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Open Access Publications from the University of California

“A Look Outwards, A Look Inwards”: Randy Weston and Pharoah Sanders’ Work with Gnawa Musicians

  • Author(s): Rivera, Alfredo
  • Advisor(s): Kelley, Robin
  • et al.

In 1968, Randy Weston became the first western musician to relocate to Morocco and work with the Gnawa M’Alem, master healers and musicians whose ancestral roots can be traced to ancient empire of Ghana. Pharoah Sanders has performed and recorded with Gnawa musicians since at least the early 1990s. This thesis looks at how these two artists independently engaged Gnawa music, tradition and spirituality, and the impact their collaborations had on their own work. Neither artist was driven by commercial interests or a nostalgic desire to return to their African roots. Instead, as I will demonstrate through musical description and analysis of significant recordings and video performances, their collaborations with the Gnawa musicians generated musical innovation while paying heed to tradition, providing a particularly rich case study of musical transculturation, rehistoricization, and the use of imagination across the Black Atlantic.

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