Randy Weston African Rhythms
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recorded  17 September 1992 
La Mamounia Hotel Marrakech Morocco
CD   1994   Verve   521 587-2

See also:
        Spirit! the Power of Music

real | wm |

       liner notes

Grammy  Nomination  Best  World Music Album 1996

The Splendid Master Gnawa Musicians:

Ali El Mansoum percussion, vocal
Molay Abdelaziz
percussion, vocal
Mohamed Zourhba
percussion, vocal
Boubker Gania
percussion, vocal
Mohamed El Ghorfi
percussion, vocal
Ahmed Boussou
percussion, vocal
Abdelouaid Berrady
percussion, vocal
Mahmoud Gania
percussion, vocal
M’Barek Ben Outman
percussion, vocal
Abdenebi Oubella
percussion, vocal
Abdellah El Gourd
percussion, vocal

Randy Weston piano (on 3)

Randy Weston
producer, liner notes
Rhashidah E. McNeill  Liner notes
Jean-Philippe Allard
Vincent Blanchet
Didier Marc
Adriane Smolderen

1 -   La Voix Errante:
  1            Sorie
  2            Folinho Rejale
  3            Ahayana Wayi
  4            Bokarli Ana
2 -   Sound Playing:
  1            Bermaryo
  2            Fanyro
  3            Merkadi
  4            Yobady
  5            Ya La La
  6            Congoba
  7            Tembara
  8            Kanerjak Ya Rebi
3 -    Chalabati



The spiritual energy and sheer force and power of African traditional music has been mostly forgotten, lost to dreams of long ago or simply ignored. Randy Weston, pianist/composer and cultural ambassador decided to explore this most powerful layer of African culture many years ago. He decided to recapture this spiritual energy and force on this recording, "The Splendid Gnawa Masters". He has spent nearly four decades on this exploration and rediscovery of the journey of the spirits of our ancestors. You will rediscover, as I did, as Randy did, the divine elements missing from much of modern day music, as well as a rediscovery of our true connection with God, because in its true form, untainted, what is music but the voice of God? What are musicians but God's instruments? Perhaps this recording will remind us all that we have to get back to listening to the voice of God, that we may quiet the noise of man.

THE RECORDING by Randy Weston

This recording took place on September 17, 1992 in Marrakech, Morocco, It was kind of a dream of Abdellah El Gourd and myself of getting the masters (M'Alems) together to record, because a lot of the elders were dying. A long time ago we had talked about that and we finally had the possibility to do it.

So what happened was I spoke to Jean Philippe Allard of Polygram Jazz France the producer. The whole idea, though, came from Abdellah of Tangier. He was the first Gnawi that I met to put together the great masters of the hejhuj (hag'houge), also called a guembri, a three-stringed lute made of goat gut, to put together a recording. And we talked to Jean Philippe about the idea because we had a successful tour with the Gnaws in Europe. We also agreed that I would do a piano solo date, in addition. ("Marrakech in the Cool of the Evening"
CD released February, 1994).

I spoke to Mr. Akoun of the Grand Atlas of Marrakech, Morocco, to see if we could get permission for use of the La Mamounia Hotel. La Mamounia is still one of the top hotels in the world and I knew that it had several fantastic grand pianos. So, I went to see Mr Hammoudi to ask him whether or not we could do the recording at the hotel. He took me around and showed me a big space under the ground which was almost soundproof with no noise. Nothing! Silence! He said to me, 'Listen . you can have the whole place for 4 days free. I won't charge you anything.' So, I said, 'That's beautiful'.

I told Jean Philippe and he was happy and I introduced him to a man named Vincent Blanchard. I had discovered him through Jean Jacques Beryl, the filmmaker. He recommended Vincent. He said that Vincent was an inventor and that he had invented a new microphone, which was constructed just like a face but cone shaped. Vincent and Jean Philippe got in touch and they both agreed and everybody came to Marrakech.

