Morocco’s Gnawa musical culture listed by UNESCO

In this file photo, a member of Gnaoua (Gnawa) group performs in Essaouira at the Gnaoua World Music Festival. Gnawa culture, a centuries-old Moroccan practice rooted in music, African rituals and Sufi traditions, was on December 12, 2019 added to UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. (AFP)
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Updated 13 December 2019

Morocco’s Gnawa musical culture listed by UNESCO

  • The tradition, which includes the veneration of Islamic holy men, dates back to at least the 16th century

RABAT: Gnawa culture, a centuries-old Moroccan practice rooted in music, African rituals and Sufi traditions, was on Thursday added to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Gnawa refers to a “set of musical productions, fraternal practices and therapeutic rituals where the secular mixes with the sacred,” according to the nomination submitted by Morocco.

Often dressed in colorful outfits, Gnawa musicians play the guenbri, a type of lute with three strings, accompanied by steel castanets called krakebs.

They practice “a therapeutic ritual of possession ... which takes the form of all-night ceremonies of rhythms and trance combining ancestral African practices, Arab-Muslim influences and native Berber cultural performances,” the nomination document reads.

The tradition, which includes the veneration of Islamic holy men, dates back to at least the 16th century.

“Originally practiced and transmitted by groups and individuals from slavery and the slave trade,” today it is one of the many facets of Moroccan culture and identity.

Gnawa was popularized by a festival that started in 1997 in the southern port city of Essaouira.Until then, Gnawa brotherhoods had been little known, even marginalized.

Now, they attract waves of fans each year from across the globe to the Gnawa and World Music Festival in Essaouira that highlights a unique mix of musical styles.

Essaouira has seen greats such as Pat Metheny, Didier Lockwood and Marcus Miller perform with the most famous masters of Gnawa music, fusing the genre with other styles such as blues and jazz.

The number of brotherhoods and master musicians “is constantly growing in Morocco’s villages and major cities,” according to the nomination.

Gnawa groups “form associations and organize festivals” year-round, which enable the younger generation “to have knowledge of both the lyrics and musical instruments as well as practices and rituals” linked to Gnawa culture.


Arab movies to debut at Toronto International Film Festival

Updated 03 August 2020

Arab movies to debut at Toronto International Film Festival

DUBAI: Organizers of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) have released a new lineup of 50 movies for screening at this year’s event including a number of Arabic flicks.

Egyptian filmmaker Mayye Zayed’s “Ash Ya Captain” (“Lift Like a Girl”), an intimate journey into the life of an aspiring athlete, will premiere at the 45th edition of the festival, due to take place between Sept. 10 and 20.

Also featured will be Palestinian filmmaking twins Tarzan and Arab Nasser’s “Gaza Mon Amour,” a satire on love and desire. The brothers’ second feature film, it tells the tale of a 60-year-old fisherman who is secretly in love with a market dressmaker. As the story unfolds, the fisherman discovers an ancient Greek statue that will trouble him.

British director Ben Sharrock’s “Limbo” will see Egyptian-British actor Amir El-Masry star as a Syrian asylum-seeker who finds himself living on a small Scottish island.

Egyptian-British actor Amir El-Masry stars in British director Ben Sharrock’s “Limbo.” (Toronto International Film Festival)

Meanwhile, American director Spike Lee’s film version of David Byrne’s hit Broadway show “American Utopia” will open at the event which will be capped off by American-Indian director Mira Nair’s “A Suitable Boy.”

In addition, there will be showings of Iranian directors Manijeh Hekmat’s “Bandar Band” and Farnoosh Samadi’s “180 Degree Rule.”

Most screenings will take place virtually due to government restrictions imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.

Cameron Bailey, TIFF’s artistic director, said in a released statement: “We began this year planning for a festival much like our previous editions, but along the way we had to rethink just about everything.

“This year’s line-up reflects that tumult. The names you already know are doing brand-new things this year, and there’s a whole crop of exciting new names to discover.”

The full schedule of the festival will be released on Aug. 25.