Gnaoua Festival concludes with thrilling music fusions

Almost 40 concerts were held during the three-day event in several venues of the historic city, which was ornamented in Gnaoui colours.
Saturday 29/06/2019
Musical blend. Moroccan musician Hamid El Kasri performs during the 2019 Gnaoua music festival in Morocco’s western region of Essaouira, June 22.(AFP)
Musical blend. Moroccan musician Hamid El Kasri performs during the 2019 Gnaoua music festival in Morocco’s western region of Essaouira, June 22.(AFP)

ESSAOURIA, Morocco - The 22nd edition of the Gnaoua Festival and World Music in Essaouira closed its curtains with a thrilling combined performance by Morocco’s renowned Gnaoui artist Hamid El Kasri and British Indian singer Susheela Raman.

Kasri entertained the huge crowd at Place Moulay El Hassan on June 22 with a classic repertoire of Gnaoui heritage that has been preserved for centuries.

Kasri was joined on stage by Susheela, blending two different spiritual music styles using Western instruments such as the saxophone and electric guitar with the traditional guembri and iron rattlesnakes (krakeb in Moroccan dialect).

Earlier in the evening, Susheela and her band performed a mixture of soul, blues and rock songs.

“I’m happy to take part in the festival. All Maalems are happy. It is an opportunity for us, Maalems, to meet here. People come from all over the world to share their music with us. We try to merge it with Gnaoua music,” said Kasri.

Almost 40 concerts were held during the three-day event in several venues of the historic city, which was ornamented in Gnaoui colours. More than 300,000 music lovers attended a unique music festival that bridges cultures and promotes co-existence.

“We managed through the originality and authenticity of the evenings to retain a public that never tires,” says Neila Tazi, director-producer of the festival.

Award-winning Jamaican band Third World, which  has celebrated its 45th anniversary, performed a range of reggae songs, mixing elements of R&B, funk and pop besides a cover of “Con te partiro” by Italian soprano Andrea Bocelli.

At the Borj Bab Marrakech, spectators enjoyed the Andalusian music thanks to a beautifully combined performance of both talented Moroccan singer Nabyla Maan and Spain’s flamenco dancer Maria del Mar Moreno.

The two artists depicted the closeness of artistic roots between Morocco and Spain through a melange of Melhoun songs and flamenco dance.

The closing evening also saw several bands and artists, including Moroccan band Betweenatna and Congo’s Baloji, perform at the beach venue.

Betweenatna gave a concert to inmates of Essaouira prison in coordination with the festival organisers.

The second day of the festival featured one of the event’s best moments with the fusion of deep-rooted African music that has survived despite the armed conflicts and terrorism.

A fusion between Mali’s Tuareg musicians Tinariwen and Maalem Mustapha Baqbou highlighted the performers’ great talent and adaptability to merge music genres as was the case of Maalem Omar Hayat and Guinean singer Moh Kouyat.

The Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival seeks to preserve, bolster and ensure the continuity of Gnaoua’s oral heritage, the status of Maalems and musicians who wholeheartedly devote themselves to this ancestral art.

Last February, the Inter-Governmental Commission for the Intangible Cultural Heritage, part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), registered the nomination of the “Gnaoua Art” file on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The decision will be taken at the 14th annual meeting of the Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in December in the Columbian capital of Bogota.

“The inscription would be a legitimate recognition for Gnaoua, for what they brought to Morocco. Of course the Gnaouas have become a symbol of our culture and have brought an international influence to Moroccan music,” said Tazi.

“But beyond that, this inscription, which was unthinkable just 20 years ago, would symbolise both the importance of the role of culture in building social bonds and our ties with the peoples of the world,” she added.

Six elements of Moroccan heritage are already inscribed on UNESCO’s list of intangible heritage, including “The cultural space of the Jemaa el-Fna Square”, “Tan-Tan Moussem” and Falconry.

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