Gnawa music in the heart of the Medina

From the red city of Marrakech to the sleepy oasis of Essaouira, one thing you will not miss on your visit to Morocco is the intense presence of ‘Gnawa’ music. From single musicians to  whole troops practice this art form and you will instantly be able to recognise Gnawa in the streets by the distinctive beat of iron rattles or ‘karkabas’.

There is in fact a world of mystery encompassing the exact origin of this revered and celebrated art form. Moroccans agree that it originally crept into the country from the southern reaches of the Sahara deserts however there is much dispute as to how and who originally brought this unique style of music into Morocco.

This Gnawa musicias name is Omar and ever day as I walk from the Riad Dar Habiba down Rue Riad Zitoun el Kdim he is sat just outside the central square of Jemaa al-Fnaa, filling in the air with the steady cadence of Gnawa music through his 3 stringed bass plucked lute, called a ‘hajhuj’.

Although it’s uncertain as to how Gnawa came to arrive in Morocco, what’s important is that it did and that it spread to the four corners of the country like wildfire. Gnawa is so embedded in Morocco that some with a keen ear for this art form can tell the origin of a musician by the slight variations in style and performance in the same was a varying Darija Arabic accent.

Gnawa music is perhaps one of the most remarkable and fascinating arts that I have come into contact with here in Morocco. When you discover Marrakech for yourself you will see how perfectly synchronised this unique sound is with the beat of the red city.

Marrakech Jemaa al Fnaa Map

» Explore the Jemaa el Fnaa Map

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