Throwback Thursday: Remembering Hassan Hakmoun’s ‘The Fire Within’

Updated 25 April 2018
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Throwback Thursday: Remembering Hassan Hakmoun’s ‘The Fire Within’

  • 1995’s “The Fire Within” marked a pointed return to his roots
  • In The Fire Within, Hakmoun strips everything back to the same earthy instrumentation his forefathers used for generations

ROTTERDAM: North Africa’s Gnawa music has long held a powerful sway over international ears. In the 1960s, Jimi Hendrix visited Morocco to take lessons with “The King,” Mahmoud Guinia, while “The Traditionalist” Brahim Belkane played with members of Led Zeppelin. Decades later, thousands of curious listeners continue to descend on Essaouira every year for the Festival Gnaoua et Musiques du Monde, which celebrates a 21st edition in June.

Riding the 1980s’ first wave of interest in so-called “world music” — a term most international musicians find structurally hierarchical — Hassan Hakmoun found fame representing his tribal traditions on a global stage and was soon working alongside Western luminaries, including free jazz pioneer Don Cherry. The Moroccan musician’s story is remarkable: The son of a renowned mystic healer, by the age of four Hakmoun was, legend has it, performing alongside snake charmers and fire-breathers on the streets of Marrakech.

But unlike the patchy rock and reggae fusions of Hakmoun’s breakthrough “Trance” (released on Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records two years earlier), 1995’s “The Fire Within” marked a pointed return to his roots. Gone are the electric guitars and trippy dub beats — here Hakmoun strips everything back to the same earthy instrumentation his forefathers used for generations: Hand-claps and clacking hand-cymbals (krakeb) drive these primal grooves.

The sole instrumental melody comes from Hakmoun’s sintir, a three-stringed lute which emits deep, throbbing, syncopated riffs in the spine-shaking lower registers. It’s deeply communal, but Hakmoun is master of ceremonies, leading the stirring call-and-response chants based on Sufi poetry.

These group recordings are balanced by the sparser-still solos. Released from the beat, Hakmoun’s playing further assumes the lilting cadences of human speech. For any audience, “The Fire Within” is a magnificent primer to Gnawa’s immutable musical foundations.


Blues artist Hindi Zahra pays tribute to her homeland

Updated 16 December 2018
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Blues artist Hindi Zahra pays tribute to her homeland

DUBAI: Moroccan singer Hindi Zahra recently bought her mesmerizing brand of music to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, where she performed as part of the Rain of Light festival on Friday.
Arab News caught up with the singer, who has been compared the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Patti Smith, before the show to find out more about her foot-tapping style of music and the album that her performances are based on, “Homeland.”
The Paris-based musician pays tribute to her home country of Morocco in the album, which features a mix of English and Amazigh-language tracks.
“It is the country that gave me everything,” the artist, whose stage name is simply her real name inverted, told Arab News.
“It gave me… mixed culture — African culture, Mediterranean culture. My openness toward other cultures comes from my Moroccan roots,” she added.
Hindi was raised on a steady diet of jazz, rock and blues, which she said her uncles collected due to a familial interest in international music.
That could be part of the reason why she is so comfortable performing in multiple languages.
“I am comfortable with both (English and Amazigh), but because I… grew up with a lot of Afro-American music, it was really natural for me to improvise in English.”
In addition to a clear appreciation and understanding of Western jazz and rock music, Hindi spoke fondly about a legendary Egyptian artist whom she said has inspired her.
Abdel Halim Hafez, who worked during the country’s golden age of entertainment between the 1950s to 70s, played an important role in shaping Hindi’s own style.
“I love the way he delivered feelings through music,” she said of the late opera singer who died in 1977.
Imbued with an appreciation for a wide range of international styles, Hindi released her first album when she was 30 years old — even though she says she was ready 10 years earlier.
She waited a decade so she could produce music on her own terms, under her own label, she said.
“I am shocked about the condition of women in the industry, so it was very important for me to be free and to own my music so nobody owns me.”
After all this, her only hope when it comes to performing is “that (the audience) will dance,” she said.
“If I see them enjoying (the) music to the point that they dance, this is the most important.”