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Moktar Gania & Gnawa Soul - Rabi Laafou (Live)

Gnawa culture revisited in Gnawa Soul

Maâlem Moktar Gania, brother of the late Mahmoud, unveils his first album Gnawa Soul via Universal Mena, recorded in the Moroccan port city of Essaouira.

Registered as part of the intangible heritage of humanity in 2019, Gnawa (also written Gnaoua, Ghanawa, Ghanawi, Gnawi) culture shines. Descendants of slaves brought to Maghreb during the Arab trade in sub-Saharan Africa between the 8th and 19th centuries, the Gnawa community has developped a specific culture whose cults are linked to the Sahelian animist rituals.

Moktar Gania, heir to a long line of musicians, has established himself as a major actor of the Gnawa scene. As an accomplished guembri player (traditional Gnawa guitar which guides the adept’s transe), he earned the title of maâlem (master). His talent is recognised beyond the Gnawas’ reduced circle. He has performed all over the world with other musicians such as jazz pianist Randy Weston and guitar player Carlos Santana.

Gnawa Soul is incidentally born from his meeting with composer and guitarist Anoir Ben Brahim and percussionist and arranger Yacine Ben Ali. The album is the result of an amalgamation of Gnawa groove with the oriental melodies of the Maghreb and World Music. Also featured are saxophonist Géraldine Laurent, guitarist Jean-Marie Ecay, and Israeli singer of Moroccan origin Neta El Kayam.

The album was announced at the same time as the release of the EP, Alla al Soudane, in November 2020. It was recorded in the Moroccan port city of Essaouira which has an important role in the dissemination of Gnawa culture. It is in Essaouira that the Gnaoua Festival (an alternate spelling Gnawa), created in 1997, takes place at the beginning of each summer. It has enabled Gnawa music, which was once marginalised, to become known beyond Morocco’s border. It is therefore no coincidence that the maâlem chose this city, where he lives an where the Planet Essaouira studio is located, to record his album. Gnawa Soul was then mixed in the United States by four-time Grammy-winning producer Chris Shaw and mastered at Metropolis Studio in London by Tony Cousins.

Gnawa Soul out on May 12th via Universal MENA.