Playlist #10: Gnawa

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Gnawa music, as it is known in Morocco, Diwan in Algeria and Stambeli in Tunisia is a deeply spiritual music played throughout North Africa. Two main instruments associated with this genre are the gembri (a stringed instrument) and the qraqab (castanets). 

As the music of smaller groups, the struggle of Gnawa and its relationship with the ruling institutions had a profound influence on the religion, rituals and music of the greater dominant Arabo-Berber culture.

While the roots of Gnawa are not spoken about enough, the emergence of Gnawa in North Africa can be linked to the trade of West African slaves who were brought to the new countries forcefully. The loud clacking of the qraqab is said to resemble the sounds of chains that the African slaves were brought in. 

This playlist presents some of the most prominent maalem (master) and maalema (female master), from Algerian Hasna El Bacharia to Maroccan Mehdi Nassouli to Tunisian Dendri Stambeli movement, you’ll also find modern takes on the genre. 

Spotify Playlist

What are MARSM Playlists?

Marsm’s weekly playlists take on the musical history, trends and upcoming productions from the Middle East and North African music scene. Each week focuses on a new theme, showcasing both underground and established artists – from the more dance-able to the most experimental – and everything in between.