Ancient Timeless Gnawa Music

Innov Gnawa imports Arab mysticism to the post-post-modern world.

Throughout the last decade, a market has grown for obscure “world music” collections, anthologies, and remasters, spawning indie labels with a niche in one part of the world or another. It’s not all traditional — much is electronic. As 21st Century progress plows over all the traditions of our ancestors, it also finds ground for ancient sound through the very economic system that decimates it, with contemporary musicians under the leadership of a learned master.

From the guembri three-string bass, Mâallem Hassan Ben Jaâfer led an eight hour ritual performance backed up with the Cajón percussion box and four male vocalists with castanets. Recorded June 2015, six tracks were edited and mastered for 12” vinyl, and digital download, by remix<—>culture. It is a kind of traditional Moroccan Gnawa folk music, rooted in the slave trade. Gnawa means “the black people.” It is very easy to forget the ritual performance was conducted in a modern Brooklyn loft.

Innov Gnawa’s self-titled debut is pure aesthetic relevance. You can’t argue with it, the sound is totally lacking ego because it honors heritage. The Gnawa influenced Sufi mysticism in the 16th and 17th centuries, and the sound was adopted into Muslim life with the social integration of slaves — a racially diverse labor class.

Arab and African traditional music (for me) connects straight to the core and ultimate purpose of musical performance. What we have here is an honest realization of that purpose, in the highest fidelity.

Sean Ongley

By Sean Ongley

Co-Founder of THRU Media. A background in non-profit, music, and radio preceded my ambitions here. Now, I aspire to produce new media and publish independent journalism at this site and beyond.

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