Gnawa is originally the name of an ethnic group of Mauritania. Later it also became the name of the Sufi order to which many people from the Gnawa ethnic group belong.

Gnawa music mixes classical Islamic Sufism with pre-Islamic African traditions, whether local or sub-Saharan. As Islam spread through North Africa, it also incorporated many older beliefs and traditions of the region. In this respect, the practices of Gnawa have striking similarities to possession and healing rituals of former Animist rites where fast paced, rhythmic music and acrobatic dances were used to create a hypnotic trance state. This was interpreted as connecting to or being possessed by spirits. After the arrival of Islam, these natural spirits were replaced by angels and jinns (genie spirits) of the Islamic belief system.

The Gnawa ritual meeting is called derdeba. Similar to many other Sufi rituals, the music played during derdeba is very repetitive. The main instrument is guembri (also called sintir, tidinit or hajhuj in different regions) played by the leader, called the maalem (master musician) in the vernacular. Large, metal cymbals called krakebs and various drums called tbel are played by the accompanists. They also repeat the maalem's lines, thereby serving as a chorus.


Guembri is a plucked lute with a very bass sound. It is made of wood, carved and covered with camel hide. The neck is a simple stick to which three goat-intestine strings are attached. The instrument is plucked with the knuckle side of the index finger and the thumb. The playing style is percussive and this effect is amplified by the rings and feathers attached to the end of the instrument.

Maalem Hamid El Kasri

Born in 1961, Maalem Hamid el Kasri comes from a family of long line of Gnawa musicians from the town of Ksar el-Kebir (hence the nickname Kasri) in northern Morocco. He was initiated to this music at an early age in his family and later became not only a master of this style but also a virtuoso on the guembri. He has performed all over the world at a variety of occasions and festivals. Some of the countries in which he has presented his music are the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Hungary, Poland, Brazil, Chile and India. He had an important role in introducing the Gnawa music to audiences outside its native land through his albums, collaborations, and concerts.


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  • Zakaria Mchich
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  • Kacem Fouiteh
  • Rachid El Fadli