The 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.
We joined the crowds of locals and tourists along the main souk street and on the rooftops and fortifications of the medina to watch the procession as it passed in a riot of music, dance, colour and spectacle.
Gnaoua music draws its musical, mystical and dance traditions from tribes of the Sahara and West Africa and the story of the African slaves who brought gnaoua to Morocco is a story of survival. However, the Gnaoua Festival and its opening parade are a celebration; a recognition of the past and of traditions, but also a time to party!
Elements of the Sufi Gnaoua ceremonies are recreated in the smaller concerts at the Festival which replicate the intimate atmosphere of the lila (a small-scale gathering for healing through music and ritual), where the master (maalem) sits on the floor surrounded by the adherents of the brotherhood. However, last night’s opening concert of the 18th edition of the Essaouira Gnaoua Festival, which featured internationally known Gnaoua master, Maalem Hamid el Kasri and Afghani citar artist, Humayun Khan with the Essaouira Issawa brotherhood, was anything but intimate. In front of a large crowd on Essaouira’s main square, they really got this 4-day party started!
As we danced to the hypnotic beat of the gimbri (a lute-like instrument); attempted to clap along with the fervent “clackety-clack” of the increasingly rapid krakeb castanets; the local members of the audience and the gnaoua enthusiasts responded to the chant of the maalem with the time honoured chorus of the songs that have been passed through generations. For just one weekend, we can all be gnaouis!