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Moktar Gania And Gnawa Soul

MusjoMusic/Nuits d'Afrique
Review by Lisa Sahulka

Gnawa is an ancient music from Moroccan and West African which are near bordering areas. These sounds are familiar to us as they influence jazz, blues and many genres of modern music. Masterisé presents Islamic and religious songs with rhythms that will sound surprisingly familiar, along with ritual poetry, an inspiration to dance and think.

"Koyou Koyou" begins with a traditional gnawa sound and then suddenly shifts to the saxophone Géraldine Laurent, which fits perfectly into the tune and brings a modern jazz sound lifting the idea higher rather than stopping it in its tracks. The group includes the master of the guembri and singer Moktar Gania, who comes from generations of musicians and composer and guitarist Anoir Ben Brahim and percussionist/arranger Yacine Ben Ali. The music sounds new rather than ancient and the build up in Koyou Koyou evokes the best version of orchestration that builds to drama.

Artistic director Jacques Sanjuan has transformed this music into a gorgeous 21st Century ride. The album has 150 years of Moroccan tradition informing it, yet it would sound innovative in any of the Brooklyn clubs. You will hear guitarist Jean-Marie Ecay, a French Basque guitarist, and Israeli singer of Moroccan origin Neta El Kayam in the groove as well. (Aside: there is a remarkable number of great jazz musicians coming out of Israel these days, such as Anat Cohen and her brother Avishai, along with Oded Tzur and Shai Maestro.)

Gnawa has understandably been included in UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Gnawa culture is a centuries-old Moroccan practice rooted in African rituals, Sufi traditions. Masterisé is cast in a mix of modern sounds, mysticism and incantations. You don’t so much listen to this music as let it take you.

Read more in about the music at UNESCO.

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