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.


Oscars 2019: Arab nominees at the 91st Academy Awards

Updated 23 February 2019
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Oscars 2019: Arab nominees at the 91st Academy Awards

DUBAI: The Oscars countdown is almost over - both fans and critics have already locked in their favorites over who will take home this year’s trophies.

It is a particularly exciting season for Arabs and Muslims, as a few Oscar contenders are set to make history for the region. 

Rami Malek for Best Actor

It would be a big upset if Rami Malek does not win the coveted Best Actor trophy on Feb. 24, as his epic transformation into rock legend Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody” has been recognized in every awards show preceding the 91st Academy Awards: The Golden Globes, the BAFTAs and SAG.

Born to immigrant parents, the Egyptian American is poised to make history as the first actor of Arab descent to clinch the top acting prize at the Oscars, seen as one of the highest recognitions in the field. In 2016, he scored an Emmy for his performance in the hit TV show “Mr. Robot.”

Mahershala Ali for Best Supporting Actor

A frontrunner for Best Supporting Actor, Mahershala Ali is heading strong into the Oscars with multiple wins on his resume for his role in the historical dramedy “Green Book.”

The 44-year-old made headlines in 2017 when he became the first Muslim to win Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars in its 91-year history. Ali could replicate this success this year.

Capernaum for Best Foreign Film

Oprah Winfrey, a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has said Nadine Labaki’s “Capernaum,” nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, is a must-see.

Ever since the Lebanese drama won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, more and more people, including colleagues in the film industry, have been praising Labaki’s work.

But it is going to be an uphill battle as her film competes with Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma,” which has won all foreign-language film recognitions ahead of the Oscars.

Of Father and Sons for Best Documentary Feature

Berlin-based Syrian director Talal Derki took it to a different level when he lived with a Daesh family to shoot his award-winning documentary “Of Father and Sons,” which depicts radicalization from a very personal viewpoint, and is nominated for Best Documentary Feature.

But the courageous Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner is up against a tough bunch, including fan favorite “RBG,” which documents the life of US Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a living legend in American law.

Critics have also placed their bets on “Free Solo,” a sports documentary that depicts the athletic feat of professional rock climber Alex Hammond.