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-Gourds concern with creating tagnawit the sound track at Dar Gnawa, is not what you might anticipate:
Evenings at Dar Gnawa in the summer of
2001 were always interesting. Sometimes I would enter and
be overwhelmed with the sounds of Westons music.
This is his invocation to Sidi Musa, which he plays at
Both these pieces employ the pentatonic minor of the Gnawa. The instrumentation in Westons piece resembles the Gnawa insofar as he forefronts the bass, using it like a ginbri and employs the triplets found in Hakmouns 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.
Abdullah El-Gourd played Westons 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 mallam played this music at high volume, eclipsing the possibility of conversation and obliging the visitor to listen.
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.
We listened to World Music compilations with pieces that mixed Celtic and African sounds. One day I arrived to a pulsing Latin beat.
Kat-sinat al-musiqa d-salsa? "You listen to salsa music?" I asked, surprised and delighted. Abdullah El-Gourd didnt understand the word "salsa". "Latin music! al-musiqa al-latiniyya," I clarified. "You like Latin music?"
Malum! "Of course," he answered. "The origin of that music is Andalusian. Asl-u man andulsiyya. Its Andalusian music, dyal-nah, it is ours, it belongs to us." Here the mallam 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-Gourds 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 mallam frequented Dar Gnawa a thin man with large eyes who was not of African origin. Once the music got started this mallam 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 mallam 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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