Meet under Essaouira’s clock tower in the evening for your 3-hour gnawa music tour, a unique experience that takes you back in time to discover Morocco's music culture, history and traditions.
Walk through the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Medina of Essaouira, the walled Arab quarter, and learn about the gnawa people and their customs from your guide. Originating from North and West Africa, gnawas are known for their ancient African-Islamic music, whose songs are marked by low-toned rhythms, chants, hand-clapping and cymbals. Performances range from upbeat social gatherings to religious rituals.
Your first stop is a local music shop for an introduction to the gnawa music scene. It’s not uncommon to find local musicians jamming together in these tiny spaces, playing percussion and krakeb (metal castanets). From here, meet a gnawa dancer (or kuyu) and head inside their home for a captivating gnawa dance performance. Watch typical dance moves accompanied by an explanation of the dancer’s traditional clothing. Often made at home, these intricate designs include bold colors, embroidery and shells.
Then, it’s off to meet a gnawa maalem, or master, who acts as the leader of any gnawa troupe. Visit the maalem's private quarters to see how the traditional guembri instrument is made and hear some songs played. After soaking up the atmosphere, visit a zaouia, a sacred temple where traditional lila rituals are carried out late at night to treat psychological ills and drive out evil spirits or remedy scorpion stings.
Come full circle from gnawa’s past to present by finishing the evening in true local style: enjoying live music with a drink in hand (own expense). Stay at this local music venue as long as you like, and feel free to ask your guide about other places to continue enjoying gnawa music. Recently, the style has been fused with Western and Latin music, making it perfect music for dancing, if you're in the mood!