The Master Gnawa
Ali El Mansoum percussion, vocal
Molay Abdelaziz percussion, vocal
Mohamed Zourhba percussion, vocal
Boubker Gania percussion, vocal
Mohamed El Ghorfi percussion, vocal
Ahmed Boussou percussion, vocal
Abdelouaid Berrady percussion, vocal
Mahmoud Gania percussion, vocal
M’Barek Ben Outman percussion, vocal
Abdenebi Oubella percussion,
Abdellah El Gourd percussion, vocal
Randy Weston piano
Elaine McNeill liner notes
1 - La Voix
2 - Sound Playing:
5 Ya La
Kanerjak Ya Rebi
3 - Chalabati
THE SPLENDID MASTER
GNAWA MUSICIANS OF MOROCCO
The spiritual energy
and sheer force and power of African traditional music has been mostly
forgotten, lost to dreams of long ago or simply ignored. Randy Weston,
pianist/composer and cultural ambassador decided to explore this most
powerful layer of African culture many years ago. He decided to recapture
this spiritual energy and force on this recording, "The Splendid Gnawa
Masters". He has spent nearly four decades on this exploration and
rediscovery of the journey of the spirits of our ancestors. You will
rediscover, as I did, as Randy did, the divine elements missing from much
of modern day music, as well as a rediscovery of our true connection with
God, because in its true form, untainted, what is music but the voice of
God? What are musicians but God's instruments? Perhaps this recording will
remind us all that we have to get back to listening to the voice of God,
that we may quiet the noise of man.
by Randy Weston
This recording took place on September 17, 1992 in Marrakech, Morocco, It
was kind of a dream of Abdellah El Gourd and myself of getting the masters
(M'Alems) together to record, because a lot of the elders were dying. A
long time ago we had talked about that and we finally had the possibility
to do it.
So what happened was I spoke to Jean Philippe Allard of Polygram Jazz
France the producer. The whole idea, though, came from Abdellah of
Tangier. He was the first Gnawi that I met to put together the great
masters of the hejhuj (hag'houge), also called a Guembri, a three-stringed
lute made of goat gut, to put together a recording. And we talked to Jean
Philippe about the idea because we had a successful tour with the Gnaws in
Europe. We also agreed that I would do a piano solo date, in addition. ("Marrakech
in the Cool of the Evening"
CD released February,
I spoke to Mr. Akoun of the Grand Atlas of Marrakech, Morocco, to see if
we could get permission for use of the
La Mamounia Hotel. La Mamounia is still one of the top hotels in the
world and I knew that it had several fantastic grand pianos. So, I went to
see Mr Hammoudi to ask him whether or not we could do the recording at the
hotel. He took me around and showed me a big space under the ground which
was almost soundproof with no noise. Nothing! Silence! He said to me,
'Listen . you can have the whole place for 4 days free. I won't charge you
anything.' So, I said, 'That's beautiful'.
I told Jean Philippe and he was happy and I introduced him to a man named
Vincent Blanchard. I had discovered him through Jean Jacques Beryl, the
filmmaker. He recommended Vincent. He said that Vincent was an inventor
and that he had invented a new microphone, which was constructed just like
a face but cone shaped. Vincent and Jean Philippe got in touch and they
both agreed and everybody came to Marrakech.
We were at
La Mamounia for 4 days. We were in Marrakech for about a week. We
recorded on September 17, 1992. Anyway, getting back to the Gnaws, we
contacted through Abdellah, he was the key, the master players (M'Alems)
from Sale, Rabat, Casablanca, from Marrakech, from Tangier, from Essouira,
all from various cities in Morocco. We got together 9 masters and it was
really wonderful because they spent 3 full days together. Some of them
hadn't seen each other in 40 years! We had them in a wonderful hotel, a
simple hotel but very nice with good food and it was really fantastic.
Of course, to get the sound right it took a lot of work because Vincent
had his new equipment and had to get the sound of 9 different hag'houges (guinbres)
and also to add the piano to the piece called, "Chalabati." So,
most of the time was spent getting the proper sound.
We lined the 9 masters according to age. We had the elders and it was a
magic evening because, to their knowledge, never in the history of their
culture have there ever been 9 hag'houges (guinbres) together with 2
percussionists. And each master sang his own song; after each one finished
another continued. That's how you will hear it on the recording. For all
of us, it was an historic moment. This never happened before.
One month later, the eldest master, he died, and 4 months later, the
second eldest died. So, we were blessed to have them on this recording
before they left us. We had cut out all the lights. We only had candles.
It was a very spiritually and historically powerful moment for all of us.
Some of the songs are about certain saints, some (Sound Playing) are about
the Bambara, the ancient civilization that the Gnawa have lost memory of
but they continue to sing the history of Bambara.
'Chalabati', is a song of their slavery and in the song they sing for God
to help them, to help free them and at the same time they're asking for
the spirits of the ancestors, the musicians who lived before them. It's a
very deep, a very moving piece."
M'Alem Ahmed Boussou drew an even clearer picture when he described
Randy's connection to the Gnawa music during an interview which was held
in 1987 during a week long Gnawa Festival in Casablanca. He said during
the interview: 'Randy Weston's music is related to Gnaws music, by virtue
of its African roots; the exodus of Black people during the age of slavery
transported Gnawa ritual both to America and to the North African Maghreb.
Such ritual, after its development in America, was lost in concentration
on sheer rhythm. while the influence of the Church gave rise to the 'Negro
The Gnawa is an honorable calling. I trust and hope that Gnaouism will
continue to flourish and gain respect of the public, which is often
uninformed about it. Then, there is the guenbri we must get to know.
Meeting Randy Weston has done much to promote the instrument and its
music, in general," the great master ended.
Mildred Pitts Walters, a renowned African-American author, observed and
experienced the connection when she attended a Leila, a Gnawa healing
ceremony, in Tangier, recently. She and her daughter-in-law, Johari, and
friends, Estella and Louise had been invited to attend by Randy Weston. At
this time, she had met
Abdellah and participated in the ceremony. Later, she wrote. "When we
said goodbye to Abdellah, his family and friends, the sun was shining on
the blue Mediterranean Sea. Abdellah's family lives in Old Tangier,
walking distance from the Hotel Rif, not too far from the sea. We walked
back to the hotel through the streets noisy with merchants opening their
shops and people beginning their day. We were silent, savoring the long
night. I recalled the ring games, and circle dances of my childhood; the
music and dance in the Pentecostal Church; the dancing to drum beats in
Haiti, in Nigeria, in the Gambia and Senegal, and I knew that the
mysteries of that music were connected to what I had just heard and seen
there, in Morocco."
Copyright © 1994 -
Rhashidah E. McNeill