Historically, the term Gnawa (Gnaoua in French) refers to the descendants of black slaves in Morocco, the mystical Islam they practice, and the music used in their religious ritual.
Slaves were brought into Morocco from Sub-Saharan West Africa beginning around the end of the 16th century. Enormous gold-wealth and thriving trade networks fueled two great empires, first Ghana (parts of modern Mauritania and Mali), from around the 8th century to the 11th century, and then the Empire of Mali, from the 11th century to the end of the 16th century. In 1591, Timbuktu, a major city of the Mali Empire and a center of Islamic scholarship, was conquered by mercenary armies for Morocco. Mali declined steadily from there and Morocco began to import its people to work as soldiers and imperial domestic slaves. Continue reading