Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mahmoud Guinia with Insane Drum Kit (a.k.a. Mahmoud Guinia and Warren Beatty)

M'allem Mahmoud Guinia of Essaouira was for years the most well-known Gnawa musician inside and outside of Morocco. (In recent years, Hamid el-Kasri of Rabat has become the Gnawa musician most often seen on national TV broadcasts in Morocco). He has released scores of cassettes and CDs in Morocco, some featuring the traditional ensemble of guinbri and qraqeb, some incorporating additional instruments and textures into the mix.

For this session, M'allem Mahmoud brings a full Gnawa ensemble with guinbri, qraqeb and spirited choral responses, and adds a funky trap drummer who never, ever stops. Ever. Don't look for subtlety here. This tape hits the ground running and maintains a sprint from start to finish.

Also, don't look here for tunefulness. Other than at the end of track 3 (for the imported Aissawi version of "Lagnawi Baba Mimoun"), the vocals are never in tune with the guinbri. Between this and the in-your-face hi-hat and drum rolls from the anonymous trap drummer, this tape might be a rough ride for some listeners. But Mahmoud's singing (despite the tuning issues) is high-spirited and energetic, as is that of the choral responders. And the drum kit, while punctuating incessantly, is always right in the pocket. It's a blast!

The songs on this tape are drawn mainly from a repertoire the Gnawa call "Soussiya". Soussi is a Moroccan rhythm characterized by alternating duple and triple subdivisions of a 6/8 measure. It's the most popular and ubiquitous rhythm across Morocco. At the end of Gnawa derdeba ceremonies, musicians segue from the trance repertoire to "popular" (i.e., not part of the ritual repertoire) songs in this rhythm, and anybody that is still present and awake (since this usually occurs long after dawn) is welcome to get up and dance. The first couple songs of track 1 belong to the Yellow trance repertoire, and the rest of it is an incessant Soussi jam. Tracks 2 and 4 are also Soussi songs, while track 3 includes trancing songs.

I heard this tape originally in '92. (I believe my traveling companion JH bought it and later gifted it to me.) The j-card reads only "The Gnawi Mahmoud Guinia". The smiling, bespectacled tambourine man, whom we assumed was the drummer on the session, is not identified. JH dubbed him Warren Beatty, and for us this became the Mahmoud Guinia and Warren Beatty album.

Tracks (titles from my transcription, not from j-card):
  1. Lalla Mira - Moulati Fatma - Soussi - Malika - Moulay Abdellah Cherif - Bouya Ribu - Lemwima Hada Mektab - Llahi blik ma blani - Selliw 'ala Nnbi - Llah Llah Nabina
  2. Tijaniya
  3. Jilali Dawi Hali - Lagnawi Baba Mimoun
  4. Salbani 'Awju Koman 'Aliya - Lalla L'arosa - Mulay Abdellah Cherif - Lalla Fatima Zohra - Lahbib Sidi Rasul Allah - Sla u Salam 'alik a ya Taha
Get it here.


  1. Got about 6 hours until I can get home and download this one. I can't wait, it's like an early birthday present!

  2. Just beautiful insanity!
    The drum kit works really well on these pieces - not at all like much of the gnawa/jazz fusion.
    Thanks as always.

  3. any chance of fixing the link? looks great

  4. Hmm, the file disappeared somehow. Mysterious. I re-upped it, and fixed the link, so should be OK now. Hope you dig it!

  5. @Mr. Tear - yeah, I prefer this to a lot of the Gnawa/jazz fusion stuff. The Gnawa 6/8 rhythm is part of the same rhythmic universe as much Moroccan music. So if you get a Moroccan trap drummer playing with Gnawa musicians, the combination can be pretty natural.

  6. Whatever happend to good ol' JH, anyways. Last I heard he was camped out in a semi-permanent semi-enforced-silence cell. Wonder if you, or anyone, is still in touch with him?

    1. I remember him coming home telling me all about Mahmoud Guinia & the other Marrakesh gnawas. Also remember hearing about you over there, as "the connection"... I went to stay in Essaouira in '96 for a few weeks, but didn't make any connections w/ musicians; missed a festival by a couple weeks at which Guinia was playing — with Hamid & Brötzmann??!? maybe I've garnished my fantasy over the missing years in between then & now.

  7. hearing this for first time there's a logic to it that connects with you right away and no matter how close to real this gets, the voodoo vibe just holds you there...this goes from dark slave sing songs to gospel's wild abandon...its odd that the vocalists shout in an expressionless if not showbiz tone, because it sounds like they mean what they're shouting about..

  8. oh wow this is great. Been spending the last year on Snap Crackle Pop and on Awesome Tapes From Africa. Wasn't sure what was going to happen next and now I find this this tape. Makes me want to use curse words in a good way.