With the beats of the karakeb (large metal castanets) and the clap of their hands, Moroccan artists Mahdi Nassouli and Hicham Bajjou introduced audiences at the Cairo Opera House on Wednesday night to Gnawa, a hybrid African-Sufi music. The musicians, whose songs are inspired by traditional music genres like Gnawa, Malhun and Andalusian, are performing this weekend with the Egyptian Eftekasat Band as part of the fifth Sufi Jazz Festival.
An ethnic group from North and Western Africa, the Gnawa settled in Morocco in the 15th century, and their musical heritage gradually developed and blended with Sufi music in the country. Gnawa mixed classical pre-Islamic African music and traditions, whether local or sub-Saharan, with strains of traditional Sufi music, generating one of the most outstanding music genres on the Moroccan coast.
Malhun music, which Bajjou and Nassouli also performed on Wednesday, is another music genre that emerged on the same coast in the 10th century. It is based on Moroccan colloquial poems mixed with Andalusian music.
Instead of focusing on more popular approaches to jazz fusion, which blend jazz with other musical genres, Eftekasat Band is trying to reconnect with African music, exploring similarities between them and their own style of Sufi jazz.
Mahdi and Bajjou did not only play traditional music in their concert. They mixed it with rock, resulting in rich, smooth beats that varied depending on the instruments from the karakeb, gambri (a three-stringed skin covered bass plucked lute), oriental table and the tambour to the violin, bass and electric guitars. The tunes of the three-stringed gambri captured the audience’s interest more than the violin and guitars, and had them swaying around the stage.
Mahdi Nassouli and Hicham Bajjou will perform along with Eftekasat again tonight at the Sufi Bookstore, 12 Sayed Bakry St., Zamalek. They will also perform on Friday at the Sway Culture Wheel, end of 26th July Street, Zamalek.