music in EssaouiraThis year will see the 18th edition of the Essaouira Gnaoua World Music Festival.

The Essaouira Gnaoua Festival is the largest of Essaouira’s annual music festivals and attracts artists and an audience from around the world. In 2015, the Gnaoua Festival will take place earlier than usual from 14-17 May 2015 (to avoid a clash with Ramadan).

The format of the festival is large open-air stages in 3 locations across the city, plus intimate concerts in smaller venues and a side programme of discussions around related themes (for example, this year’s Forum is on African Women). The four-day musical extravaganza is opened by a carnival parade of colour featuring the Gnaoua and Sufi groups playing in their traditional costumes playing their instruments and dancing, plus über-dimensional puppets which tower above the crowds.

The Essaouira Gnaoua Festival programme features something for everyone. It’s hard to choose between the local gnaoua acts and the invited World Music stars, but here is my pick of the best of the 2015 line-up: Continue reading

Medieval Morocco Exhibition in Rabat

Medieval Morocco Exhibition in Rabat 2015

Photo: Musée Mohammed VI d’Art Moderne et Contemporain

After a critically-acclaimed run in Paris, the Medieval Morocco exhibition, which was part of the Parisian Moroccan Autumn, comes to Rabat. The exhibition features work spanning 5 centuries from when the Moorish influence was at its greatest. The artefacts have been assembled from the Iberian Peninsula as well as North and West Africa.

The exhibition is now on and runs until 1 June. If you are in Morocco over the next months, it’s not to be missed! Read my review here.

Best 2015 Festivals in Morocco

Gnaoua Festival in EssaouiraMorocco has become a major festival destination over the last years. 2015 looks like a bumper year. The way Ramadan has pushed some of the dates together means that on one trip, you could fit in even two festivals. From music to culture, from roses to rap, from modern pop music to sufis, from the trance of Gnaoua to the German classical composers, from Agadir to Rabat via Fes and Essaouira, there’s something for everyone! Check out my list of the best 2015 festivals in Morocco here.

Springtime in Morocco

Ait Baha: Taroudant to Tafraoute Spring has well and truly sprung in Morocco! The days are warmer and longer and it’s the perfect time to visit.

If you haven’t planned your Springtime in Morocco, there are still deals to be had. Don’t forget, flights from London to Essaouira begin on 1 May.

Take a look at my post for Travel Exploration for some spring holiday ideas!

The Marrakesh Express

arriving in MarrakechTourism in Morocco didn’t begin with the hippy trail, but without a doubt the likes of the Crosby, Stills and Nash; the Rolling Stones and the Gettys helped put Marrakesh on the 20th century map.

“Looking at the world through the sunset in your eyes
Travelling the train through clear Moroccan skies….

Sweeping cobwebs from the edges of my mind
Had to get away to see what we could find…”

Read my post for Travel Exploration about the origins of those famous lyrics and the Swinging Sixties in Marrakech here.