Mallem Abdenbi El Gadari,
Gnawa Bambara
(Felmay, 2007)

This CD is going to take westerners into the realms of ethnomusicology and cultural anthropology. The Gnawa from Morocco are the descendants of slaves, who came to Morocco from Ghana. Today they occupy Essaouira, Fex, Martrakesh and Casablanca and have become part of the Sufi order, the mystical branch of Islam.

The music on this album is not pop stuff; you won't hear it on a Middle Eastern jukebox or radio. Instead, it is a part of a religious service. It's stated goal is to reconcile the listeners with the possessor spirits of the Sufi practices. Think of it as trance music that accompanies ceremonial dances.

As such it consists primarily of percussion instruments: the t'bel, a double-skinned drum, and metal castanets called garaqeb. The guinbri, a three-stringed long-necked lute-like instrument that sounds remarkably like a bass guitar, plays lead lines.

These instruments accompany vocal chants. Gnawa is trance music and is used like Gamelan music to produce a deep relaxation and to alter consciousness.

Would you listen to it for pleasure? Absolutely. The percussion is first rate and the music has a hypnotic quality to it. Even better, though, is to use it to accompany meditation. I would not, however, pop it into the car stereo while driving.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

27 October 2007

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