Review : Various Artists - Ouled Bambara: Portraits of Gnawa
PitchforkTo build a truly deep understanding of Gnawa music, its history, the story of the people who play it, and the religious and superstitious beliefs that inform it and determine its structure, you'd probably have to read a few books or live your whole life in Morocco. I'll give the digest version here. There, Gnawa are practitioners of a musical-spiritual tradition rooted in Sufism, a mystical strain of Islam. The Gnawa tradition has its deepest roots in the Arab slave trade, in which sub-Saharan Africans were kidnapped and brought north over the desert to the Maghreb, in modern-day Morocco and Algeria, though today there is no ethnic dimension to it. Gnawa musicians, mystics, and dancers provide a communication conduit between people and the jinn, unseen beings of smokeless fire that are important not to anger. The word is the source of our "genie," and one particular type of jinn, the mluk (literally, "the owners") is said to possess people who cross its path. One of the purposes of Gnawa ceremony is to negotiate with the mluk and send it packing-- it dovetails with the Sufi quest for spiritual purity.
An "Ouled Bambara" is a suite of Gnawa songs played during the Fraja, or entertainment, phase of a Gnawa ceremony. This set of field recordings made in Marrakesh by Caitlin McNally offers samplings of both this phase and the actual mluk phase. The recording carries the sonic flavor of the courtyards in which it was made, and the musical ingredients are simple. The singing is essentially a series of solo and group chants, and it doesn't follow any song forms familiar to Western ears. The whole body of music evolves as one, pushed along by hand claps on some tracks, and iron castanets or shakers on others, and at the heart of the sound is the guimbri, a three-stringed, guitar-like instrument with a large, closed rectangular resonating box. The instrument has loose, thick strings and plays in a bass register, and the musicians frequently drum on the resonator while playing....full text
WorldmusiccentralThe CD and DVD set Ouled Bambara: Portraits of Gnawa reveals the creatively rich lives and infectious energy of various Gnawa performers from Marrakech (Morocco). The artists featured on the recording and DVD are renowned Gnawa musicians, including Abdelkbir Marchane & Ahmed Baqbou, Brahim Belkani, Hassan Zougari, and Mohamed Hamada.
The CD focuses on traditional pieces used in the Lila, which is a Gnawa healing ceremony. Gnawa music is considered trance music and includes many of the elements found in the genre: invigorating repetitive rhythms, chants and melodies that build up and lead musicians and participants into an altered state of mind. Some of the Gnawa ceremonies are healing rituals that try to remove powerful spirits from possessed individuals.
The fascinating DVD documentary shows the lives of the Gnawa musicians, including interviews and live performances by the above mentioned musicians.
This set is one of the first releases on the Twos & Fews label, which part of Drag City Records.
Ouled Bambara: Portraits of Gnawa is an explosive mix of trance, energy and vitality by some of the masters of Gnawa music.
For more information about the Gnawa, read World Music Central's wiki article about Gnawa music....full text
Waysidemusic"In the first release of its kind, Twos & Fews and Drag City present Ouled Bambara: Portraits Of Gnawa -- a presentation in sound and moving pictures of several of Marrakech's most experienced Gnawa practitioners and their individual interpretations of the deep, esoteric, and powerful tagnawit tradition. Gnawa music has been considered a kind of Ur-blues, and has also been linked to the music of voodoo and santeria. It's often described with words like 'hypnotic,' which it is. The Gnawa have long signified (at least to the small portion of the public that's bothered to think of them) all that is mysterious and phenomenal about Morocco: mystical Sufism, trance rituals, possession rites, ecstatic music and dance. Brought north most likely from the West and Central Sahel region of Africa over several hundred years, the original Gnawa were black slaves who synthesized animist African religious ritual with classical Sufi practice. But nothing sounds quite like the music of the Gnawa, and their music and their practice have usually elided definition, if not description. They are healers who intercede with the fiercest of the djinn spirits -- the mluk (whom other Sufi orders avoid) -- on behalf of their suffering clients. Their rituals invite possession by these mluk, with the deep thump of the guinbri lute and ever-rattling, clacking percussive accompaniment whipping the dancers into states of trance in which they struggle with the powerful spirits. Ouled Bambara means literally, 'children of Bambara,' and the name of the musical suite that begins the nocturnal portion of the Gnawa ritual. The Gnawa are considered an underclass in Moroccan society, but they nonetheless play a vital role in its spiritual life. Ouled Bambara: Portraits Of Gnawa is an exploration of that role and some of its most talented actors....full text
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