Moroccan Gnawa ritual at the Concertgebouw

Holland Festival Proms:

Gnawa Oulad Sidi Ensemble

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From the afternoon until the early hours of the night, a festive, musical Gnawa ritual will be performed at the Concertgebouw. One of the most important spiritual and musical traditions in Morocco, Gnawa is the expression of the Gnawa brotherhoods, who distilled their own form of music from African music cultures and religious Arab songs. During the ‘Lila’, a ceremony which lasts for many hours, the participants try to come into contact with the spirits through music and dance. The ceremony at the Holland Festival Proms will start at the Grote Zaal (Main Hall). Guided by the Gwana Maalem, the musicians and dancers will then move in procession to the Kleine Zaal (Recital Hall), where the audience are free to walk in or out throughout the performance.

Holland Festival Proms

Six concerts by world class artists in one day at the Concertgebouw, standing tickets for only 10 euros per concert, seating on the balconies and the stage. That is the Holland Festival Proms, the concerts held on the festival’s final weekend, hosted by Thomas van Luyn. Throughout the afternoon and evening, ensembles ranging from the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra to American singer-songwriter Ben Folds with yMusic, and from the Kronos Quartet to a Moroccan Gnawa ensemble will perform on stage. Opening with a family concert from the Netherlands, the programme will journey through different genres round the world to conclude with a Malian version by Terry Riley’s minimal masterpiece In C. And if you still can’t get enough, you can join our festive afterparty.

Background information

Lila ritual

During the Holland Festival Proms, a nine-hour Lila ceremony will be performed at the Concertgebouw. Lila is a Sufi ritual from the Moroccan Gnawa culture, with music, dance, poetry and prayers. Lifted into a state of trance by the sweeping rhythms, the participants try to ban evil spirits and invoke the good ones. The intensity of the music is an overwhelming and unforgettable experience, for non-Sufis as well.


Gnawa refers to the religious culture of Sub-Saharan Africans, who were enslaved and taken to Morocco. There, their animist rituals were mixed with Sufi traditions and the country's Berber culture. There are several theories to explain the origins of the word Gnawa. According to one theory, it means deaf and dumb, because these migrants could not speak Berber. Another theory maintains that it refers to their dark skin compared to indigenous Moroccans. And a third theory says that it refers to the Kano region in the north of Nigeria.

In Gnawa religion, music plays a prominent role. As in many other Sufi traditions, the music during the Lila brings about a mystical trance experience. Usually, the ritual starts at the end of the day, continuing deep into the night. This is why the ritual is called Lila, which refers to the Arabic word 'lil', meaning night. According to Gnawa religion, the ceremony recreates the first sacrifice and the creation of the universe. Gnawa culture's Sub-Saharan roots are evident in the central role percussion plays. The sintir or gibri, a three-stringed long, rectangular plucked bass lute, lays down the melody. This instrument is usually played by the leader of the ritual, the Maalem. Symbolising the possessed, the sintir is used to summon the spirits. Another characteristic of the ritual is the use of krakebs, large iron castanets. The music at the Lila ritual is exhilarating and overpowering, often accompanied by ecstatic dancing and singing. For the lay viewer, the ritual might seem endlessly repititive, but in truth there's a constant flow of new mystic songs performed during the Lila.


The ceremony during the Holland Festival Proms will start at the Grote Zaal (Main Hall). Guided by the Gwana Maalem, the musicians and dancers will then move in procession to the Kleine Zaal (Recital Hall), where the audience are free to walk in and out during the performance.



The Gnawa Oulad Sidi Ensemble hail from the Souss region especially from the cities of Taroudant and Dcheira in Southern Morocco, near the city of Agadir. The members live in a brotherhood which is made up of musicians as well as psychic-therapists. Engaging in their musical, ritual, therapeutic and initiatory activities they harmoniously combine their Islamic faith with their sub-Saharan roots. 

The ensemble's dance movements bear the marks of their people's history as slaves in Morocco, when their necks were tied to their wrists and ankles. The Gnawa Oulad Sidi Ensemble are a group who carry on this tradition as authentically as possible, true to its social and artistic aspects. 



Nassouli (Gwana Oulad Sidi Ensemble)

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