The UK's foremost exponent of Moroccan gnawa music
Morrocan Gnawa master Simo Lagnawi was signed to Waulk Records in 2013 and released his debut album Gnawa London that year. Gnawa music is the traditional music of black slaves who were taken from countries such as Guinea and Sudan to work in North African countries. It is characterised by the playing of the guembri, a camel-skinned three-stringed bass instrument that is played by the lead vocalist of the troupe. The other musicians chant, play krakebs - metal castanets that represent the handcuffs of the slaves - and drums. The music is highly spiritual, ritualised and ceremonial. Combined with incense and colour it is traditionally performed at Lila healing ceremonies that evoke muslim saints and animistic spirits to induce a state of trance. Simo is keen to promote the music in new contexts, to replicate its trancelike effect at festivals and venues throughout the world.
Simo arrived in the UK from Rabat in 2008 and has made it his mission to expose the sound of gnawa music in the UK and beyond with a range of African and other musicians combing their different traditions with his to create a new branch of gnawa music. He has performed in venues from museums such a s London's V&A and art galleries to festival stages from Scotland & Lithuania to Dubai & Morocco. He has performed his music for live radio and TV sessions for example on BBC Radio3 and Africa Today. On stage his driving energy is a force to be reckoned with and Simo actively promotes live music events in London that bring musicians together from different backgrounds.
Simo was a winner of World Music Network's 'Battle of the Bands' and the track Baniyorkoy from Gnawa London was included on a compilation album 'Rough Guide To The Best African Music You've Never Heard'. World Music Network released his second album The Gawa Berber on their Riverboat label in 2014. He returned to Waulk Records for his third album Salt released on 11th December 2015.
Photo: Hassan Hajjaj
The Gnawa Caravan: Salt is the third album from UK-based Moroccan Gnawa master Simo Lagnawi. Salt, like water is a necessity of life, and this collection of traditional Gnawa music and original repertoire represents the next phase of Lagnawi’s life. These eleven pieces revolve around Lagnawi’s guembri playing and strident vocals portraying aspects of Gnawa culture whilst exploring new territory. Lagnawi stirs in flavours of Guinean kora, Berber guitar and the desert landscapes of theTuareg people. The influence goes both ways, with British musicians singing in Moroccan, playing Saharan blues guitar and riti, the one-stringed fiddle of the Fula people. European instruments such as piano and clarinet add depth to the musical landscape. The result is a snapshot of the musical diversity of UK living, but with a strong Afrikan sensibility.
Latest album release:
The Gnawa Caravan: Salt
Album artwork/Photography: Hassan Hajjaj
Review: The Gnawa Caravan:Salt
"Simo Lagnawi is becoming a prolific and reliable recording artist…
He broadens his palette further on Caravan without ever moving the spirit of his music-making away from its source…
The stylistic equilibrium is just right, as is the production, which balances instruments and voices beautifully while keeping a sense of rawness… The result is a slicker sound that is exciting and never a compromise.
There are moments in which waves of Lagnawi’s reverb-heavy vocals rain down on a trance-like base of gimbri and percussion and time stands still."
Songlines magazine #116
Harboured Sounds feature filmed in Bristol 2015
Video for the track 'Aicha Kandisha' from the album 'The Gnawa Caravan: Salt' released 2015