The New York Times brings us a slideshow of photographs (and narrated by photographer Ed Alcok) featuring the Gnawa Festival of Music in Essaouira, which is scheduled for June. The Gnawa are the descendents of slaves originating from Africa who established brotherhoods throughout Morocco. They are made up of master musicians, metal castanet players, clairvoyants, mediums and their followers.
They are at the same time musicians, initiators and healers, blending African and Arab-Berber customs. Despite being Muslims, the Gnawa base their rituals on African cults of possession...a sort of sufism merged with voodoo rituals.
During the celebration the master musicians and his group call on saints and on supernatural entities to take possession of their followers who eventually go into deep trance.
The accompanying article in the NY Times is written by Steve Dougherty.
I'll be putting Essaouira and the Gnawa music festival on my list of possible destinations for a 2009 photo expedition. I've been to Essaouira when traveling in Morocco...only as a day trip, so the prospect of a photo expedition scheduled for the festival, with all the visuals and ambient music is irresistible.
The NY Times feature seems to me to have been produced half-heartedly, with no background on the Gnawa themselves. Since the festival is an annual event, these photographs and audio must've been available for almost a year and I would've thought that with all that time, the NY Times could've produced a comprehensive multimedia feature. On reflection, I'm too harsh...the NY Times is not the National Geographic and I shouldn't expect much more from what is essentially a travel feature.