This Moroccan festival fuses mysticism, music, tradition and a message of tolerance to create a unique cultural celebration that attracts thousands of music lovers each year.
The festival was created in 1998 to honor the music of the Gnawa, descendents of African slaves who have formed brotherhoods across Morocco. Among the Gnawa are musicians, clairvoyant healers and mediums who practice rituals similar to voodoo while playing the unique cadence of the Gnawa music.
The maalem is the master musician – he, with the help of his fellow musicians, calls upon spirits during the ceremony to put the Gnawa followers in a trance-like state with their spell-binding rhythms. The music of the Gnawa ritual is created from three instruments: a 3-stringed lute, castanets and ganga drums. The Gnawa focus on the universality of their music, using the it as a tool to preach tolerance and acceptance.
The festival is held annually in June, attracting more than 500,000 music fans each year. Artists from all parts of the world join the Gnawa on stage to wow the crowds that flock in for the festival. Past performers have included reggae legend Bob Marley’s son, Ky-Mani Marley. The festival’s four days are filled with many performances, and the final night of the series ends in a huge musical celebration.
Musicians have flocked to Essouria for decades, seeking inspiration from the music of the Gnawa. Artists like Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix spent time in the town, learning from the rhythms and beats in the music.
Written by Jordan-Ashley Baker.
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