sat 21/09/2019

theartsdesk at the Gnawa Festival, Essaouira | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk at the Gnawa Festival, Essaouira

theartsdesk at the Gnawa Festival, Essaouira

400,000 people converge on what may be this year's biggest Festival

Gnawa musicians playing at opening ceremonyRichard Duebel
Come the end of June in Essaouira on Morocco’s Atlantic coast, up to half a million festival-goers team the narrow, traffic-free streets of the medina, its two huge open squares, and numerous courtyards and riyads around town, for what must be the world’s biggest free festival. It is dedicated to Gnawa, the trance and healing music of African Moroccans who had been inveigled into slavery in centuries past – there was a slave market in Essaouria until the early part of the 20th century – and whose music, until the festival kicked off in 1998, was regarded with suspicion and disdain by contemporary Morocco.
Essaouira benefits from a strange anomaly of magnetism that means the fishing port's many boats require a specially adjusted compass to navigate by

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

Advertising feature


A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway


Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.



This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman


Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.


Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.