New publisher Allez-Retour is looking for your help to fund a release intended to introduce Gnawa and related Moroccan folk-pop to a western audience.
What blues is to American music and culture, Gnawa is to Morocco. It is the music of descendents of west Africans - often slaves - who moved north of the Sahel and both blended with and impacted more mainstream Moroccan culture. These days Gnawa is the public face of Moroccan music for the world, performed daily as it has been for generations in the world-famous Marrakesh square Jemaa el Fna and in music festivals such as the annual one at Essaouira.
Gnawa and the blues-based American musical traditions share roots which the listener can hear; this is music that is a great uncle of rock'n'roll. Since the 1960s the music has often taken on a lyrical content which speaks to societal problems.
Chaabi is a folk-pop musical form which has been likened to Algerian rai. Its roots are in Fes but have expanded beyond.
I have been introduced to all of these great sounds initially through backpacking trips in North Africa. The first two times I went I did not have decent audio recording equipment and I bought and listened to plenty of music, but made no attempt to purposefully record any.
This upcoming trip will be different. The mission will be to record and share the great living street music I had been encountering passively.
In the past I have been in the right place at the right time to witness and hear street processions for weddings and other rites with their associated songs. Should I be fortunate enough to encounter this again and get decent recordings I'd love to include some of that, along with calls to prayer and other worthy stray audio of daily life in this amazing country.
Many musicians make a living performing in public as permanent buskers, and often supplement income by performing for hotel and tourist groups. They do not always get recorded (outside of shaky tourist footage in mono as we recently shot here, with video equipment wholly unsuited for the task!); if and when they do there are few opportunities to convey a proper sense of what they are expressing to speakers of English.
The aim of this project is to do a series of quality digital field and makeshift "studio" recordings of artists who would not normally get that opportunity. It would further be the intent to give the artists free copies of the finished product - as well as additional recordings that do not make the compilation - to do with as they see fit, carrying only the anglophone publishing rights for this specific out of the country. This would allow them to better market themselves within their own economy and in their own language(s), or to bookers of live entertainment, etc.
This would necessarily include exciting public performances for largely Moroccan audiences which tend to be enlivened by crowd participation.
A note on the use of "language(s)" in the plural: the language situation is complex in Morocco, with various portions of society speaking Moroccan Darija (a local Arabic dialect most other Arabs do not understand), as well as more standardized Arabic, French and a variety of Tamazight/"Berber" regional dialects.
Lyrical themes sometimes include contemporary social problems and the problems of daily life, and we'd like to convey that by providing English translations of the song titles and explanation of the song content. Part of the budget for this project would be for such translation in CD insert form, generally lacking in releases of this nature.
Allez-Retour is French for "round-trip ticket." And we're aiming to use musical releases such as this to get you to another area of the world and bring you back home without necessarily leaving your living room.
We have a couple of in-country contacts with people who hire groups regularly, including the group featured in this video. We're aiming also to supplement this mix with recordings of the myriad of performers we come across while completing the project. The end product will be a solid sampling of what one hears today in a Moroccan public square, with cultural context.
The aim is to record groups performing in Marrakesh, Fes, Meknes and/or Essaouira and the surrounding communities. We have already made some contacts on the ground and are looking to augment that. As things are generally necessarily fluid with these performers we are also looking to be flexible with the recording schedule when in-country.
The budget covers recording, mixing, printing and shipping CDs for everyone who contributes at the $20 level or above, translation, money to pay performers, and the crowd funding fees.
Thank you for considering this project!