The 2023 edition of the Gnaoua and World Music Festival in Essaouira came to a magnificent close on June 24th, with Gnawa Diffusion taking the stage at the beach. A staggering number of nearly 300,000 festival-goers joined in the festivities.
The Gnaoua and World Music Festival in Essaouira wrapped up on Saturday, June 24th. This year's edition brought together nearly 300,000 enthusiastic festival-goers over three unforgettable days. With an impressive lineup of 480 musicians from Morocco and 15 other countries, the festival resounded with captivating world music beyond the city walls, featuring over fifty remarkable concerts. Once again, artists from around the globe, including the United States, Burundi, Pakistan, France, Germany, Belgium, and Cuba, responded to the call of the maâlems Gnaoua.
"The festival's ability to attract international artists and the trust it has built over the years through perseverance, determination, and, above all, its original philosophy of sharing, discovery, and brotherhood, has been truly remarkable," emphasized the organizers in a statement released on Sunday, June 25th.
This edition was exceptional not only for its diverse and refined programming but also for its inclusive and joyful atmosphere of unity and sharing. For three days, more than 35 mâalems, the festival's masters, delivered timeless moments, transporting the audience through audacious fusions and the purest Gnaoua traditions.
The traditional parade set the tone with its vibrant procession of sounds and colors, leading festival-goers to an opening concert that combined two ancestral arts inscribed on UNESCO's Universal Heritage list. The Burundi Drummers, represented by the Amagaba company, joined forces with the art of Tagnaouite, showcased by the Kouyou brothers. They were accompanied by the haunting solos of saxophonist Jaleel Shaw and moments of grace performed by the enchanting singer Sanaa Maharati.
Thursday, June 22nd, also provided a memorable evening of sharing and celebration with the dynamic Selah Sue, who expressed her joy at discovering such an invigorating audience. Her concert will be etched in the memories of both the festival-goers and the Belgian singer herself, who repeatedly expressed her fascination with the festival's overflowing energy.
Later on, the collaboration between the fearless maâlem Khalid Sansi and the most exhilarating band of Afro-Cuban music, El Comité, further confirmed that African sounds have traveled the world only to return to their source, enriched by diverse influences.
Hoba Hoba Spirit - 20 Years On
The celebration continued in an atmosphere of euphoria with artists from all corners of the globe. Hoba Hoba Spirit delivered an unforgettable performance, electrifying the crowd at Moulay Hassan Square. Joined by their long-time members Anouar Zehouani and Othmane Hmimer, who had traveled from abroad to be there, they delivered one of the most magnificent concerts of their career, exactly 20 years after their first participation in the festival. A diverse crowd of young and old, locals and foreigners, united as they sang along to their chart-topping hits, including "Bienvenue à Casa," which was reinterpreted on stage as "Bienvenue à Essaouira."
Friday, June 23rd, brought its own exceptional moments, with a second performance by El Comité and a highly successful show by Fehd Benchemsi & The Lallas at Borj Bab Marrakech.
Eliades Ochoa - The Living Legend
On Moulay Hassan Square, the legendary Eliades Ochoa, one of the greatest soneros in the history of Afro-Cuban music and a member of the Buena Vista Social Club project filled the air with beautiful and nostalgic melodies, captivating not only the forty-somethings but also enchanting the younger generation with his infectious rhythms.
Filled with spirituality and positive energy, the fusion between Qawwali master Ali Faiz Ali and the Aissawa of Fes, titled "Nass El Hal," electrified the crowd, before the Moroccan rock rebels took them on a joyous musical whirlwind.
Finally, on Saturday, June 24th, the festival-goers experienced a powerful emotional journey. It was a night of expert fusions, overflowing energy, and captivating world rhythms. On the stage of Borj Bab Marrakech, Trio Joubran paid a vibrant tribute to Mahmoud Darwich, uniting the mesmerized audience in a chorus of voices.
Undoubtedly, one of the highlights of this edition was the meeting between the most eclectic of Moroccan maâlems, Majid Bekkas, and the talented vibraphonist David Partois, accompanied by the rhythmic genius of spoken word, the Argentinian percussionist Minino Garay, the drummer Mokhtar Samba, and saxophonist Axel Camil. This residency performance illuminated the sky of Essaouira with a thousand sparks.
Later on, the full power of African divas took the stage, featuring the meeting of the Amazones d'Afrique and Asmaa Hamzaoui and Bnat Timbouctou. This concert reaffirmed the festival's deep and unbreakable roots in the continent.
Once again, fusion, sharing, and cultural blending took center stage with one of Morocco's finest concert performers, Maâlem Hamid El Kasri, accompanied by Jaleel Shaw, Torsten de Winkel, and Mustapha Antari. The crowd was still captivated by the precious alchemy born from the encounter between the world's best musicians and the music of the Gnaoua masters, a secret only the festival holds.
The festival reached its magnificent crescendo on the beach stage with the renowned group Gnawa Diffusion, led by the charismatic Amazigh Kateb, who reunited with the Essaouira audience after several years. It was an explosive concert, and the enthusiastic crowd couldn't hide their excitement.