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World Music Institute's Africa In New York Series Begins With Gnawa Music Master Hassan Hakmoun
Published December 14, 2006

The series, which kicks off January 13, also features concerts with Ologunde and the Fula Flute Ensemble

World Music Institute's Africa in New York series, a celebration of traditional music and dance from the African diaspora, will begin with a concert featuring Gnawa and Berber music of Morocco. Hassan Hakmoun (sintir - three-stringed skin faced lute, vocals, dance), an extraordinary artist from Marrakech, is the premier exponent of Moroccan Gnawa music in America and a commanding figure in world music circles. Accompanied by Brahim Fribgane (guitar, percussion) and Mohamed Bechar (qaraqab-castanets, dance), he will perform acrobatic dances and ecstatic music from Gnawa trance ceremonies - a blend of North African and Arab melodies with West African rhythms. The program will open with Berber music from the Middle Atlas region with Abderahim Boutat (outar-skin faced lute) and Brahim Fribgane.

From his early days as a street entertainer in Marrakech's legendary Jamaa el-Fna market square through appearances at Lincoln Center, BAM and the Hollywood Bowl, Hassan Hakmoun has left an indelible imprint on audiences and critics alike. Well known for his concerts of music from Gnawa trance ceremonies, as well as for his cross-cultural music, he has performed since the age of seven. In Morocco, he studied with master musicians, including Brahim el-Belkani and Amida Boussou, and worked as a m'allem (lead musician) in derbeba purification and trance ceremonies. Since making his US debut in 1987 at Lincoln Center as part of the Trio Gna, he has earned a following for spanning multiple genres with his spiritually charged vocals and sintir playing. He has collaborated with Richard Horowitz, Pharoah Sanders, Kronos Quartet, Peter Gabriel, Don Cherry, and Paula Cole, among others; appeared at WOMAD, Woodstock '94 and the Tonight Show with Jay Leno; and recorded for Real World, Mina Records, and Triloka. His album, The Gift, won an AFIM Indie Award for Best Contemporary World Recording.

Hakmoun will perform music from the Gnawa brotherhood -- a mystical black Islamic sect whose members trace their spiritual ancestry to Bilal, an Ethiopian who was Mohammed's first muezzin (prayer leader). Their rites have origins in sub-Saharan Africa and were brought to Morocco by slaves and mercenaries from the 17th century onward. The organization of the trance ceremony is reminiscent of the rites of West African hunting societies and of Haitian vodou. Gnawa musicians are entertainers on Jamaa el-Fna, the market square in Marrakech, but their most important function is to perform as intermediaries with the spirit world at purification rituals and trance ceremonies.

Africa in New York will continue on January 26th with Afro-Brazilian music and dance with Ologunde, and on Saturday, January 27th with music and dance of West Africa with the Sing Sing Rhythms of Senegal and the Fula Flute Ensemble.