The word ´gnawa´ in the Maghreb stands both for a musical genre and for the musicians after whom it was named. Born in 1963 in Morocco, Hassan Hakmoun has done more than any other musician to spread its fame.
Hassan Hakmoun was born in 1963 into a family of musicians in Marrakech in Morocco. At seven years of age he was initiated into the traditional trance rituals, art and folklore of gnawa.
The word ‘gnawa’ in Morocco designates the offspring of former slaves. They are organised into religious brotherhoods and count in the Maghreb as being spiritual authorities and healers, as media between the spiritual and the material worlds and as entertainers. Typical instruments are the sintir (a three-stringed bass lute), the quarkabeb (metal castanets) and the tbel or ganga (big frame-drums).
Hassan Hakmoun grew up familiar with the gnawas’ music, learned their songs and dances, and specialised in percussion and song. From the age of fourteen he spent several years in the retinue of well known gnawa-masters and performed at the drop of a hat, to show his worth as a travelling musician and street-artist.
In 1987 Hassam Hakmoun went with a group of gnawa musicians – the Trio Gna & Nomadas Dance Group – to perform in New York, and decided on the spur of the moment to stay there, though knowing no word of English. Richard Horowitz, an American composer and keyboard player, helped him to come to terms with his new surroundings, to get a residence- and work-permit and to make crucial contacts. In the 70s Horowitz himself had gone in the footsteps of Paul Bowles and the beatniks to Morocco, where he had learnt to play the ney flute. After settling in New York in the 80s, he worked with the Persian singer Sussan Deyhim, also in New York, and wrote music for films like Bernardo Bertolucci’s ‘Sky over the Desert’.
Horowitz is also to be heard on the album ‘Life around the World’ (1990), with which Hassan Hakmoun first captured American attention, which in turn brought him invitations to perform. Peter Gabriel began to take an interest in him and persuaded him to make a recording under his Real World label. This was the album ‘Trance’ (1993), produced by Simon Emmerson, who later launched the ‘Afro-Celt sound system’. Hassan Hakmoun’s hypnotic gnawa rhythms changed under the influence of other musicians on this, his best known album into psychedelic multi-faceted groove.
From 1992 to 94, Hassan Hakmoun took part on the renowned WOMAD tours. In 1994 he was a guest at the re-make of the Woodstock Festival. During this period he also appeared in the USA on big TV shows, like Jay Leno’s ‘The Tonight Show’ or on ‘Night Music’ with David Sanborn, both on NBC. Beside recording solo-albums, no longer available, under various labels, Hassan Hakmoun has worked on many productions with other well known musicians like John Cale, the Kronos Quartet and the South African jazz musician Pops Mohammed.
In 1963 Hassan Hakmoun was born in Marrakech in Morocco. From childhood on, he was acquainted with the music of the gnawas, the mythical Sufi brotherhoods of the Maghreb. He first showed his worth on the street as a musician and artist in a gnawa master’s retinue.
In 1987 Hassan Hakmoun went with a gnawa group to perform in New York and decided to stay. There he was supported by the composer and keyboard player Richard Horowitz and made recordings together with other musicians. In 1990 he recorded his own first album, which earned him a reputation among fans of world-music and others.
Hassan Hakmoun’s success in the USA led him several times in the mid-90s to Europe, where he made various recordings, like Trance (1993) under Peter Gabriel’s Real World label. Being much in demand, he is also heard on albums recorded by other musicians with styles ranging from pop via new classic to jazz.
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(01 January 98 - 14 June 05)