JUNE 26-28, 2025



Over the past 30 years, Gnaoua culture has been the subject of much academic research. Rich in history, tradition, and singular musical practice, this culture continues to interact with other musical genres, both in Morocco and on an international level.

Gnaoua culture has roots in sub-Saharan Africa and is intimately connected to the history of the slave trade, and also incarnates a therapeutic dimension, often associated with the practice of healing through trance.

In the past, ethnologist Viviana Pâques, historian Jean-Louis Miège, psychoanalyst Abdelhafid Chlyeh and anthropologist Zineb Majdouli have all devoted research to Gnaoua.

Today, we are witnessing an ever-growing sense of the need for precise knowledge of this musical and extra-musical world, and a renewed interest on the part of anthropologists, historians and doctoral candidates. Current research projects, conducted in Morocco and throughout the world, contribute without a doubt to a better understanding of Gnaoua. The incorporation of Gnaoua into Moroccan popular culture is real and visible, and deserves in complement to be addressed in future research projects.

The Gnaoua are a direct illustration of this intangible heritage that has forged transatlantic relationships, between Africa and the Americas: a heritage that continues through essential music forms such as the blues, Jazz, and gospel music.

In the logical flow of the work we began 25 years ago, after the Festival’s launch in 1998, the creation of the Yerma Gnaoua Association in 2009, the edition of the first anthology of Gnaoua music in 2014, and the inscription of Gnaoua on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2019, we wish to bring yet another dimension to this work of preservation through connection with the world of university research.

To celebrate this 25th anniversary, then, the Gnaoua and World Music Festival will associate with the Center for African Studies at Mohammed VI Polytechnic University in Benguerir (UM6P), to create a university chair dedicated to Gnaoua culture, under its aegis.

The principal objective of this chair is to create a space for research in view of deepening understanding and knowledge of Gnaoua culture, its origins, its history, and its evolutions.

Under the direction of Professor Ali Benmakhlouf, the Center for African Studies at UM6P is a centre for teaching and research dedicated to studies related to the African continent and oriented toward 3 actions: promoting studies conducted on the continent; documenting studies produced elsewhere and relating to Africa; and teaching studies that will make it possible to view the world from an African perspective (website: https://cas.um6p.ma).

The creation of this first university chair dedicated to Gnaoua culture will take place over several phases in the next few years.

The first phase is the organization of 2 round tables, next June 29th in Essaouira during the Festival. These round tables, organized under the direction of Ali Benmakhlouf, will bring together renowned academics with young student researchers.

Marouane Jaouat, postdoctoral fellow at the Institut des études avancées (UM6P) and Omar Fertat, lecturer at Université de Bordeaux-Montaigne (where he teaches Arab-Muslim Arts in the Arab Studies department and Arab Performing Arts in the Performing Arts department), will be joined by students from the Mahir Center at UM6P.

The first round table will address the theme of “Gnaoua Culture—Between Orality and Rituality”, while the second will focus on “The Metamorphoses of Gnaoua Culture”.


SATURDAY, JUNE 29, 2024 – Hotel Atlas Essaouira Riad Resort – « Salle La Caravelle » 


Round Table 1

Gnaoua Culture - Between Orality and Rituality

4PM – 5PM 

Participants from the Mahir Center at UM6P examine the orality of Gnaoua tradition as well as the symbology of its rituals. They will present a Gnaoua glossary, “The Glossary of the Lila Gnawiya”, which will address the challenge to scholarly appropriation of this centuries-old tradition. They will then listen to guembri sounds, featured in a documentary film of their production, placing it in context with other aspects of African culture.


Marouane Jaouat (UM6P and the Université de Caen), Houssine Dehbi,
Mohamed Boublouh Mahmoud Boubii, Wafae Al Idrissi, Kaoutar Moustaid, and Ali Benmakhlouf from UM6P.

Round Table 2

The Metamorphoses of Gnaoua Culture

5PM – 6PM

What are the manifestations of these transformations? Gnaoua stage performances will be analysed in terms of theatricality. The embrace of other musical forms, such as jazz, constitutes hybridisation, which will be examined. A documentary excerpt will be presented for this purpose.


Omar Fertat (Université de Bordeaux-Montaigne) and Yasmine Daif, Loubna
Benhaddou, Ghita Berrada, Meriem Alami-Kasry and Ali Benmakhlouf from UM6P

Question/answer session: 30 minutes