Tue. Oct 3rd, 2023

TANGIER, Morocco — For a lot more than a 50 %-century, a Moorish-type property in the old city of Tangier thought of one of Morocco’s cultural gems drew musicians and other artists from close to the world in search of to understand about the Sufi new music and rituals of the descendants of slaves in the state.

But the one-of-a-form center for traditional Gnawa songs was deserted early this calendar year because it was in threat of collapse, and very long delays to restore it as aspect of a federal government rehabilitation program for this city on Morocco’s northern coast set its foreseeable future in peril.

The battle to preserve Dar Gnawa, or the Gnawa Property, has get rid of mild on just how valuable and precarious standard skills are in the North African kingdom.

Abdellah El Gourd, 75 and a planet-renowned learn of Gnawa songs, has lived in the historic property due to the fact he was 5. In excess of the earlier many years, he hosted and collaborated with an array of acclaimed jazz musicians from about the world.

“Dar Gnawa is not only an institution that celebrates the audio of former slaves in North Africa, but it is also a focal place for the rise of jazz on the African continent,” stated Hisham Aidi, a professor of global relations at Columbia College who grew up in the previous town of Tangier and has been component of attempts to help save the area.

“As youngsters, we would prevent by Dar Gnawa immediately after faculty, and you by no means understood who you would discover there. It could be saxophonist Archie Shepp, poet Ted Joans or a European musician playing with El Gourd’s troupe,” he included. “We had no strategy who these artists had been, but we were being captivated by the performances.”

Gnawa songs is a tradition that originated with enslaved West Africans who have been taken north to Morocco. It is among the rituals they held on to, praising saints and spirits with rhythmic music, dance and trance possession.

The devices concerned are couple of and uncomplicated: a three-string fretless lute recognized as the gimbri or sintir, which is strummed, accompanied by significant steel castanets referred to as qraqeb, whose clacking make trance-inducing rhythms. The tunes is sometimes played for the duration of all-evening therapeutic ceremonies wherever exorcisms are done on the ill to expel the djinn, or evil spirits, believed to lead to ailment.

The laid-again town of Essaouira on Morocco’s Atlantic coastline hosts an annual Gnawa competition, which has been attended in past many years by notable worldwide musicians this sort of as Ziggy Marley. In 2019, UNESCO additional Gnawa to its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity record.

In 1980, the Gnawa Household turned the first officially regarded centre devoted to celebrating and preserving the style. But very long just before that, it served as a assembly position for artists setting up in the 1960s.

Not like other Moroccan towns, Tangier did not have a lot of cultural facilities for young artists, so Mr. El Gourd took it upon himself to create a space that he hoped would make sure his artwork sort would not vanish. In excess of the yrs, the residence turned a single of the few destinations in the region to exercise and find out Gnawa music.

Born into a family of Gnawa practitioners, Mr. El Gourd is now combating not only for his dwelling, but for his legacy.

In 1967, he satisfied the esteemed American pianist Randy Weston, who lived in Tangier for a couple of many years. Mr. Weston’s songs and scholarship sophisticated the notion — now broadly accepted — that jazz is, at its core, African music.

For yrs, Mr. Weston performed with Mr. El Gourd in the Gnawa Residence in Tangier right before they toured the planet collectively. They collaborated on various recordings, including the 1992 Grammy-nominated “Gnawa Musicians of Morocco.”

More than the many years, Mr. El Gourd achieved and carried out with several other acclaimed jazz musicians as nicely, including Dexter Gordon, Odetta and Billy Harper.

“I went with Randy to Morocco, and given that then, we have grow to be a household,” Fatoumata Weston, the pianist’s widow, mentioned of Mr. El Gourd. “He’s a big artist. He’s someone who under no circumstances asks for everything,” she included.

“When a wonderful artist like him has challenges, we will have to assist him. He was the ambassador of Morocco throughout the entire world.”

She, Mr. Aidi and others credited Mr. El Gourd and Mr. Weston, who died in 2018, with inspiring the fusion of Gnawa and jazz tunes.

The Gnawa Home is a mixture of architectural genres — a reflection of Tangier’s loaded global historical past. A Moroccan door opens into a smaller chamber that leads to an inside courtyard. An Italian marble stairwell is tiled in the Moroccan mosaic fashion acknowledged as zellij, although the rest of the household functions Spanish and Portuguese tiles and Italian doorways.

The major ground, with its significant ceilings, overlooks the seaport of Tangier.

Mr. El Gourd owns the dwelling and lived with his spouse and children on the second and third floors for many years whilst guests downstairs joined improvised jam sessions and celebratory musical gatherings, considerably to the delight of the neighborhood.

But the spouse and children moved out in February so the household could be renovated as component of a state system conceived two years in the past to restore the total outdated town of Tangier, exactly where dozens of houses ended up in risk of collapsing. Though Mr. El Gourd was absent, a neighbor knocked down a wall and attempted to annex aspect of the residence. Tiles and chandeliers had been stolen.

Regardless of his fame, Mr. El Gourd explained his financial problem was precarious, but the condition had promised to transfer funds to him to restore his decaying dwelling. Nevertheless, those cash had been delayed for numerous months, and in switch, so were the renovations, escalating the danger that the dwelling would crumble.

“Whenever I question, they say: ‘Wait a bit. Wait around a bit.’ But practically nothing has been completed,” Mr. El Gourd, a serene and composed gentleman who carefully chooses his words, claimed through a recent go to to his household, referring to his conversations with the regional authorities. “I do not know how I survived these last months.”

When arrived at for comment, the authorities in Tangier promised that the renovation of Mr. El Gourd’s dwelling would be a top rated priority. Then, following much more than 6 months of delays, the renovations ultimately started this thirty day period, and there are superior hopes that the household can be salvaged.

A lot more typically, numerous in Morocco see the rehabilitation plan for the outdated town as the latest assault on Tangier’s cultural heritage amid a surge of building across the city around the earlier two many years. Dozens of historic properties have been demolished to make way for apartments, which includes some of the earliest cinemas on the African continent.

In 2010, Benchimol Clinic, a historic Jewish establishment that figures in many writings about the town, was razed.

In Mr. El Gourd’s office environment, a restored morgue, the piled-up home furnishings moved from Gnawa Home occupies 50 percent of the area, and the walls are adorned with dozens of images of entire world musicians he has collaborated with. He reminisced about the wonderful situations in his job.

“I could be living the lifetime in New York,” he reported. “Sometimes I get so fatigued that I just assume I need to depart.”

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