Healing Sounds of the Gnawas

The Gnawa are a black Muslim ethnic group which descended from slaves and African migrants who came to Morocco. The word Gnawa, or Gnaoua, also refers to the specific form and style of music that is played by this traditional and cultural group in Morroco. Now a significant part of the history and heritage of Morocco, the Gnawas are respected and admired for their moral beliefs and the hypnotic beats of their music.

There are many different views and ideas with regards to how the first Gnawas arrived in Morocco, but slavery is by far the most reasonable answer, as their music gives away their emotions and stories, and tells of their hardships and heart aches. It is believed that the Gnawa were brought to Morocco from East and West Africa, and although some of the ancient traditions of their forefathers are not practiced by the modern day Gnawas, their music and most rituals are still kept alive by the Gnawa of today.

Fascinatingly enough, the music that is played by the Gnawa musicians isn’t generally used for recreational purposes. Some songs, much as with the enslaved cotton field workers of the United States, are sung to forget about their suffering, as prayers and as motivation. But, the majority of the time, the music played by the talented Gnawas is sung and performed for medicinal purposes.

This cultural community is known in Morocco to be traditional healers in psychic disorders and injuries such as scorpion stings and spider bites. It is believed that the combination of music, color and aromas has healing powers. The Gnawa musicians use hand-clapping, cymbals (krakebs), sinter tunes and an ancient form of singing to produce their unique, trance-like melodies. Their songs and dances are said to evoke ancestral spirits that assist in the healing process. Many modern day musicians have been inspired by the dances and songs of the Gnawas; often being mixed with genres such as reggae, jazz, hip-hop and blues. Essaouria is home to many Gnawa festivals throughout the year, as well as the Moulay Brahim Sanctuary and Marrakesh. Visitors to these festivals will be able to experience the true emotion and magic that is evoked by the healing melodies.