Spirit of Gnawas Brings a Taste of North Africa to Los Angeles

Innov Gnawa Moroccan Band

On February 4th, 2017, the residents of Los Angeles will be given a rare treat: a North African spiritual ritual called Lila accompanied by musical performances by the New York based Moroccan band Innov Gnawa. Called the Spirit of Gnawas, the event will be the first of its kind in Los Angeles, giving it’s audience a peek into an experience originated by Morocco’s black communities – descendants of slaves uprooted from other parts of African including Mali and Mauritania. This one night event will take place at the Wanderlust Hollywood (1357 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90028) and doors open at 8pm.

We connected with Karim Nabil, co-producer and founder of Create Xplore Media, who gave us an exclusive interview about the Spirit of Gnawas, which has been a passion project for him and his team for some time. Below are the answers to some of the questions we asked him.

In some ways, there is no place as far away or as different in context than Los Angeles and where the Gnawas originate from.  But the hope of organizing a Lila in Los Angeles is to explore the possibilities of opening doors to other worlds beyond the familiar city life. The Spirit of Gnawas project is a collaborative effort between myself, Moroccan American actor and musician Fehd Benchemsi and my wife and partner, Jy-Ah Min.  Fehd and I are both recent immigrants from Morocco, Africa and moved to Los Angeles in recent years. Jy-Ah has also lived and worked in Morocco which is where we all met.

Gnawa music has always been a big part of our culture in Morocco and we have always been proud of it.  Moving to Los Angeles meant plugging into a new life here in the US, but also finding meaningful ways to reconnect to our roots. So we wanted to find a beautiful way to share our tradition with the community here in Los Angeles.

Xenophobia, racism and hatred exists in our world today and we believe that a unique event like this can serve as an opportunity to invite people of different backgrounds to come together and discover common ground in love for music and appreciation for cultures.

The Inter-Connectedness of North and Sub-Saharan Africa
The Gnawa music like many music forms have been born from a combination of various regions and cultures across the African continent and across time.  Our most important aim is to demonstrate that all cultures of the world are accessible to all. We believe we are all inter-connected somehow. Let’s not forget that mankind as we know it possibly came from a common original place, which is Africa.

The LiLa Ritual
The Lila is a rich ceremony of song, music, color, incense and dance. It traditionally takes place over the course of an entire night, from dusk to dawn in private homes and locations where the community comes together to shed negative energies and conjure positive ones. It is usually not performed for the public as a show since it is more like an interactive musical ritual that the community partakes in. The goal of the Lila ritual is not just to invite the audience to be spectators, but to actively encourage one to experience the event from the inside out. Audiences can immerse themselves in the colors and sounds of the Gnawa with performances rarely accessible to the public. As such this is a highly unusual event, very rare in form and performance.

Spirit of Gnawas Announcement 2017

Spirit of Gnawas Announcement 2017

The ancient musical rituals of the Gnawas are, even to this modern day, revered and practiced to invoke a connection into our spirit realm. It allows one to introspect deeply and open their mind’s eye. The ritual is known to enable some participants to enter the trance state of jadba, in which they may perform startling and sometimes spectacular dances. It is by means of these dances that participants negotiate their relationships with the spirits. The ritual ultimately aims to cleanse and exorcise negative energy through its process. These are ancestral believes, but many participants find themselves reaching a level of trance, stimulated by musical rhythms, colors and fragrances led by the Gnawa musicians.

Prior knowledge and experience is not at all required so all are welcome.  The Lila ritual is a spiritual ceremony that is accessible to all kinds of people of all cultures and backgrounds. The world famous Gnawa World Music Festival in Essaouira, Morocco, brings tens of thousands of foreign people every summer in Morocco to experience authentic Lilas first hand. Our Lila this year will be hosted by renown actor, Robert Wisdom who has himself attended many Lilas and has returned to Morocco every year since encountering the Gnawas on his first trip to Morocco in 1979. He has been returning to Essouira, Morocco for the past 20 years to also attend the Gnawa World Music Festival of Essouira and partake in its Lila rituals.

Pioneering Spirit
There are no other events like this that we are aware of as this is historically a first authentic Lila in Los Angeles. The organization of such an event is very complicated and costly as authentic Lilas cannot occur without the guidance and presence of real Gnawa masters and musicians.  For this event alone we are mobilizing musicians and Gnawas from across the country to come together and make this possible.

Our hope is that with the support of the Los Angeles community, we will be able to expand our projects to various locations and organize more Lilas in the very near future. This has been a passion project for us since the beginning and we hope to continue our passion for sharing such beautiful music and culture with the community we love here in Los Angeles.

Author: Constance Ejuma is an award-winning actress and producer. She’s also a current member of The3As board and spearheaded the launch of this site’s blog. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.