Gnaoua Music Festival – Essaouira
A So Morocco Interview – Jane Loveless, the founder of The Gnaoua World Music Festival
If you want to take an ancient African music and culture, threatened by extinction, and preserve it intact – you might expect to be blocked each step of the way by fear and prejudice of the primitive, by bureaucracy, and by the complete lack of a route map.
If you need someone bloody minded and energetic enough to cut through the die-hard musical press, to obtain buy-in from an Arabic government and face off the logistical and financial nightmare that will follow, then I suspect you would be hard pushed to find a better candidate than Jane Loveless.
From the “anything’s possible” 60’s era and with a huge dose of British “who’s going to stop me?” this petite and incredibly engaging woman achieved something which most of us will never even dream of achieving – she made a difference!
Peacefully relaxing in her elegantly, understated home, which is rooted to the rural Berber Village, Imintagant, we re-lived the story as she told it.
Jane had visited Morocco and specifically Essaouira a number of times over the years, usually with family and was first introduced to Gnaoua music by a friend in a café. The Gnaoua are a Moroccan ethnic group descended from Sudanese slaves. They perform spiritual music and ritualistic ceremonies. Back in the UK, walking around Portobello Road listening to Gnaoua music on her Sony Walkman, Jane’s life was being written. With a healthy dose of right time, right place, she organised for these generally mistrusted African musicians to tour the UK – No money, no transport, no visas – no problem! Arrange individual sponsorship deals for each one, pay a visit or two to the Moroccan Ambassador and swap your car for a Ford Transit and – VOILA.
But Morocco had got under her skin and perhaps inevitably, after this extraordinary feat, Jane returned alone, looking for a big Moroccan dose of hope and strength to guide her through her personal life. Lilas are Gnaoua healing ceremonies. Having already felt the healing power of this in the music, Jane let go of any inhibitions she may have still held and undertook an all-night musically induced trance in the purest form of this process. Perhaps this passing of energies from the Gnaoua to Jane was the door through which they and their culture could become respected, accepted and renowned on a world stage in just a few short steps of faith. I can’t help but think maybe they found her not the other way around.
Jane organised the first Gnaoua World Music festival in 1998, perhaps ironically in the very city their ancestors had been sold as slaves. A huge success right from day one, 18 years later, crowds flocking to watch these festivals are counted in the hundreds of thousands. The Essaouira Gnaoua and World Music Festival has become a major event on the international cultural scene. Jane, no longer actively involved, has left behind a legacy, the Gnaoua tradition and culture are surely preserved as far ahead as anyone can see and in the words of the Moroccan King’s Counsellor
“Jane – You Were Right!”