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Like the Aissaoua, Gilala and Hamacha, the Gnaoua belong to the so-called popular or heterodox Sufi brotherhoods in Morocco. The original Gnaoua are descendants of the soldiers and slaves from West Africa who came to Morocco from the Songhay empire of what was then West Sudan under the Moroccan sultan Mulay Ismail in the early 18th century, and with whom the sultan built a black army. In the course of time they mixed with the Arab - Berber population and settled among others in Libya, Tunisia and Algeria. It is believed that the terms "Gnaoui" (singular) and "Gnaoua" (plural) derive from the original word for "Guinea", which means their origin.

Today's Gnaoua groups in Morocco are made up of all strata of the population and established ethnic groups and there are still black Maalems who can prove their origin from West Africa exactly.


All of the above-mentioned popular Sufi brotherhoods in Morocco cultivate a trance cult, at whose ceremonies the participants want to achieve an immediate approach to the divine in ecstasy. The practices of the Gnaoua are probably the most influenced - like the Condomble cult in Brazil and the trance cult of the Santeria in Cuba - from sub-Saharan Africa.


The Gnaoua in Morocco perform as a show troupe (drummers, dancers, acrobats) on the Djemma al Fna in Marrakech, play concerts with their songs at the Gnaoua Festival in Essaouira, and do healing ceremonies.

These healing ceremonies are organized for individual sick people for whom it seems appropriate; In addition, there are certain days or nights for sympathizers and participants in places known to participants where everyone can spontaneously participate.


Such events take place from early evening until dawn and are called "Lila" (from the high Arabic: leila = night) at the Gnaoua.


This is preceded by the slaughter of a sacrificial animal - goat, sheep, bull or camel, and while the women of the Gnaoua prepare the feast for all actors and the Gnaoua families, the troupe of musicians moves through the location and announces the beginning of the purple.


The Maalems (from high Arabic: Muallim, meaning master, that's the name of the head of the music group) play the "Tbel", a large cylinder drum that is struck with two different sticks, the other musicians play the "Qraqeb", metal castanets, whose sound reminiscent of the rattling of the slave chains. The central part of her music is the vocals with typical West African call and response. The Maalem is the lead singer and the choir answers.


After the meal, the trance night takes place in two stages:


In the first stage, traditional songs are played and the origin of the Gnaoua is told. The music group has now taken its seating position in a central place. The Maalem sings and accompanies himself on the "Gembri", a three-string bass lute, the African Urbass, which is played in a similar way to a modern electric bass, and for which the Maalem receives its reputation. The chorus of Qraqeb players answers, some of them stand up one after the other and dance the history of origin with acrobatic performance.


Then there is a pause, the audience is in tune and relaxed.


In the second stage, there is a ghosting or a release from harmful influences, so-called obsessions. In addition, there is a ceremonial director, a so-called moquadem, who leads the ceremony through the individual phases of the night. There are songs for a total of 22 groups of spirits (Mluks) to be summoned. Not all songs are always played, but a choice is made depending on who or what is to be healed, since each mind must cause something or be appeased by something special. Each group of ghosts has a specific color, if possible the "Seven Colors of the Night" are played. The Moquadem covers the participants who are now appearing as trance dancers with colored cloths in the color of the spirit that is being played on, smoking with tree resin, taking care of the dancers or looking after those who have fallen into a trance. The musicians and the Moqadem also stage the ghosts at the beginning of the song groups. After the song verses, the Maalem improvises on the Gembri, the Qraqeb players strike a West African twelve-eighth beat, the tempo is increased to frenzy, the Maalem leads the dancers into a trance and to a fall. Afterwards there is a short relaxation before the song is tuned for the next Mluk.

After the last summoning at dawn, a dance song is often played, a belly dance for everyone, you sit together a little with tea and pastries before the magical gathering breaks apart again.

Thomas Gundermann, May 2020

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