documentary from 1981 on nass el ghiwan


Nass El Ghiwan

Nass El Ghiwan are one of Morocco’s most famous musical groups. Sadly, outside of that country’s borders they are almost entirely unknown. The band was formed in 1971 as part of an avant-garde political theater troupe, but quickly evolved into the band now recognized. They are credited as being among the first to introduce Western instruments into Morocco, as well as representing an important bridge between American and European psychedelic culture and North Africa. They are closely aligned with Gnawa, a deeply spiritual music which is indigenous to Morocco, but with long roots. It’s a hybrid of ancient ecstatic Islamic trance music, and other traditions from the Sub-Saharan part of the continent. It is the country’s most popular music. Despite its spiritual origins, stemming from gestures by groups like Nass El Ghiwane, secular realizations of Gnawa have been developing since the early 70’s. Moroccan music is incredibly important for a number of reasons. With the rise of Wahabism and other extreme realizations of Islam in recent decades, the rich and ancient musical traditions of North Africa and the Middle East have come under grave threat. Because of the country’s liberal attitude toward music, these sounds are among the few in the Islamic world which survive in their country of origin.

Though I’m at a loss to remember how I discovered them, I’ve been looking for records by Nass El Ghiwan for years. Though there are some French pressings, most were Moroccan, and never left that country. Having spent time there, I can tell you that they’re equally rare at the source. When I discovered this film I was overjoyed. Transes was made in 1981 by Ahmed El Maanouni. It takes the form of most music documentaries from the 70’s – heavily utilizing performance footage, interviews, and following the members of the band. Two things ring through. The music and the spirit. The film captures an optimistic and progressive era in the Islamic world. Though this still exists for many in Morocco, at the time sounds like these spread across the entire region. This film is a reminder of the human spirit, what can go wrong, the power of music, and the threat it can pose to conservative forces. In addition to the film, I’m posting a short review below of Nass El Ghiwan’s sixth record, which was recently reissued in Europe. I hope you enjoy them both.


Transes (1981)




Nass El Ghiwane ‎– Nass El Ghiwane (1976)

Back in December, after spending a few months in London, I was preparing myself for another farewell. This usually involves scrambling between record stores.  While I was stocking up at Honest Jon’s, I noticed this record on the shelf. It rang a bell, but I couldn’t place it. I turned out that I’d been looking for it for so long, I’d forgotten it. When I figured out what I had in my hands I jumped with joy. As I implied above, as with all Nass El Ghiwane‘s albums from this period, the original is next to impossible to find. Locked in its grooves, trance-like vocals swell and ripple over throbbing and entwining rhythms played on drums, castanets, banjos and ghimbri. It’s incredibly beautiful and engrossing – bridging time and culture. On one hand it is unmistakably what it is – music from Africa and the Islamic world, on the other it feels like hippy music flowing out of a 1970’s commune. It’s wonderful, hypnotic, and surprising in a way that few things ever achieve. They still have copies at Honest Jon’s if you are in the Europe, Forced Exposure has it in the US, and if you’re in Mexico the El Nicho shop just got some copies in. Have a listen below, and get it before it goes.



Nass El Ghiwane ‎– Sobhane Allah (1976)

Nass El Ghiwane ‎– Hane Ou Chfak (1976)

Nass El Ghiwane ‎– Mahamouni (1976)

-Bradford Bailey


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