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Maâlem Moktar Gania & Gnawa Soul
As a worthy heir to the great Gania dynasty, which has been so influential in Moroccan culture, Maâlem (the title of Master Musician) Moktar Gania from Essaouira (western Morocco) has established himself as an essential artist in today’s Gnawa music scene. Moktar plays the Gnawa bass lute (known as the guembri and sintir), generating trance-like grooves. Nurtured by the two pillars of Gnawa tradition; namely, his late father Maâlem Boubker and late older brother Maalem Mahmoud Gania, Moktar has performed all over the world; not only with his Gania family, but also with celebrated musical figures like Randy Weston and Carlos Santana.
While UNESCO recognizes Gnawa art as part of its intangible heritage of humanity, Moktar’s latest album, Gnawa Soul, glorifies this spellbinding music, connecting Maghreb, Morocco to West Africa and offering a unique new fusion of the spiritual and the temporal.
The album was conceived following Moktar’s decisive meeting with musicians Anoir El Khabouche and Yacine Ben Ali. The recording process in Essaouira lasted nearly two years as Artistic Director Jacques Sanjuan patiently guided the sessions, shaping the album’s sound (in which vocals and the trance-inducing rhythms of the guembri were elegantly intertwined with electric guitars and other instruments). “The idea was to start from 15-minute pieces and make songs out of them; it was a real challenge,” Sanjuan said. Gnawa Soul was later mixed in the United States and mastered in London, UK.