May 31, 2011
The Marrakech-born Maâlem Mustapha Baqbou is one of the great sentir (or gimbri) players of gnawi trance music. Gnawa is traditionally healing music and shares similar characteristics with Malian n'goni music, perhaps because the gnawi people were once slaves of the Mali Empire centuries ago. A mixture of Islam and West African religions, gnawa ceremonies rely on a maâlem like Baqbou to summon benevolent spirits to the aid of the unwell. In all-night ritual ceremonies known as lilas (or derdebas), participants are drawn into a trance state by the maâlem's sentir and the aid of a priestess. Qraqebs (or castanets) offer rhythmic accompaniment as supernatural entities possess the bodies of ecstatic dancers.
Baqbou was briefly a member of the seminal group, Jil Jilala, a flagship band in the Chaabi movement of the 1970s which sought to revitalize Moroccan music by incorporating the region's many different musical styles and traditions. He continues to perform today. This cassette from the Editions Hassania label features Baqbou's solo vocals and sentir-plucking with no chorus or qraqebs.
Utmost thanks to Tim Abdellah for identifying the artist and translating the Arabic cassette cover. Be sure to check out Tim's new blog, Moroccan Tape Stash, for more Moroccan pleasures.
NOTE: Thanks again to Tim for his keen eye. It appears that the tracklisting on the cassette cover bears no relation to the songs on the tape. The following appropriation reflects the correct song titles, as identified by Mr. Abdellah.