Friday, June 22, 2018

Essaouira Gnaoua Festival Opening

Chris Witulski reports for The View From Fez.  Essaouira's Gnaoua Festival began its 21st edition as it always does, with a procession. Mirroring the opening of a ritual evening, musicians played quraqeb (iron castanets) and the tbal (large drums) while walking down the medina's largest avenue.
In doing so, they invited an entire city—an entire country and world, if you look around to see how many come from afar to be here for the festival—into a busy weekend of concerts, demonstrations, and workshops. 

Crowds climbed up onto rooftops to prepare for the coming parade.Unlike a procession that opens a ritual, however, this parade included waves of gnaoua groups and other ensembles who will be performing this weekend.

One after the other, the groups and their leaders (surrounded, of course, by onlookers, cameras, and children) made their way down the wide avenue. The celebratory energy was palpable as musicians and fans alike danced their excitement.

The 21st Essaouira festival has begun.This event is not just for the gnaoua Aside from the many groups coming to Essaouira to participate in fusion project with ritual leaders (mallems), festival organisers invited Sufiʿbrotherhoods like the Issawa and Hamadsha and other regional groups including the Ahwach de Haha. They each processed with the the gnaoua and will perform on Friday and Saturday in large open air spaces around the city. 

Essaouira's Issawa process, playing loudly and even throwing a large incense burner from hand to hand, determined not to be outdone by the acrobatics of the gnaoua. The Hamadsha of Essaouira make their way down the parade route while playing large guwwal drums.

It has been five or six years since I've been at this festival. One of the most visible changes I see is the ubiquitous presence of cell phones and selfie sticks, even among the musicians. Everyone is memorialising (and sharing) their experiences!

Christopher Witulski is an instructor of ethnomusicology at Bowling Green State 
University and the author of 
The Gnawa Lions: Authenticity and Opportunity in a 
Moroccan Ritual Music
, due out in October 2018 with Indiana University Press.
Photo and story credit Christopher Witulski
Christopher Witulski is an instructor of ethnomusicology at Bowling Green State University and the author of The Gnawa Lions: Authenticity and Opportunity in a Moroccan Ritual Music, due out in October 2018 with Indiana University Press.


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