We’re delighted to welcome the foremost female ambassador of Gnawa music Asmaa Hamzaoui to headline the night, performing for the first time with her sister in the UK with a mesmerising brand of spiritual desert blues.
Gnawa music goes back in time when this population was held as slaves and it revolved around storytelling transmuting their suffering. The music is about the spirit world, about life in Africa, about how we should live in harmony with nature and the consequences we face if we abuse nature.
Barely 20 years old, Asmaa Hamzaoui became the leader of the Bnat Tombouctou (Daughters of Timbuktu) group, and one of the youngest and very rare female ambassadors of Gnawa culture. She inherited her passion from her father, the renowned Maâlem Rachid Hamzaoui. From her earliest age, she learned to play the guembri and accompanied her father at celebrations. Since 2012 she has led and performed with her own group.
Bnat Timbuktu has remained faithful to tradition stylistically, but have introduced their own choice of subjects: separation, suffering, and the memory of Africa are dominant themes. They gradually won over ever-larger audiences, until they were selected to join the line-up of the famous Gnaoua and World Music Festival of Essaouira in the summer of 2017. A significant event in that female guembri players are few and far between, in Morocco and around the world. Traditionally these women do not play during ceremonies, and only touch the instrument in private surroundings (this is often the case, for example, for a woman married to maâlem) – taking the stage in public is still considered taboo.
Asmâa Hamzaoui is the exception. Asmaa breaks new ground with her music and how she uses it to speak up for equal rights and for the preservation of traditions and spiritual practices in modern-day Morocco and throughout the world.
We also have Berber Diffusion serving up a fusion of traditional Berber Amazigh and Gnawa sounds with other music from across the world. Their music conjures the sounds of the Sahara through the guembri, krakab, banjo and other traditional Moroccan instruments. “We want our rhythms get people on their feet and into the heart of ancient Berber Amazigh sounds.”