Maalem Mahmoud Gania was the Godfather of Gnawa music and one badass motherfucker. How badass? Well, he taught Jimi Hendrix guitar. Ya, you read that shit right. Let me slow that the fuck down for you: F-u-c-k-i-n-g–J-i-m-i–H-e-n-d-r-i-x. The legendary guitarist sought Gania out and hung out with him at his house in Essaouira for a few months in order to learn some of Gania’s sweet licks. Gania also played with Pharaoh Sanders and Carlos Santana, but who fucking cares: the motherfucker taught Hendrix the fucking guitar. No further rep game required. He’s the only other musician I know of, other than Elvis, to pull off the nickname “The King”.
Gnawa music is old as fuck. It’s a type of elemental human soul music. It would be easier to compare the history of this music with the history of the earth than with other kinds of music. This music is made up of crazy well preserved North African ancient spiritual songs. It is generally played with a focus on prayer and healing, all of which is guided by a music master called a maalem. Ya, that’s why Mahmoud Gania gets a Maalem in front of his name. He’s a spiritual fucking doctor of music.
Other musicians that were either influenced or that collaborated with Gnawa music are: Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Archie Shepp, Johnny Copeland, Peter Gabriel, Gilberto Gil. And it takes about 3 1/2 seconds to hear the influence this music has had on western tunes. It’s hypnotic as all fuck. The growl of that camel-skinned wooden box (called a guembri) sits somewhere between the electric drone of ’60s psychedelic guitar and Nick Drake’s open tuning rhythmic wonderland. But remember, cause this music is older than both of those styles, most likely the heart of both those styles beats to the transcendental rhythm of Gnawa.
Unfortunately for the world, Maalem Mahmoud Gania died in 2015. This album was released just last year. Gnawa music has some long tracks, so you’d better be ready to chill the fuck out. Back in the day people used this music to help treat scorpion stings, psychic disorders, and psychological ills. Supposedly it calls on ancestral saints and gets them to drive that evil shit out. So ya, I guess you might call this “trippy”. Listening to Gnawa music can take a listener closer to the very root rhythms created by humankind. It’s pure ancestral shit. It’s core human. It’s shit Augustine and Pythagoras alluded to. It takes you back to a time when drumbeats were used to amplify the sound of the heart. In short, it’s truly fucking awesome.