Music to heal the soulThe ancestor of American blues and jazz, the African gnawa music to be featured at an upcoming Jamestown concert was made to heal the soul. “When enslaved people were brought to America, they brought their music with them. A lot of them came from western and northern Africa,” said Adam Perry, senior program director with Arts Midwest. “You’ll hear it as soon as you hear it — the connection.”
By: Kari Lucin, The Jamestown Sun
The ancestor of American blues and jazz, the African gnawa music to be featured at an upcoming Jamestown concert was made to heal the soul.
“When enslaved people were brought to America, they brought their music with them. A lot of them came from western and northern Africa,” said Adam Perry, senior program director with Arts Midwest.
The Majid Bekkas Gnawa Ensemble will perform Oct. 11 in Jamestown. it — the connection.”The Majid Bekkas Gnawa Ensemble plays traditional gnawa music — joyful, generally spiritual and dedicated to prayer and healing. Brahim Fribgane, a vocalist and instrumental musician, will play music he’s written and music from the Berber tradition — folk songs, wedding tunes and more, fused with contemporary techniques.
“These are world-class musicians, and it’s an incredibly unique opportunity to learn about another culture through performing arts,” said Taylor Barnes, director of the Arts Center.
The Arts Center is one of only four locations in the U.S. to participate in the Caravanserai program, bringing the Moroccan performers to Jamestown as part of a series.
The project is funded mostly by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, as part of its Building Bridges program.
“Caravanserai were places where travelers, caravans would stop for the evenings, places where they could be safe from marauders, trade their goods, trade their stories with other travelers,” Perry explained.
The Caravanserai program’s subtitle is “a place where cultures meet,” and Jamestown will become just such a place, Perry said.
“Everybody gets to share their stories together and listen to the music together and watch the films together. The cultural exchange can happen in a safe and warm environment,” he added.
Though the upcoming concert is a concert, not a lecture, full translations of the songs will be included in the programs and program material will include information about the instruments and the music.
The six-man Majid Bekkas Gnawa Ensemble sings and dances, playing traditional Moroccan instruments.
These instruments include the guembri, a three-stringed bass lute carved from a log covered with camel skin, with a stick serving as a neck. A player plucks the strings by hand but can also tap the instrument to make a drumming sound.
Then there’s the qraqab, big metal castanets with cymbals on each end, and the kalimba, also known as a thumb piano.
Fribgane will play an electric oud, an 11-stringed, pear-shaped instrument that in Spain became the lute and then evolved into the six-stringed guitar.
“It’s like taking a trip to Morocco without leaving your chair,” Perry said. “It is wonderful, fun, engaging music that you can’t help but feel good about afterward.”
Most gnawa lyrics are spiritual, and traditional gnawa ceremonies often last all night long and invoke saints and spirits for healing, according to a Caravanserai guide. Usually, a leader sings the vocals and then the rest of the group echoes his words.
“One of the things that the arts provide for people is that avenue for exploration — kind of a structured way to learn something new in a safe environment,” Barnes said.
Tickets for the concert are $10 for non-members of the Arts Center and $7 for members. Children get in free.
Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at 701-952-8453
or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org