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Bill Laurance mixes it up at Festival Gnaoua / jazzwise

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The mid 20th century saw several jazz A-listers working with the Gnawa, the Sufi healer musicians of Morocco: Archie and Ornette, Randy and Pharaoh, But each year for the last 20 an array of free-thinking musicians from the Motherland and beyond have come to Essaouira, a whitewashed town of cawing gulls and cleansing winds tagged the 'jewel of the Atlantic', to jam with these mystical brotherhoods with their leaping dancers, pentatonic rhythms and repertoire of ancient African Islamic spiritual songs. Remarkably – given that the festival is run by a Muslim woman, Neila Tazi, and champions the music and culture of a once-derided people – this was the 20th anniversary of the Festival Gnaoua & Musiques du Monde. A sense of occasion was palpable, even if hard times had trimmed the programme from four days to three; the so-called "biggest jam session on the planet" was still all that, and more.

Tens of thousands of Moroccans (and few hundred Westerners) turned out for the free events on the main Moulay Hassan stage, which included a collaboration with Snarky Puppy keyboardist Bill Laurence.