Musically, Morocco is heterogeneous, and this heterogeneity reflects the variety of Moroccan culture. From secular urban professionals and religious singers to rural and nomadic singers. From historic and traditional to modern to Raï music. We find the classical Andalusian style, reflecting Morocco's historic relationship with Spain. We find Sephardic music and other folksongs from the historic Jewish communities in Essaouira and Fez. We also find Gnawa; the music originally derived from West Africa that demonstrates the influence of migrations and cultural interchanges across the Sahara.
Gnawa is a term that has two important meanings. It is used to define both a religious/spiritual order of a traditionally Moroccan Black Muslim group and a music style connected to this order. The term encompasses all members of the Gnawa: the master musicians to the players of the Karkaba (metallic castanets) to the disciples and women soothsayers/therapists.
Over 900 years ago, during the Almoravid dynasty in the 11th century, slavery, conscription and trade brought people from West Africa (present-day Mali, Burkina Fasso and Senegal area) to the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia). Since it was believed that large groups of enslaved people came from Ancient Ghana (a kingdom north of Mali) in the 11th and the 13th centuries, these enslaved groups were called Gnawa. The descendents of these enslaved groups are the present-day Gnawa, Morocco's most colorful Muslim ethnic group. While they have retained many of the customs, rituals and beliefs of their ancestors, their music is the most preserved trait.
After their conversion to Islam probably still in their country of origin they adopted Bilal as their ancestor and saint patron, Bilal was the first black person to convert to Islam and to become a companion of the Prophet Muhammad and the first muezzin (caller to prayer) in the history of Islam. It is important to note and mention the question of identity of Black Gnawa in Morocco. Aware of their difference and their blackness they chose Bilal a black man as agnate. Bilal was a special man. He was born into slavery and originally from Ethiopia. He converted to Islam while still in captivity and he was tortured for that by his master Umayya b. Khalaf. When Abu Bakr as-Siddiq a very close friend to the Prophet Muhammad heard about the valor of Bilal he bought him and set him free in the name of Islam. Bilal became the personal servant/assistant of the Prophet. This special relationship with the Prophet acquired Bilal a special Baraka (a divine blessing). What the Gnawa are really saying by constructing their Islamic identity is that they are privileged people among Muslims that they have converted to Islam even before Quraysh, the tribe to whom Muhammad belonged, through their spiritual ancestor Bilal, and that they possess his Baraka.