Hassan Hakmoun Moroccan Gnawa New York, New York Hassan Hakmoun first appeared on our shores a little over 20 years ago, singing and playing the mystical and intoxicatingly danceable music of the Gnawa people. A mesmerizing blend of Islamic mysticism and hypnotic African rhythms, it combines the sinuous solo vocals of Arab devotional chanting with […]
- Moroccan Gnawa
- New York, New York
Hassan Hakmoun first appeared on our shores a little over 20 years ago, singing and playing the mystical and intoxicatingly danceable music of the Gnawa people. A mesmerizing blend of Islamic mysticism and hypnotic African rhythms, it combines the sinuous solo vocals of Arab devotional chanting with the rhythmic call-and-response of sub-Saharan Africa. In both performances of traditional devotional trance music and his collaborations with artists like the late jazz great Don Cherry and pop star Peter Gabriel, Hakmoun’s masterful playing of the sintir, arresting singing and electrifying performance style have continued to amaze listeners with the incomparable sounds of Gnawa.
The word Gnawa signifies not only a style of music, but also a Sufi Islamic religious order and the Moroccan ethnic group from which it arises, the descendants of sub-Saharan Africans originally brought to Morocco as captives and slaves in the 16th century. Troupes of Gnawa musicians perform all-night trance rituals (derdeba) for healing and purification of both individuals and community. Hassan Hakmoun’s mother was a noted Gnawa healer in his native Marrakech, and he studied both at her side and, beginning at age seven, in formal school training in the tagnawit, the arts and lore of the Gnawa. At 14 he left school for informal study with m’allem (master musicians) throughout Morocco and France. On his return, Hakmoun not only worked as a m’allem, but also performed in the Djema El Fna, the main square of Marrakech. That experience at the cultural crossroads of Morocco fueled his interest in bringing the traditional devotional Gnawa music to the world stage.
As m’allem, Hakmoun sings and plays the central Gnawan instrument, the sintir, which he has called “the grandfather of all basses.” In addition to plucking out hypnotizing melodies on this three-stringed, long-necked lute, he amplifies the rhythm by using the face of the sintir like a drum. Other members of the troupe fill out the sound with percussion—including the distinctive, oversize Gnawan castanets, the qarkabeb—and contribute their voices to the music’s aural layering. Gnawa combines the sinuous solo vocals of Arab devotional chanting with the rhythmic call-and-response more typical of sub-Saharan African music. Propelled by these glorious sounds, Hassan Hakmoun takes literal as well as lyrical leaps, responding with astounding acrobatic dancing to the soaring trance music that is Gnawa.
Bio provided by the Richmond Folk Festival
Photo by: Chikako Iwahori
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