5. Exhibit One: Displaying Sound

Museums of music exist, but they present quandaries. Music is not an object that can be put in a display case. In fact, music refuses to be framed. It permeates a location with both auditory and physical vibration. It also has a powerful effect on memory. Music inhabits us in a literal sense. It invades the parameters of the body and takes root, almost systemically, even when we would rather have silence. It is why we refer to "haunting melodies." Music, like spirits, is attributed with an agency of its own. It can possess us.

Music can also transport us. This is certainly true of music that is associated, iconically, with different cultures, climates, places and times (Feld 1996). Music captures our imaginations, possessing us and taking us to a different place. Music then is mobilizing. Not only does it effect the movement of our bodies, and our sympathetic nervous system, but it can also move our imaginations into spaces that are not limited by geography. Such transport is common at Dar Gnawa, where the visitor is bathed in a wide array of international music. For despite Abdullah El-Gourd’s concern with creating tagnawit the sound track at Dar Gnawa, is not what you might anticipate:

Hassan Hakmoun, "Sidi Musa" (mp3 file, 458 kb, 1.54 min)

Evenings at Dar Gnawa in the summer of 2001 were always interesting. Sometimes I would enter and be overwhelmed with the sounds of Weston’s music. This is his invocation to Sidi Musa, which he plays at every concert:

Both these pieces employ the pentatonic minor of the Gnawa. The instrumentation in Weston’s piece resembles the Gnawa insofar as he forefronts the bass, using it like a ginbri and employs the triplets found in Hakmoun’s invocation. He suspends the fifth, creating an open pentatonic sound, and the improvisation present in Hakmoun finds resonance in the jazz improvisation of Weston. Weston plays the piano in tandem with the bass, and Pharoah Saunders solos on the Moroccan double-reed ghaita to great effect.

There is an antiphony (call and response) found in much Gnawa music that is not represented in this particular Weston piece, but that he takes up elsewhere.

The Night Spirit Masters, "Chalabati" (mp3 file, 542 kb, 2.15 min)

Abdullah El-Gourd played Weston’s work often, including works later works which feature a broad range of instrumentation, including the Chinese pipa, African drums and the searing sound of Pharoah Saunders on the Moroccan double-reed ghaita. The m’allam played this music at high volume, eclipsing the possibility of conversation and obliging the visitor to listen.

Kephera, "Creation" (mp3 file, 519 kb, 2.09 min)

The soundscape was nothing if not various at Dar Gnawa. Sometimes we would listen to Malian music. Abdullah El-Gourd was particularly impressed with the blind duo Amadou and Miriam, who overcame hardship and initial rejection by Malian audiences to become well-known international recording artists.

Amadou and Miriam, "Si Ni Kénéya" (mp3 file, 499 kb, 2.04 min)

We listened to World Music compilations with pieces that mixed Celtic and African sounds. One day I arrived to a pulsing Latin beat.

Willie Colon and Ruben Blades. "Segun el Color"
(mp3 file, 583 kb, 2.25 min) (5)

Kat-sinat al-musiqa d-salsa? "You listen to salsa music?" I asked, surprised and delighted. Abdullah El-Gourd didn’t understand the word "salsa". "Latin music! al-musiqa al-latiniyya," I clarified. "You like Latin music?"

Ma‘lum! "Of course," he answered. "The origin of that music is Andalusian. Asl-u man andulsiyya. It’s Andalusian music, dyal-nah, it is ours, it belongs to us." Here the m’allam was constructing his identity as a Moroccan more than an African. The Andalusian culture came down from Spain with the Moors (Berbers and Arabs) in the 14th and 15th centuries in the wake of the Recon quest, and is most often associated with Fes and Tetouan, though Andalucians live in all major cities.

It is not a homogenous Gnawa aesthetic that is presented (whatever that might mean), but, echoing the diverse pantheon of spirits, we find a musical polytheism of sorts.

Dar Gnawa exists in part for the dissemination of global sounds to a local audience. It is a locale where transnational musics are played, displayed and consumed.

Since I was there in the summer, there were a lot of visitors to Dar Gnawa – Moroccans living in other parts of the country who came back to visit family in Tangier, Moroccans living in Europe who make their annual pilgrimage across the Straits on massive ferries to the bled, the homeland. The young Gnawis always sat unimposingly against the wall, patiently waiting for the moment when they would rehearse the ceremonial songs. A long-time friend of Abdullah El-Gourd’s from Tetouan was often there, a tall man who, once he had smoked a bit, was extremely gregarious. I had the feeling that he came to Dar Gnawa to get out of the house and be with the boys. Apart from one young European woman who wore a jellaba and smoked cigarettes with her Moroccan boyfriend one evening, I was the only woman present in Dar Gnawa that summer. I was always introduced as professora (6), which alerted the other visitors to my status and explained my presence. Illegal Nigerians waiting to cross the Straits and who only spoke English sometimes heard the music from the street and wandered in. They were welcomed by Abdullah El-Gourd in English. Another m’allam frequented Dar Gnawa – a thin man with large eyes who was not of African origin. Once the music got started this m’allam played a beautiful pair of rare wooden cymbals (qraqab pl.). There was also a saxophone player from the Royal Orchestra who was on vacation in the north. He came without his horn but often played the conga drums.

Other visitors to Dar Gnawa that summer included a Moroccan Jew and flute player who had grown up with the m‘allam in Tangier but now lived in Paris. The two men spoke fluent Spanish with each other. Maurice brought his flute and played jazz riffs over the Gnawa songs. He had lived in New York in his youth and had attended the Manhattan School of Music jazz program. Abdullah El-Gourd was looking forward to the visit of Archie Shepp and Randy Weston in early September when they would all play at the Tangier Jazz Festival. (The festival was subsequently cancelled because of the events of September 11th.)

This was the ambiance at Dar Gnawa, a museum for local residents of Tangiers, for immigrants returning from abroad, for artists in the community, for clandestine Africans, for foreign researchers, and, several times a year, for world-renown musicians. And at nine o-clock, as if everyone knew that the museum was closing, people packed up, said their good-byes and left.

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