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The Gnawa (or Gnaoua, Ghanawa, Ghanawi, Gnawi) people originated from North and West Africa; to be precise the ancient Ghanaian Empire of Ouagadougou (present day Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Burkino Faso and 85% of Mali (pre Gnawi/Mali Wars)).
This name Gnawa is taken from one of the indigenous languages of the Sahara Desert called Tamazight. The phonology of this term according to the grammatical principles of Tamazight is as follows: Gnawi (singular), Gnawa (collective) and Gnawn (plural rarely used).
While adopting Islam, Gnawa continued to celebrate ritual possession during rituals where they are devoted to the practice of the dances of possession and fright. This rite of possession is called Jedba (Arabic: جدبة. Gnawa music mixes classical Islamic Sufism with pre-Islamic African traditions, whether local or sub-Saharan.
The term Gnawa musicians generally refers to people who also practice healing rituals, with apparent ties to pre-Islamic African animism rites. In Moroccan popular culture, Gnawas, through their ceremonies, are considered to be experts in the magical treatment of scorpion stings and psychic disorders. They heal diseases by the use of colors, condensed cultural imagery, perfumes and fright.
Gnawas play deeply hypnotic trance music, marked by low-toned, rhythmic sintir melodies, call-and-response singing, hand clapping and cymbals called krakeb (plural of karkaba). Gnawa ceremonies use music and dance to evoke ancestral saints who can drive out evil, cure psychological ills, or remedy scorpion stings.
Gnawa music has won an international profile and appeal. Many Western musicians including Bill Laswell, Brian Jones, Randy Weston, Adam Rudolph, Tucker Martine, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, have drawn on and collaborated with Gnawa musicians. Some traditionalists regard modern collaborations as a mixed blessing, leaving or modifying sacred traditions for more explicitly commercial goals. International recording artists such as Hassan Hakmoun have introduced Gnawa music and dance to Western audiences through their recordings and concert performances.
The centre for Gnawa music is Essaouira in the south of Morocco where the Gnaoua World Music Festival is held annually. The Gnawa of Marrakesh hold their annual festival at the sanctuary of Moulay Brahim in the Atlas Mountains. The Gnawa of Khamlia hold their annual festival in August at the village Khamlia in Erg Chebbi.