Does the name Nass Gnawa mean anything to you? Until last Saturday, it didn’t mean a thing to me. My fiancee and a couple friends and I caught them perform at Zebulon, in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg (not to be confused with this Williamsburg) and were completely knocked out.
Here’s the deal: They’re a bunch of Moroccan musicians who play Gnawa, a style of music with sub-Saharan, Berber and Sufi roots that inspires in/requires of its performers lots spinning, kicking, leaping and twirling of fez-tassels. The music is fast, loud, propulsive and pulsing. In this group, several of the musicians rapidly clapped pairs of large, metal castanets; one played a rectangular, skin-covered bass guitar/banjo thing; another played an oud; others wailed on drums. They all chanted and sang. By my count, they were playing in 12, meaning the rhythmic pattern repeated after a peppering of a dozen beats.
Here’s a hint of the Gnawa. The guy pictured in the clip was one of the group’s leaders. Everything we heard Saturday night was faster than this recording.
The room was packed and we arrived late, which meant the only space we found was on the floor a few feet from the stage. The gap between us and the performers quickly filled with dancers — members of the audience and the band, writhing, wiggling and swaying together. Everybody clapped throughout each song, driving the music and being driven by it at once. Glasses of beer were kicked over. Tables pushed aside. Old folks, hipsters, Moroccans and a Tibetan lady with hair reaching past her knees were all in it together.
It was amazing.