Curated by Alaa Zouiten
The GNAOUA FESTIVAL BERLIN celebrates the legendary trance-like music of the Gnaoua, the descendants of West Africans who were abducted from the region around the present-day states of Mauritania, Senegal, Niger and Mali from the 11th century onwards and enslaved in the Maghreb. In the North African diaspora, they used various sacred musics of West Africa as a resistance practice and creolized them with Sufi traditions and musical styles of the Arabs, Jews and Amazighs.
With their rhythmic music, they not only renewed the sound of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, but also exerted great influence on the international development of jazz:
Starting in the 1960s, renowned U.S. jazz musicians such as Randy Weston, Archie Shepp and Joe Zawinul became interested in the trance music of the Gnaouas and performed together with great Mâalems (Gnaoua masters) - and rock stars such as Jimi Hendrix, Led Zepplin and Carlos Santana also drew inspiration from Gnaoua music.
Every year, 450,000 visitors from all over the world flock to the Gnaoua and World Music Festival in Essaouira, Morocco. International stars of jazz such as Pat Metheney, Dave Holland or Marcus Miller and greats of world music such as Oumou Sangaré, Ali Farka Touré, Youssou N'dour also make an annual pilgrimage to the northwest of the continent to perform together with the Gnaouas.
Historical background
The West Africans who were deported to the Maghreb fused and syncretized their musical styles, languages and religions with various cultures of North Africa. They also introduced instruments that still characterize the sound of the gnaoua today: e.g. the guembri, a bass lute with three strings covered with goatskin, with which the mâalem (gnaoua master) intones his chants, or the metal qraqebs, predecessors of the flamenco castanets, which produce the polyrhythmic groove of the gnaoua. In the diaspora, the gnaouas combined the pentatonic melodies, call-and-response chants, and complex rhythms of West Africa with the local musical traditions of the Arabs, Jews, and Amazighs. Although the Gnaouas were ostracized as a subculture in the Maghreb and therefore remained on the fringes of society for a long time, their influence on the music of North Africa is immense: for example, the 1970s cult bands Nass el Ghiwane and Jil Jilala (the "Rolling Stones of Morocco"), who combined Gnaoua with other popular styles and socially critical lyrics, are still almost mythically revered throughout the Maghreb today. 
Gnaoua, Trance & Therapy
In addition to the music, the therapeutic background of the Gnaoua culture is also fascinating: since time immemorial, the Gnaouas have used the hypnotic effect of their music for healing ceremonies reminiscent of the Haitian Vodoun, the Brazilian Candomblé or the Cuban Lucumi, which are also of West African origin. Lilas, nocturnal rituals that often do not end until dawn, are held for afflictions of all kinds. Different spirit forces (mlouks) are awakened with music and dance. The goal is to put the "patient" in a trance so that he can connect with the healing spirit beings.