We were at La Mamounia for 4 days. We were in Marrakech for about a week. We recorded on September 17, 1992. Anyway, getting back to the Gnaws, we contacted through Abdellah, he was the key, the master players (M'Alems) from Sale, Rabat, Casablanca, from Marrakech, from Tangier, from Essouira, all from various cities in Morocco. We got together 9 masters and it was really wonderful because they spent 3 full days together. Some of them hadn't seen each other in 40 years! We had them in a wonderful hotel, a simple hotel but very nice with good food and it was really fantastic.

Of course, to get the sound right it took a lot of work because Vincent had his new equipment and had to get the sound of 9 different hag'houges (guinbres) and also to add the piano to the piece called, "Chalabati." So, most of the time was spent getting the proper sound.

We lined the 9 masters according to age. We had the elders and it was a magic evening because, to their knowledge, never in the history of their culture have there ever been 9 hag'houges (guinbres) together with 2 percussionists. And each master sang his own song; after each one finished another continued. That's how you will hear it on the recording. For all of us, it was an historic moment. This never happened before.

One month later, the eldest master, he died, and 4 months later, the second eldest died. So, we were blessed to have them on this recording before they left us. We had cut out all the lights. We only had candles. It was a very spiritually and historically powerful moment for all of us.

Some of the songs are about certain saints, some (Sound Playing) are about the Bambara, the ancient civilization that the Gnawa have lost memory of but they continue to sing the history of Bambara.
'Chalabati', is a song of their slavery and in the song they sing for God to help them, to help free them and at the same time they're asking for the spirits of the ancestors, the musicians who lived before them. It's a very deep, a very moving piece."

M'Alem Ahmed Boussou drew an even clearer picture when he described Randy's connection to the Gnawa music during an interview which was held in 1987 during a week long Gnawa Festival in Casablanca. He said during the interview: 'Randy Weston's music is related to Gnaws music, by virtue of its African roots; the exodus of Black people during the age of slavery transported Gnawa ritual both to America and to the North African Maghreb. Such ritual, after its development in America, was lost in concentration on sheer rhythm. while the influence of the Church gave rise to the 'Negro Spiritual.'

The Gnawa is an honorable calling. I trust and hope that Gnaouism will continue to flourish and gain respect of the public, which is often uninformed about it. Then, there is the guenbri we must get to know. Meeting Randy Weston has done much to promote the instrument and its music, in general," the great master ended.

Mildred Pitts Walters, a renowned African-American author, observed and experienced the connection when she attended a Leila, a Gnawa healing ceremony, in Tangier, recently. She and her daughter-in-law, Johari, and friends, Estella and Louise had been invited to attend by Randy Weston. At this time, she had met Abdellah and participated in the ceremony. Later, she wrote. "When we said goodbye to Abdellah, his family and friends, the sun was shining on the blue Mediterranean Sea. Abdellah's family lives in Old Tangier, walking distance from the Hotel Rif, not too far from the sea. We walked back to the hotel through the streets noisy with merchants opening their shops and people beginning their day. We were silent, savoring the long night. I recalled the ring games, and circle dances of my childhood; the music and dance in the Pentecostal Church; the dancing to drum beats in Haiti, in Nigeria, in the Gambia and Senegal, and I knew that the mysteries of that music were connected to what I had just heard and seen there, in Morocco."



These Black healer musicians of Morocco called Gnawa (G'na'ua) were brought there hundreds of years ago from Sub-Sahara Africa (Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Senegal, Niger) Western Sudan, as slaves and also used as soldiers in 1591, at the time of the conquest of Mali, by the sultan of Marrakech, Ahmed El Mansur. Mulay Ismail (1672-1727) in Meknes and Mulay Abdullah (1757-1790) in Essouira did the same, later. They were all converted to Islam and formed a brotherhood. They unite under the protection of the holy marabout, Sidi Bilal, a Black slave freed by the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). Sidi Bilal became the first muezzin (caller to prayer) of Islam.

