Last year, the ancient, pan-African, spiritual music known as Gnawa made great strides in the West, thanks to a Boiler Room collaboration between James Holden, Floating Points, Vessel, Biosphere and the Gnawa masters Mahmoud Guinea and Mohamed Kouyou. The uniquely Moroccan sound with roots in Islam also plays a part in a healing ritual called Lila (Arabic for “night”) and the power of the musicianship on display in those sessions transcended traditional notions of what we normally regard as music’s functionality.
From this heritage, rises Innov Gnawa, the only New York-based Gnawa group made up of members who grew up and studied Gnawa individually in Morocco, and became untied by the Mâalem (“Master”) Hassan Ben Jaâfer. Recorded and produced by Hatim Belyamani’s remix ←→ culture collective, Toura Toura EP contains two adaptations of songs that are hundreds of years old. Recalling the best of that Floating Points collaboration with Mahmoud Guinea, ‘La Ilaaha Illa Allah’ was the stand out for us. The song begins with the band blessing the room and the following six minutes is formed by a prayer sang in call and response harmony, on top of handheld percussion (krakebs), a three stringed bass instrument (grimbri or sentire) and synchronised clapping en-masse. A transcendental piece of music that has travelled borders and centuries to reach our ears.