Interview: Meet the Psychedelic Gnawa Blues of Bab L' Bluz

We talk to the Moroccan-French quartet about their latest album Nayda! and the new wave of women fronting Gnawa bands.

Bab L' Bluz, translated as "The Door of the Blues," is a Franco-Moroccan group created in 2018 in Marrakech.

At the beginning of 2017, the Moroccan singer-guitarist Yousra Mansour met the French guitarist and producer Brice Bottin. They had been working with Moroccan musicians for several years, at an artistic residency mixing Gnawa music with other styles. Both passionate about Gnawa music, they decided to learn the Guembri together.

In mid-2017, while they were learning how to play Guembri (the primary instrument of the Gnawa music, with a bass sound and three strings) and Awisha (a descendant of the Guembri but smaller with the same strings, and with a high tone that sounds more like a guitar or looks and sounds like a Mauritanian Tidinît), they started composing the foundations of the first Bab L' Bluz album. It was a repertoire of ten songs that respected the analogical universe of the '60s and '70s. The group want to mix their influences tastefully and prefer to be a psychedelic Moroccan rock band, rather than just be labelled as world music.

In mid-2018, long time friends and musicians from Lyon, Jérôme Bartholomé on Qraqeb (Percussion used in Gnawa music)/ flute/vocals), and Hafid Zouaoui (drums/backing vocals), joined the band. They performed their first live concert on Radio Nova. Months after forming the quartet, they began recording their debut album called Nayda!, released by Real World Records in June.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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