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Gnawa and Blues: A Shared Musical Heritage

gnawa music
Maalem Guinia

Gnawa music is a rich and vibrant tradition that has its roots in the African diaspora. The Gnawa people, who were brought to Morocco as slaves from sub-Saharan Africa, are believed to have originated from Mali, Senegal, Chad, and Nigeria. The name "Gnawa" is thought to be derived from the Arabic word for "black" or "dark."

Gnawa music is a fusion of African and Islamic influences. The music is characterized by its use of traditional African instruments, such as the guembri (three-stringed lute) and the tbol (bass drum), as well as its strong rhythms and hypnotic melodies. Gnawa music is often used in spiritual ceremonies, known as lila, which are designed to help people connect with their ancestors and seek spiritual healing.

The impact

Gnawa music has had a significant impact on Moroccan culture. The music is now enjoyed by people of all backgrounds, and it is often played at festivals and celebrations. Gnawa music has also gained international recognition, and there are now Gnawa musicians performing all over the world. Impact on Public:

Gnawa music has had a profound impact on the Moroccan public. The music is seen as a form of cultural expression and identity, and it is used to celebrate important occasions, such as weddings and religious holidays. Gnawa music is also seen as a way to connect with the past and to honor the Gnawa people's ancestors.


There are many Gnawa music festivals held throughout Morocco each year. These festivals are a great way to experience Gnawa music in its traditional setting. Some of the most popular Gnawa music festivals include:

Famous Musicians:

There are many famous Gnawa musicians, both past and present. Some of the most well-known Gnawa musicians include:

Mahmoud Guinea

Majid Bekkas

Hamid Kasri

Hassan Hakmoun

Noujoum Belghazi

Gnawa music is a unique and beautiful tradition that is sure to continue to inspire and entertain people for generations to come. 

Gnawa and blues:

Gnawa music and blues are both deeply rooted in African traditions and have a rich history of cultural exchange. While they may seem like two distinct genres, they share many similarities in terms of their musical structure, themes, and social impact.

Musical Structure:

Gnawa music is characterized by its use of traditional African instruments, such as the guembri (three-stringed lute), the tbol (bass drum), and the karkab (metal castanets). The music is often call-and-response based, with the guembri player leading the melody and the other musicians providing accompaniment. Blues music, on the other hand, typically features a guitar, harmonica, or vocals as the lead instrument, accompanied by a rhythm section of drums, bass, and sometimes piano.


Both gnawa music and blues explore themes of hardship, resilience, and spirituality. Gnawa music often tells stories of the Gnawa people's journey from Africa to Morocco, their experiences as slaves, and their struggles for freedom. Blues music, similarly, reflects the experiences of African Americans in the American South, dealing with themes of racism, poverty, and loss.

Social Impact

Gnawa music has played a significant role in Moroccan culture, serving as a means of cultural expression, identity, and celebration. It has also been used as a tool for social commentary and protest, addressing issues of slavery, discrimination, and social injustice. Blues music, too, has had a profound impact on American culture, influencing genres such as jazz, rock and roll, and hip hop. It has also been a powerful force for social change, giving voice to the experiences of marginalized communities.

Cultural Exchange

Gnawa music and blues have a long history of cultural exchange. In the early 20th century, many African American blues musicians traveled to Morocco, where they were influenced by Gnawa music. This exchange led to the development of new musical forms, such as "Gnawa blues" and "blues guembri." 

Today, gnawa music and blues continue to inspire and influence each other. There are many musicians who are exploring the connections between these two genres, creating new and innovative sounds that reflect their shared roots and traditions.