The Gnawa musicians are master musicians who believe that everyone has a color and a note to which he or she vibrates. Each individual responds to his or her chosen color and note as the healer musicians play the hag'houge (guinbre), in particular. The karkaba's or qraqeb, which resemble castanets, are used to heighten the effect of the hag'houge (guinbre) although the latter instrument is often used alone, if necessary. In public, the drum, called the T'bel or T'bola, a large round instrument, is added for effect. The ultimate goal of a Gnawa M'Alem or master is perfection in playing lest he play a wrong note and destroy the healing power of the music for those who are listening. This music is also used to extol God and the spirits of the saints.

The Gnawa are noted for their healing ceremonies, called the Leila. It was at such a ceremony, many years ago, that Randy Weston responded to the color blue, which is the color of the saint, Sidi Musa (Blue Moses). Randy has made his adaptation of the Gnawa spiritual, "Blue Moses," a staple composition at all his live performances.

These healer musicians are often hired for purification ceremonies, and they are also known for their ability to treat scorpion stings and psychic disorders, mostly by the sheer power of the Gnawa rhythms. It is worthwhile to note that these rhythms, however, can be heard in other forms of modern music, most typically in the blues, jazz, calypso, Latin and Brazilian music. Randy Weston recognized this connection nearly 30 years ago when he first heard the Gnawa play while visiting Morocco. He has been captivated by them ever since as evidenced by taking residence Morocco and by his adaptations and creative compositions influenced by the Gnawa and their culture, such as "Tanjah," "Gnawa in Paris," "The Healers," "Blue Moses," "Chalabati Blues," and others.

I, Rhashidah E. McNeill, first joined Randy Weston in the documentation of these master healer musicians. Gnawa, their music and their culture in 1987. It was the first of many trips that I would continue to make up to the year 1992, in order to understand Randy and his cultural mission with his music.

What I learned about, among other things, is more deeply my own spiritual connection with Africa, my own African roots. While helping to document the Gnawa and other groups of people in Africa, I feel like I'm documenting myself, at the same time. I have Randy to thank, and I thank him wholeheartedly for these many wonderful opportunities.

M'Alem M'Barek was the first Gnawa I met. I was instantly attracted to the music and he treated me like a sister whom he'd known all along. That was in January, 1987. Also, very warm was M'Alem Abess who also embraced me as a sister. Later that year, in June, 1987, I met the grand elder M'Alem Ahmed Boussou, a very respected master who originally gave me and some other journalists some of the history and customs of the Gnawa in an interview during the week-long Gnawa Festival in Casablanca, in which Randy Weston played a major part by bringing it together.

Then. in June, 1988, I met M'Alem Abdellah El Gourd during the filming of 'Randy in Tangier." In September, 1992, he helped to expand our contact with Gnawa masters from all over Morocco. He also gave Randy and me an oral history of the Gnawa musicians and their customs and meanings. This happened while Randy was co-producing video-documentation of the Gnawa M'Alems of the various cities in Morocco. Abdellah also treated me very kindly and like family. So, this documentation, on my part, has been taking place over about 5 years. It is an experience I will never forget.

These experiences have made me whole because they have elevated me so spiritually high. The oneness with God that I feel and the spirits of our ancestors that I feel is at a height that I know would not have occurred without these particular connections and trips to Africa. In fact, I've come to need them as nourishment for my soul!

Thanks again, Randy.
And I thank Monsieur Jean Phillippe Allard, and the Polygram team; Mr. Allal Akouri, of the Grand Atlas of Marrakech; Royal Air Maroc; Air Afrique; and the many other people who were directly responsible for my transportation, food, housing and warm hospitality which made my trips possible and comfortable.
Not least, I thank my African family for welcoming me home with open arms!

1993  by Rhashidah E. McNeill

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