Innov Gnawa is a band made up of Moroccan expats in NYC, which pays tribute to their Gnawa heritage. Taking a different route from London’s Electric Jalaba, who fuse Gnawa music with influences ranging from Afro beat to techno (see review below), Innov Gnawa are more dedicated to following the traditional rituals of their ancestors and transmitting their heritage to the new generation. They first came to our attention via two EPs which came out on the boutique bijou label Pique Nique; one of which included the monster Mr Assister’s remix of ‘Toura Toura’.
For the release their first full length LP, Lila, they have moved to the (renowned soul label) Daptone Records. The title is a reference to sacred night ceremonies in Morocco dedicated to spiritual healing. Hailing from Fes, where his father used to lead a zaouia (school) devoted to Gnawa, Maâlem Hassan Ben Jaafer is one of the few musicians living in the US who is trusted to host a lila ceremony. During these, the music functions as a way to hypnotise its audience, and to help navigate a cleansing experience. A maâlem guides the ceremony through a series of centuries-old songs that represent seven distinct colours. If the colours are not played in the correct order, it can disrupt the healing process, hence the importance of the maâlem, who commit to a lifelong dedication to their craft. As the artistic director, lead singer and spiritual elder of Innov Gnawa, Ben Jaafer is one of a handful of maâlems who carries the tradition of the ancient ritual Gnawa music outside its native land.
As explained by Samir Langus (one of Innov Gnawa’s founders), “the Gnawa has this power of making people be quiet. It makes you respect it, be quiet, and listen. It is holy music.” Word.