This week saw the 13th international Gnawa/Gnaoua music festival in Essaouria. This is now a major world music festival and for some it brings out the best of Essaouria and for others it proves to be more challenging as approximately 380,000 visitors join the 70,000 residents to celebrate this unusual North African sound.
Unsurprisingly accommodation can be a little challenging for the three day event and there is a need to book some considerable time in advance. However, those that plan ahead are rewarded by a city wide free music event.
The Gnawa music is traditionally linked to the Gnawa people (although just like other art forms it now crosses into other cultures). The Gnawa pre date the arrival of Islam and occupied land between Morocco and Algeria. Over the passing of time various communities have transferred cultural elements and Gnawa incorporated elements of Islam to become what is generally regarded as the Sufi community in Morocco.
For some, Sufism has made a major contribution to the image of Morocco. It is heavily based in tradition and elements go back to the first generations of Muslims and yet it fuses this tradition with tolerance, spirituality and an embrace of modernity. As such it attracts the young as it allows them to enjoy arts, music and relationships whilst staying true to Islamic obligations.
The Sufi community use music, dance and trance to support their connection with Islam and the festival in Essaouria is an opportunity to experience the music behind some of the celebrations.
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