Success is out of this world for Hamed El Kassri

Hamed El Kassri does not judge success on worldly matters.

The Moroccan gnawa master says his albums aims are spiritual rather than commercial.

“It comes from my soul first,” he said. “It is first about the feelings I want to convey before I marry them to music.”

Speaking from Morocco’s Mawazine festival, El Kassri states the mystical African genre is gaining a following in the region with appreciation also extended to the UAE.

“About six years ago I had a wonderful performance in Abu Dhabi,” he recalls.

“I had no expectations but so many people came, from youths to elders. I could tell they were paying deep attention and the music was touching them.”

Born in Rabat, Kassri studied the form from a young age and grew to hold the status of Ma’alem, the highest level afforded to a gnawa musician.

The genre is heavy on instrumentation with qraqeb (iron castanets), a large drum called the tbel, and the hajuj (or gimbir), a three-stringed lute.

A gnawa song is heavy on repetition of refrains and phases. This is creates the impression of songs lasting hours, where instead are a deft series of interlocking suites.

To know more about gnawa, checkout The National’s piece on the genre as part of it’s Music From the Arab World series.

Stay tuned to Arts and Life for the festival action from Mawazine.

Published: May 31, 2013 04:00 AM