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The Wrestle to Save a Home of Music, and Its Legacy


TANGIER, Morocco — For greater than a half-century, a Moorish-style home within the outdated metropolis of Tangier thought-about one in every of Morocco’s cultural gems drew musicians and different artists from world wide in search of to study in regards to the Sufi music and rituals of the descendants of slaves within the nation.

However the one-of-a-kind heart for conventional Gnawa music was deserted early this 12 months as a result of it was in peril of collapse, and lengthy delays to revive it as a part of a authorities rehabilitation plan for this metropolis on Morocco’s northern coast put its future in peril.

The battle to avoid wasting Dar Gnawa, or the Gnawa Home, has make clear simply how treasured and precarious conventional abilities are within the North African kingdom.

Abdellah El Gourd, 75 and a world-renowned grasp of Gnawa music, has lived within the historic home since he was 5. Over the previous many years, he hosted and collaborated with an array of acclaimed jazz musicians from across the globe.

“Dar Gnawa is just not solely an establishment that celebrates the music of former slaves in North Africa, however additionally it is a focus for the rise of jazz on the African continent,” stated Hisham Aidi, a professor of worldwide relations at Columbia College who grew up within the outdated metropolis of Tangier and has been a part of efforts to avoid wasting the house.

“As youngsters, we might cease by Dar Gnawa after college, and also you by no means knew who you’d discover there. It might be saxophonist Archie Shepp, poet Ted Joans or a European musician enjoying with El Gourd’s troupe,” he added. “We had no thought who these artists have been, however we have been captivated by the performances.”

Gnawa music is a practice that originated with enslaved West Africans who have been taken north to Morocco. It’s among the many rituals they held onto, praising saints and spirits with rhythmic tune, dance and trance possession.

The devices concerned are few and easy: a three-string fretless lute often known as the gimbri or sintir, which is strummed, accompanied by massive metallic castanets referred to as qraqeb, whose clacking create trance-inducing rhythms. The music is typically performed throughout all-night therapeutic ceremonies the place exorcisms are carried out on the sick to expel the djinn, or evil spirits, believed to trigger sickness.

The laid-back city of Essaouira on Morocco’s Atlantic coast hosts an annual Gnawa pageant, which has been attended in previous years by notable worldwide musicians akin to Ziggy Marley. In 2019, UNESCO added Gnawa to its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity record.

In 1980, the Gnawa Home grew to become the primary formally acknowledged heart dedicated to celebrating and preserving the style. However lengthy earlier than that, it served as a gathering place for artists beginning within the Nineteen Sixties.

Not like different Moroccan cities, Tangier didn’t have many cultural facilities for younger artists, so Mr. El Gourd took it upon himself to create an area that he hoped would guarantee his artwork type wouldn’t disappear. Through the years, the home grew to become one of many few locations within the nation to observe and study Gnawa music.

Born right into a household of Gnawa practitioners, Mr. El Gourd is now preventing not just for his home, however for his legacy.

In 1967, he met the esteemed American pianist Randy Weston, who lived in Tangier for a few many years. Mr. Weston’s music and scholarship superior the concept — now broadly accepted — that jazz is, at its core, African music.

For years, Mr. Weston performed with Mr. El Gourd within the Gnawa Home in Tangier earlier than they toured the world collectively. They collaborated on a number of recordings, together with the 1992 Grammy-nominated “Gnawa Musicians of Morocco.”

Through the years, Mr. El Gourd met and carried out with many different acclaimed jazz musicians as effectively, together with Dexter Gordon, Odetta and Billy Harper.

“I went with Randy to Morocco, and since then, we’ve grow to be a household,” Fatoumata Weston, the pianist’s widow, stated of Mr. El Gourd. “He’s a giant artist. He’s somebody who by no means asks for something,” she added.

“When an important artist like him has issues, we should assist him. He was the ambassador of Morocco internationally.”

She, Mr. Aidi and others credited Mr. El Gourd and Mr. Weston, who died in 2018, with inspiring the fusion of Gnawa and jazz music.

The Gnawa Home is a mix of architectural genres — a mirrored image of Tangier’s wealthy worldwide historical past. A Moroccan door opens right into a small chamber that results in an inside courtyard. An Italian marble stairwell is tiled within the Moroccan mosaic model often known as zellij, whereas the remainder of the home options Spanish and Portuguese tiles and Italian doorways.

The highest ground, with its excessive ceilings, overlooks the seaport of Tangier.

Mr. El Gourd owns the home and lived along with his household on the second and third flooring for many years whereas guests downstairs joined improvised jam classes and celebratory musical gatherings, a lot to the delight of the neighborhood.

However the household moved out in February so the home might be renovated as a part of a state plan conceived two years in the past to revive your entire outdated metropolis of Tangier, the place dozens of homes have been in peril of collapsing. Whereas Mr. El Gourd was away, a neighbor knocked down a wall and tried to annex a part of the home. Tiles and chandeliers have been stolen.

Regardless of his fame, Mr. El Gourd stated his monetary scenario was precarious, however the state had promised to switch funds to him to revive his decaying home. Nevertheless, these funds have been delayed for a lot of months, and in flip, so have been the renovations, rising the danger that the home would crumble.

“At any time when I ask, they are saying: ‘Wait a bit. Wait a bit.’ However nothing has been carried out,” Mr. El Gourd, a peaceful and composed man who fastidiously chooses his phrases, stated throughout a latest go to to his home, referring to his conversations with the native authorities. “I don’t know the way I survived these final months.”

When reached for remark, the authorities in Tangier promised that the renovation of Mr. El Gourd’s home can be a high precedence. Then, after greater than six months of delays, the renovations lastly started this month, and there are excessive hopes that the home could be salvaged.

Extra usually, many in Morocco see the rehabilitation plan for the outdated metropolis as the newest assault on Tangier’s cultural heritage amid a surge of building throughout the town over the previous 20 years. Dozens of historic buildings have been demolished to make manner for flats, together with among the earliest cinemas on the African continent.

In 2010, Benchimol Hospital, a historic Jewish establishment that figures in lots of writings in regards to the metropolis, was razed.

In Mr. El Gourd’s workplace, a restored morgue, the piled-up furnishings moved from Gnawa Home occupies half of the house, and the partitions are adorned with dozens of images of world musicians he has collaborated with. He reminisced in regards to the wonderful occasions in his profession.

“I might be residing the life in New York,” he stated. “Typically I get so drained that I simply suppose I ought to depart.”



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