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Five musicians wearing tunics and pants in various colors. Four men stand and gather next to each other. One crouches in front of the group of four with an instrument

Innov Gnawa

Innov Gnawa is a New York City-based, Grammy-nominated music ensemble led by Maalem Hassan Benjaafar. The word maalem, meaning master, denotes BenJaafar’s Gnawa heritage and musical tradition, passed down generationally within his family in Morocco. As spiritual elder, Maalem senses the energy of the audience, chooses appropriate repertoire for healing and directs the group by playing the three-stringed African bass, or guembri, and the resounding tbul drum, traditionally used in Morocco to summon people to a healing ceremony, or lila.

BenJaafar is accompanied by Amino Belyamani, Naoufal Atiq and a brotherhood of Gnawa musicians, singing call and response and playing qraqeb, metal castanets whose staccato sound is said to represent the shackles and chains of slaves. Often referred to as “Sufi Blues,” Gnawa is ritual trance music invoking saints and spirits for healing and liberation. Like blues music from the American South, Gnawa is treasured throughout Morocco for its soulfulness.

Photo by Sachyn Mital.