Sunday, April 23, 2017

3 hours of Gnawa music from 1966

Those of you with a taste for field recordings may enjoy perusing the online collection of CREM (Centre de Recherche en Ethnomusicologie), housing the audio archives of the CNRS and the Musée de l’Homme. Much of this vast audio archive of commercial and unpublished recordings is available for online listening.

I'm currently enjoying a remarkable collection of recordings made by one Mohammed Aït Youssef in Marrakech in 1966, featuring over 3 hours of Gnawa music:

The online documentation does not indicate the name of the performer, but I believe it is the Gnawi Ahmed ben Lahcen.

He can be heard in some of Cafe Matich's YouTube uploads of recordings from Marrakech's Djemaa el Fna plaza:

It is certainly the same Gnawi that is heard in Gerard Kremer's recordings for Arion (released 1975):

Some of the recordings in the CNRS collection appear to have been made in the Djemaa el Fna plaza. Others, perhaps not - it's difficult to say. At any rate, it's a great collection of recordings - a lot of Ouled Bambara and Negsha songs, some with clapping, some with qarqaba, a few tracks of drumming and qarqaba-ing. (Almost no mluk trance songs, though.) There are also a few tracks of odds and ends. 08-03 features the bells of Djemaa el Fna water sellers. 07-01 is a drum and qarqaba song featuring the ismkhan (also known as âbid chleuh - Berber-speaking Gnawa who have a repertoire completely separate from that of the more well-known Arabophone Gnawa), and 07-02 is entitled "Solo de flûte Gnawa". The latter track sounds to me like an instance of the Soussi Berber style of âwad flute. Perhaps it's a Gnawi musician who doubles on flute - I've never heard of a discrete Gnawi flute tradition or repertoire, but the world is full of musical surprises, so perhaps I'm wrong!

I couldn't find any information about the researcher Mohamed Ait Youssef, what sort of research he was doing, or how his recordings ended up in the CNRS archive. The archive contains other recordings of his dating from1965 and 1968. These recordings, also from Marrakech, feature several different genres (as well as a few more Gnawa tracks). Whatever his story may have been, it's wonderful that he left us such extensive recordings, and that CNRS has shared them online.

CNRS Collection: Maroc, Marrakech; Musique de confrérie. Enregistrements sonores inédits réalisés par Mohammed Aït Youssef au Maroc (Marrakech), en 1966: