Morocco for Kids: Gnawa Music

We were delighted when Leanna from Multicultural Kid Blogs asked us to write a piece on Morocco for the Global Learning for Kids series.

Malika and Ameenah’s father, Omar, is from the city of Essaouria, which is situated on the Atlantic Coast and remains my favourite place, by far, in Morocco. We have all traveled to Essaouria many times over the years and love visiting as we can while days away exploring the rock pools on the stunning beach, while feasting on freshly-caught grilled sardines and freshly squeezed orange juice by the harbour.

Morocco for Kids: Gnawa Music | Multicultural Kid Blogs

This is the sea wall in Essaouria where we have spent many evenings waiting and watching the amazing sunsets over the Atlantic Ocean.

Morocco for Kids: Gnawa Music | Multicultural Kid Blogs

And this is a photo from our last visit in November 2014, when we visited family in a small Berber village just outside Essaouria.

Morocco for Kids: Gnawa Music | Multicultural Kid Blogs

One of the things that left a lasting impression on my first trip to Morocco, almost nine years ago, was the sounds of Gnawa music that can be heard all over the Medina in Essaouria.

The Gnawa are a Sufi Order in Morocco who identify with the descendants of formerly enslaved West Africans.  Their music is believed to heal people possessed by the Jinn, or Spirits.  Gnawa music emerged as a marginalized Sufi practice but today it is one of the most popular music forms arising from the region.  Many jazz musicians from the 1920s travelled to Morocco to experience the sounds and healing ceremonies of Gnawa musicians such as Pharoah Sanders and Ornette Coleman.  Following this, Gnawa music started attracting musicians outwith jazz circles such as Robert Plant and Peter Gabriel. In 1998 the Moroccan government started investing in the music and launched the Gnawa Music Festival in Essaouria.

Gnawa music also became popular among the North and West African youth in France who mixed the music with reggae and drew on Islamic and Rastafarian cosmogonies to protest Arabization policies and the suppression of Berber culture in North African states.

Pictured here are some modern-day Gnawa musicians in the Medina of Essaouria.

Morocco for Kids: Gnawa Music | Multicultural Kid Blogs

Mahmoud Guinia was one of my favourite Gnawa musicians, we always saw him around town travelling from musical gatherings on his trusty scooter. Sadly he passed away last year, but his legacy lives on as he made many Gnawa recordings over the decades and part of the Gnawa festival this year will be dedicated to him.

When Omar first arrived in Scotland he collaborated with many different musicians such as the wonderful American country singer and banjo player, Sara Gray.  Here is a wee excerpt from a concert they played together in Perth, Scotland.

Omar also used to share the mystical sounds of Gnawa with the youth of Banff, the small town in Aberdeenshire, which I am from.  Here he is leading a Gnawa workshop to a group of children and if you look closely you can see a very young Malika enjoying the hypnotic rhythms!

Last year Omar played at the opening of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow as part of the Ha Orchestra, which is an African-Scottish Orchestra based in Glasgow. The instrument he plays is called the gembri – a three stringed skin-covered bass pucked lute which is the traditional instrument of the Gnawa people.

Morocco for Kids: Gnawa Music | Multicultural Kid Blogs

Here is a link to their last video Whispers, which was filmed in my old university, Glasgow University.

It is so exciting to see Gnawa music spread and develop new forms across the globe and we hope you have enjoyed learning about the kind of music that Malika and Ameenah’s dad LOVES to play!  And if you feel like listening to live Gnawa music and fancy a family friendly trip to the Gnawa festival in Essaouria please note that it is taking place between May 12th – 15th 2016.  Please visit the festival website for more details!


Thank you and Goodnight!

Malika and Ameenah


Global Learning for Kids

This post is part of our Global Learning for Kids series.  This month we are learning all about Morocco, so go here to learn more about Morocco and share your own posts about teaching kids about this beautiful country!

Morocco for kids

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I am a trained social worker and currently a project worker for the Multicultural Family Base which is a charity for BME children and families in Edinburgh. Prior to this I lived in Finland on social work placement and worked in a centre for adults with learning disability, mental health issues and addiction. I LOVE to travel with my daughters Malika and Ameenah as often as possible and we are currently organising a trip to China! Please come visit us over at Family In Finland @

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