Gnawi rhythm instrument: Hajhoj Santir or Gumberi

HajHoj is the arabic name for an African instrument that arrived in the north of the continent during the golden age of Morocco in the 15 century. Slavery was  common at that time and it was through music that slaves transported from sub saharan Africa retained a link to their own cultures and faiths. A mythology developed around the instrument that it was a metaphorical boat that could emancipate them from slavery and sail them away to the freedom.

Gnawi groups including Hajhoj players are a common sight in the Jemma al Fnaa square just a short walk from our Riads in Marrakech.

A  hollowed out tree stump can make a rustic Hajhoj but todays instrument is usually carefully crafted from the wood  of African trees like thuya, acacia, fig, eucaluptus or Cedar.  A piece of leather is stretched over the ‘jbah’ or body of the instrument (this could be cow hide, camel or goat) ,  then three strings (traditonaly dried goats Intestines) extend up and along the ‘mango’ or neck.

When played well the Hajhoj represents a complete rhythm section, as the ‘jbah’ is tapped like a drum, and the strings played like a bass guitar with thumb and index finger. Often a bell is added at the top of the neck.

The Hajhoj is also known as the ‘Santir’ (from the Berber language) or the ‘Gumberi’ a name originating from the days of slavery which is often preferred by musicians themselves. A smaller version of the instrument kown as an Awicha is ideal for beginners.

If you are considering a stay in Marrakech there is no  better place to experience the ancient cultures of the medina than in one of our Riad boutique hotels, we could even arrange a private gnawi music performance for you!