Kick off your Essaouira tour under the iconic clocktower to begin a journey back in time and tradition. Weave through the medina to visit azaouia, or temple of the Gnawa people, a sacred place reserved for traditional lila rituals, often performed to treat psychological ills, drive out evil spirits, or remedy scorpion stings. These lilas still take place and usually last all night long and into the wee hours of the morning.
Follow a kuyu, or Gnawa dancer, to his private home for some tea and a demonstration of the sometimes acrobatic Gnawa dance moves, accompanied by an explanation of their typical clothing. Often made at home, these intricate designs are unique to the Gnawa performers and include bold colours, embroidery, and cowrie shells.
Our Essaouira tour continues the private quarters of a maalem, or Master, to learn about the making of the guembri. This lute-like instrument is the base of all Gnawa music and you’ll get to learn how it’s made and hear it played. Rarely do outsiders get invited into these personal spaces, generally reserved for Gnawi, musicians and their friends. Despite often having no formal training, the maalem, the leader of any Gnawa troupe, is highly studied in the rhythm, emotion, and sound of the guembri and its songs. They grow up in families and circles of musicians or healers, learning the calls and chants from an early age. Maalem are highly respected in Essaouira and have much traditional knowledge to share.
Finish the evening as hip locals do in Essaouira — chilling at a local music spot, grooving to soulful music that fuses Gnawa with Jazz, Latin, Reggae, and more. Your local guide can recommend where to have dinner or carry on the night, if you’re so inclined!