24 September 2008

Gnawa Ecstasy

Wijdan - Gnawa DVD on SoundRoots.org
This is a story... a story of two men who found each other like lost brothers, separated by time.

That's the beginning narration of this engaging DVD that traces the connection between Sibiri Samaké -- an animist hunter from near Bamako, Mali -- and Maalem Brahim El Belkani -- a Muslim master musician from Marrakesh, Morocco.

The film is simple, containing just the 52-minute feature with no special features. It's also deep, with intimate images and stories of the men's families and musical history. "Widjan" is Arabic for "ecstasy," perhaps the defining element of Gnawa music and a crucial element linking these two men and their passion for the sacred rhythms and rituals that define Gnawa culture.

While the DVD does include some of the history of the Gnawa, who were brought as slaves from West Africa to North Africa, bringing with them sacred healing practices that developed into the Gnawa healing ceremonies known as lila (or leela) the focus is on Gnawa music, tradition, and culture. A fascinating aspect is how these two men came to a similar place despite such differences . And not entirely answered is the question of whether and how the Gnawa traditions will survive in the modern world.

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Read more: Gnawa music at Wikipedia
See a clip from Widjan

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