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Asmaa Hamzaoui & Bnat Timbouktou (Morocco)

In Morocco, the Gnawa are descendants of slaves who were deported to Maghreb from sub- Saharan countries.They are the heirs of great rituals and spiritual traditions that combine poetry, music, and dance. The ceremonies (‘lilas’) dedicated to prayer and healing are led by a mâalem, i.e. a ‘master of music’. In recent decades, these very sacred traditions have seen a more secular style of Gnawa music emerge.

Asmaâ Hamzaoui (27) is the leader of the group Bnat Timbouktou and one of the genre’s few – and youngest – female ambassadors. She inherited her passion from her father, the famous mâalem Rachid Hamzaoui. From a very young age, she learned to play the guembri, a sort of 3-string plucked lute, which she uses to accompany celebrations.

Traditionally, women do not play during ceremonies and can only touch this instrument in private settings (which is particularly the case for the wife of a mâalem). Women performing in public is still a widespread taboo.

She has been leading her own group since 2012. Bnat Timbouktou remains largely faithful to traditions in terms of style, but topics such as distance, suffering, and the memory of Africa’s past are ever present.

Asmâa Hamzaoui, guembri and vocals

Aicha Hamzaoui, qraqab and vocals

Soukaina Elmeliji, qraqab and vocals

Lamgammah Hind, qraqab and vocals

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