Thank you Brixton. I’ll be back!

Author and blogger Maggie Knutson on her first, but not last, visit to Brixton

Simo Lagnawi Simolagnawi with Gnawa London at the Hootananny
Simo Lagnawi Simolagnawi with Gnawa London at the Hootananny

I’d never been to Brixton before, but  I was here to watch Moroccan-born Simo Lagnawi Simolagnawi – The Gnawa Master of London – play at the Hootananny. I’m a big fan of gnawa music, reporting most years on the annual Essaouira gnawa and world music festival in Morocco, but had never heard Gnawa music live in the UK.

Gnawa, played mainly in Morocco, is recognisable by its mixture of exciting music, spectacular dancing and beautifully ornate costumes.

Simo’s aim is to spread Gnawa throughout the UK and beyond and he has played at Glastonbury and Boomtown festivals and venues around the country.

Simo was introducing us to his group, Gnawa London, who play traditional Gnawa music and is comprised of Simo, Khalid Oqaidi, Youssef Al-Maghribi, Djina Jones and Moby El Gamra. Their performance was exciting and vibrant, the only disappointment was that the stage was too small for the dancers to show their amazing skill.

Simo’s second group – Gnawa Blues All Stars – fuse gnawa with other genres, so later we had Dave De Rose on drums, Alai Sanfo and Cesare Cascarino on djembes, Nathanial Keen on lead guitar, and Karnaby Been on the saxophone and base guitar. Plus, Simo playing the guembri and singing.

By now, the audience were in some kind of dancing frenzy as the beat of the djembes drove the music forward and it felt as if we were in Africa with this most delicious music.

Later on, one of the Arfoud brothers, playing a mini guembri, was invited onto the stage and his vocals and playing added an extra dimension to the music.

The next morning I had the best pain au chocolat and coffee I’ve ever had at San Marino and bought a lot of beautiful African print material at African Queen fabrics.

I’ll be back!