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The group's "Trances" are our equivalent of "soul music", our irrationality. I followed the example of the Nass El Ghiwane themselves: I went back to the roots. They draw their music from the last thousand years of Moroccan and African history. the film sets out to reveal and emphasize this heritage. I chose the music of the Saharan brotherhood, The Gnawas, and the verses of the famous poet El Mejdoub, to underline the trancesWritten by
El Maanouni, Ahmed
If you look at the world as a huge forest, globalization makes us feel like trees with expanding and branches intersecting with other branches from other trees, so at the end, you don't even know to which tree they belong... the only way to tell is to go the other way down.
And I guess that you can never know who you are without looking at your roots... acknowledging them, and more than anything valuing them... and Watching a documentary like Ahmed El Maânouni's "Trances" was a salutary experience; because every once in a while, I need to remember the meaning of username.
I need to remember that I come from a country of millenary history that dates back to the Berber and the Roman civilization and that underwent many influences from Saharan tribes, Arabs, Mediterranean conquerors and African tribes from which we inherited the 'Gnawa' tradition and the trance music.
I need to remember that globalization is positive in the way it makes us feel like forming a united whole but it's meaningless if you don't know what 'part' of that whole you represent. And that it took the endorsement from Martin Scorsese to make me discover that gem was revealing about my own ignorance.
Of course, the name Nass-El-Ghiwane rings a bell to every North African, but being aware of some songs is one thing and being capabl to experience each lyric, each percussion, each banjo plunk and feeling like your body is taken to another dimension is something that even a lifetime of cultural re-appropriation can't achieve.
You can't cheat with their music. Those who danced to their songs, who joined them on-stage, who were in that state of trance, young and old, men and women, were no professional actors, their reaction was authentic and genuine and you could tell so because they never cared about the camera. When I listen to Nass-El-Ghiwane, I can feel the music but if a camera was on me, I would probably restrain myself.
Ten years ago, the company I worked for invited the group for a special occasion, I remember almost everybody was dancing to their music and my boss with a few colleagues of her were in trance. I thought they were overplaying it and naturally, I couldn't even dance. Now I know I was the one whose soul became too rational, maybe too much impregnated by globalized or standardized music, I don't mean that negatively, but "Trances" made me realize that I denied a big part of my own DNA, to the point that I have no right to claim to be a Moroccan.
"Trances" echoed a similarly regretful reaction I had with the more celebrated "Woodstock" after which I wished that my generation could have lived such an experience. "Trances" also deals with the lost youth that didn't need Hendrix or Joplin when they found in the lyrics of the late Larbi Batma, Omar Sayed, Abderhaman Paco and Allal Yaali and of course, the dead-too-soon-icon Boujemâa. the resonance of their own cries. The timeless hit song "Siniya", which means the 'tray' is a metaphor for "sharing" and a nostalgic hymn to a time were friendship, comradery and family weren't just values but social pillars.
Nass-El-Ghiwane were called the Rolling Stones of North Africa (the group was notorious for being fans of their music) but the Stones, like any other Occidental performers, made songs of three, four, maybe minutes... five minutes was the time it took for Nass-El-Ghiwane to get to the chorus. Their songs told stories, they had introductions with eloquence that drained inspiration from Arab poets, melodies as penetrative as 'Sufi' prayers and then their climaxes could last for minutes where I don't even think the players had any control of the reach of their voices or the beatings they were stimulating... until an orgasmic musical knock-out.
And I guess this is why the documentary is made in a way that matches their artistic talent, to the point it should have been a contender for many awards. On Youtube, you'll find many TV archive footages of the group, and the videos are nothing like Maânouni's work. Heswings back and forth between the group and the audience, to emphasize their symbiosis. The film is also full of close-ups on the focused eyes of Paco, the 'peaceful tension' in Batma or Yaali, the sweat on Sayed, showing how psychologically and emotionally involved and dedicated to their art they were. And even the instruments get their close-ups, how could a music that sounded sometimes like guitar electric chords could be fully acoustic, even Scorsese couldn't believe his ears!
And as if he was carried away by the group's freedom of expression, Maânouni doesn't just let "Trances" be a simple concert film but keeps the form free, almost experimental, with many interviews, recorded conversations, and shots on the Moroccan street and the people... as if he was aware that his film would also be a snapshot of an era soon to be lost... an era still influenced by the oral traditions, the myths and legends that built Moroccan folklore and forged the mainstay of Nass-El-Ghiwane's inspiration.
Indeed, they belonged to a generation mainly influenced by Arab music, convincing some artists to join national orchestras and spend their careers playing songs they never created. But one of the founding members Boujemâa (dead in 1974) convinced Sayed to join the troop of another artistic icon Tayeb Seddiqui, and like troubadours, door-to-door chanters and political theater a long time ago, they sung songs of social relevance and entertainment value. Little did they know their music would have an effect far more transcending than entertainment.
The group created songs that penetrated people's minds, hearts and bodies. It is Moroccan 'soul' music indeed, and it's no surprising that a director so concerned about the themes of soul, guilt and redemption could be so sensitive to the lyrics and power of Nass-el-Ghiwane. It is musical poetry at its finest.
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