Gnawa music originates from the Gnawa ethnic group, who were brought to Morocco from sub-Saharan Africa beginning around the 11th century.This music is well-preserved heritage combines ritual poetry with traditional music and dancing.

During the last few decades, Gnawa music has been modernizing and thus become more profane. However, there are still many privately organized lilas that conserve the music’s sacred, spiritual status.

Within the framework of the Gnaoua World Music Festival of Essaouira (“Gnaoua and Musics of the World”), the Gnawa play in a profane context with slight religious or therapeutic dimensions. Instead, in this musical expression of their cultural art, they share stages with other musicians from around the world. As a result, Gnawa music has taken a new direction by fusing its core spiritual music with genres like jazz, blues, reggae, and hip-hop. For four days every June, the festival welcomes musicians that come to participate, exchange and mix their own music with Gnawa music, creating one of the largest public festivals in Morocco. Since its debut in 1998, the free concerts have drawn an audience that has grown from 20,000 to over 200,000 in 2006, including 10,000 visitors from around the world.

Past participants have included Randy Weston, Adam Rudolph, The Wailers, Pharoah Sanders, Keziah Jones, Byron Wallen, Omar Sosa, Doudou N’Diaye Rose, and the Italian trumpet player Paolo Fresu

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