The Gnawa Lions

The Gnawa Lions

Authenticity and Opportunity in Moroccan Ritual Music
Christopher Witulski
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 08/06/2018
ISBN: 978-0-253-03678-0
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Traditionally gnawa musicians in Morocco played for all-night ceremonies where communities gathered to invite spirits to heal mental, physical, and social ills untreatable by other means. Now gnawa music can be heard on the streets of Marrakech, at festivals in Essaouira, in Fez’s cafes, in Casablanca’s nightclubs, and in the bars of Rabat. As it moves further and further from its origins as ritual music and listeners seek new opportunities to hear performances, musicians are challenged to adapt to new tastes while competing for potential clients and performance engagements. Christopher Witulski explores how gnawa musicians straddle popular and ritual boundaries to assert, negotiate, and perform their authenticity in this rich ethnography of Moroccan music. Witulski introduces readers to gnawa performers, their friends, the places where they play, and the people they play for. He emphasizes the specific strategies performers use to define themselves and their multiple identities as Muslims, Moroccans, and traditional musicians. The Gnawa Lions reveals a shifting terrain of music, ritual, and belief that follows the negotiation of musical authenticity, popular demand, and economic opportunity.

Author Bio

Christopher Witulski is an instructor of ethnomusicology at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio.


“Christopher Witulski’s focus on musicians’ lives, including their multiple musical, interpersonal, and ideological interactions and encounters, provides a welcome and important perspective that captures the reality of lived experience, complete with its complexities and contradictions. It is a highly perceptive account that never strays far from the ethnographic experience.”
 — Richard Jankowsky, author of Stambeli: Music, Trance, and Alterity in Tunisia

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Table of Contents


Notes on transliteration and transcription

Chapter 1: One Minute in Meknes

Chapter 2: Defending Ritual Authority

Chapter 3: African Routes and Sufi Roots

Chapter 4: Making a Living as a Contemporary Ritual Musician

Chapter 5: New Opportunities

Chapter 6: Light Rhythms and Heavy Spirits

Chapter 7: Fighting New Demands

Chapter 8: Heritage and Hybridity

Chapter 9: New Authorities and Authenticities