Fulbright Jam at Café Detroit & The Search for Abdellah

9/20/2009 – The following morning (still Ramadan on account of a shy moon), the Fulbright crew put on a live concert for a thrilled audience of exactly 2 Spanish tourists. The venue? Café Detroit in the Kasbah. How it happened? I’m not sure, but like all great adventures it started by stopping to ask a man wearing a Fez for directions. We were looking for a Gnawa Master known as Abdellah El-Gourd, also known as Abdellah “the bearded one” by the locals. (You’ll never believe how we found him in the end). Anyhow, we were invited in, and after a quick demo in 6/4 time, Kendra Salois and Catherine “Second Wind” Skroch (both newly inducted members of Moroccappela) took us on a mint-tea induced musical journey.

PS – Before our quest for Abdellah El Gourd continues in future posts, I thought this might be an appropriate time for a quick primer on the Gnawa. Hence…


Below is an excerpt from the writings of Rashidah E. McNeill, a colleague of jazz pianist Randy Weston and a fellow traveler on many of his musical sojourns throughout Africa.

These Black healer musicians of Morocco called Gnawa (G’na’ua) were brought there hundreds of years ago from Sub-Saharan Africa (Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Senegal, Niger) and Western Sudan as slaves, and were also used as soldiers in 1591, at the time of the conquest of Mali, by the sultan of Marrakech, Ahmed El Mansur. They were all converted to Islam and formed a brotherhood. They unite under the protection of the holy marabout, Sidi Bilal, a Black slave freed by the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). Sidi Bilal became the first muezzin (caller to prayer) of Islam…
…The Gnawa are master musicians who believe that everyone has a color and a note to which he or she vibrates. Each individual responds to his or her chosen color and note as the healer musicians play the hag’houge, in particular. The karkaba’s, which resemble castanets, are used to heighten the effect of the hag’houge, although the latter instrument is often used alone, if necessary. In public, the drum, called the T’bel, is added for effect. The ultimate goal of a Gnawa Master is perfection in playing, lest a wrong note spoil the spiritual power of the song…their music is also used to extol God and the spirits of the saints.

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