Mystical music infused with infectious rhythms

Safar Nord-Sud

Gnawa Oulad Sidi Ensemble & Amsterdams Andalusisch Orkest

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In Morocco, music is an integral part of all kinds of spiritual traditions – ranging from Gnawa rhythms from Africa to the music of the Jebala in the North-West. Safar Nord-Sud brings together two of these spiritual genres. Violinist Abderrahim Semlali from Fez performs sophisticated Arab-Andalusian music with the young and talented Amsterdam Andalusian Orchestra. The Gnawa Oulad Sidi Ensemble from the region of Souss play the Gnawa repertoire: mystical music infused with infectious rhythms. At the Holland Festival Proms, this ensemble will perform a complete Lila ritual, but for this concert at the Meervaart they look to collaborate with local musicians from Amsterdam. Together they will play Malhoun, sung poetry present in both traditions. As the concert is held during Ramadan, a festive iftar meal will be served for the musicians and the audience.



9:15 pm
Gnawa Oulad Sidi Ensemble

10:10 pm sunset
iftar meal

22:45 pm
Amsterdams Andalusisch Orkest
Fusion Malhoun style with Gnawa by Gnawa Oulad Sidi Ensemble and Amsterdam Andalusian Orchestra

Background information

For centuries, Morocco has been a melting pot of different cultures, reflected in the country's rich musical traditions. This concert brings together two very special music styles, combining Jebala's Andalusian-Arab sounds from Morocco's North-West with Gnawa music, originating from Sub-Saharan Africans who were taken to Morocco as slaves. 

Two ensembles join forces for this concert: the Amsterdam Andalusian Orchestra with famous violinist Abderrahim Semlali, and the Gnawa Oulad Sidi Ensemble led by Nassouli. Both ensembles will play malhoun, a form of sung poetry which plays a central role both in Jebala and in Gnawa culture.

Jebala, which means mountain people, is the collective name for Arabs living in the Western Riff area in Northern Morocco. Their culture is characterised by their close ties with nearby Spain. The golden age of Spanish-Arabic culture stretched from the eighth to the fifteenth century, when Southern Spain was in Arab hands as part of the Al-Andus Empire, which also extended into large parts of Northern Africa. At the end of the fifteenth century the Spanish inquisition forced non-Catholic people in the south of Spain to flee to Northern Morocco. Over the years, their Arab-Andalusian culture has had great influence on local food, music, fashion and science. One of these cultural influences is Andalusian music, which sounds Arab as well as Southern Spanish, flamenco-like - the latter mainly because flamenco was influenced by Arab-Andalusian music; it is an art form which evolved much later. 

Arab-Andalusian ensembles are usually made up of strings, Arab percussion and plucked string instruments such as the oud. Arab-Andalusian music is mainly concentrated in the Moroccan-Andalusian cities Fes and Teutan. The Sufi Andalusi is a spiritual form which leaves room for improvisation in song and music, and is traditionally transferred from master to apprentice at holy Sufi shrines. 

Gnawa refers to the religious culture of Africans originating south of the Sahara, who ended up in Morocco as slaves. There, their animistic rituals mixed with Sufi traditions and the country's Berber culture. Gnawa culture's Sub-Saharan roots are evident in the central role of percussion. Although Gnawa is a religious and ethnic subculture in Morocco, the music enjoys huge popularity throughout the country and has influenced many new styles of world music over the last decades. 

If Arab-Andalusian music is predominantly a genre of classical court music and Gnawa fulfils a mystical, religious role, malhoun can be classified as street music. It's a vocal genre, often sung in a less clearly articulated and therefore ambiguous Arabic dialect. The poems are often about love, sometimes with a religious connotation. Malhun from the north of Morocco is often very similar to Arab-Andalusian music, while in the south, there are more Gnawa varieties which use extensive percussion. 

This makes Malhun an ideal genre to display the richness of Moroccan music. A special feature of this concert is that it is performed during Ramadan – which is why after sunset a communal iftar meal will be served to the public and the musicians.



The Amsterdam Andalusian Orchestra was formed in 2011 to promote the musical heritage of Andalusia – not just that of the Spanish province, but the region comprising the former Arab empire of Al-Andalus, which from the eighth until the fifteenth century was a melting pot of European and Arab culture alive with art, science and music. 

One of the remnants of this culture is Andalusian music, a mix of Arab styles and southern Spanish genres, such as flamenco. The Amsterdam Andalusian Orchestra has the ambition to propagate this music in the Netherlands, thereby contributing to intercultural collaboration and dialogue. One of the orchestra's most important sources of inspiration is the ensemble of the legendary Abdesadaq Chekara (1933-1998) from Tetuan in Morocco. His grandson Idriss Emrane Chekara, an associate of the Amsterdam Andalusian Orchestra, is one of the people preserving Chekara's legacy. The orchestra perform in the Netherlands as well as in Morocco, presenting contemporary interpretations of classic Arabic genres, such as chaabi andalus and sufi andalus. They also perform cross-over styles, as in their Malhoun Jazz project, their flamenco programme Tiempos Nuevos and their music theatre performance De Thuiskomst van Odysseus (Odysseus' Homecoming), which blends classical Arab music with Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria

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 (Gnawa Oulad Sidi Ensemble)
Amsterdams Andalusisch Orkest, Gnawa Oulad Sidi Ensemble

This performance was made possible with support by