In the current issue of Songlines (March 2015, #106), we selected the essential list of ten Gnawa albums. You can read the full piece here, but here were my choices:
Souk System (Warner Jazz France, 2003)
Gnawa Diffusion offer an all-inclusive type of fusion. You can find a bit of everything – Gnawa, chaabi, reggae, ska, rock, and even a hint of country & western. These all help to conjure a unique universe of Moroccan souks tucked within a French suburb. Gnawa Diffusion brings the lilting sounds of Gnawa into the 21st century. Reviewed in #24.
Trance (Real World, 1993)
Hakmoun grew up in Marrakech and was schooled in the traditional sounds of Gnawa. He moved to the US in 1987 and began incorporating the various influences he picked up along the way into his music. Trance, recorded in just four days with his band Zahar, offers an exciting electrified brand of Gnawa that takes in driving electric guitars over the trance-inducing repetition of the gimbri.
Gnawa London (Waulk Records, 2013)
Maâlem (Gnawa master) Simo Lagnawi had already made his name in the UK as a collaborator in various musical projects including the Gnawa fusion band Electric Jalaba before releasing this, his solo debut, in 2013. Easing back from the electric fusion of his earlier work, it’s a subtler fusion featuring his arrangements of traditional tunes, and is very much in the spirit of an all-night lilawith lilting gimbri and clacking qaraqab. Reviewed in #94.
Aziz Sahmaoui & University of Gnawa
Mazal (World Village, 2014)
Originally a founding member of Orchestre National de Barbès, Aziz Sahmaoui first put together University of Gnawa, a mix of Moroccan and Senegalese musicians in 2011. For Mazal, their second album, Sahmaoui, kora player Cheikh Diallo, guitarist Hervé Samb, bassist Alioune Wade and percussionist Adhil Mirghani perform another excellent set of Gnawa fusion that throws Moroccanchaabi into the mix. A Top of the World review in #105.