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Gnaoua Festival: Morocco's musical melting pot

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Gnaoua Festival: Morocco's musical melting pot

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The Gnaoua Music Festival in Morocco brings together singers and musicians from a myriad of different backgrounds and styles.

German/Nigerian Nneka, for example, writes songs which express her political opinions but says she doesn’t want to be pigeonholed.

“When I am talking about social issues that happen within Nigeria, because I was born and raised in Nigeria but I am basically just being me, trying to find myself within the music, within the world in general, not necessarily in Nigeria alone or in Germany, I think I am a free spirit, picking from every culture.

“If everything was nice and ‘tranquille’, you know – if there was no pain I don’t think there would be music,” she added.

Her band has taken off over the past decade, she has garnered critical acclaim and is a regular at international music festivals around the world.

Her special guest was Mehdi Nassouli, one of Morocco’s most promising young musicians.

Over the past few decades, Gnaoua music’s rich repertoire of ancient African Islamic spiritual religious songs and rhythms has moved in a new direction.

The core spiritual music has fused with similar genres like jazz, blues, reggae, and hip-hop.

Gnaoua Maalems – the master players of Gnaoua music – are highly respected in Morocco and elsewhere – even seen as stars – but it was not always the case.

Festival director Neïla Tazi Abdi explained: “In fact before the festival, the Gnaoua musicians were extremely marginalised. They were a minority who were not recognised as musicians – they sung, danced in the road and people gave them coins – they were a bit like beggars.”

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