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Hassan Hakmoun

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Hassan Hakmoun
حسن حكمون
Hassan Hakmoun performs on Jam Night at the Ottawa Jazz Festival in 2003.
Hassan Hakmoun performs on Jam Night at the Ottawa Jazz Festival in 2003.
Background information
Born16 September 1963
GenresWorld fusion, Gnawa music
Instrument(s)Vocals, percussion
Years active1970s–present
LabelsHealing Records

Hassan Hakmoun (Arabic: حسن حكمون) (born 16 September 1963) is a Moroccan musician who specializes in the Gnawa style.

Early life[edit]

Hakmoun was born to a family of musicians[1] who introduced him to the musical world of the Gnawa. By age four, he performed alongside great masters of the Gnawa all over Morocco (including king of the Gnawa genre, master Sam) and in Casablanca for Lila. His mother is known throughout the city as a mystic healer. At the age of fourteen he became Master of Gnawa music.[2]

Early life[edit]

Hakmoun began learning Gnawa music from his mother, a mystic healer in Marrakesh who organizes derdeba trance ceremonies, which are often all-night affairs involving hypnotic playing and chanting to exorcise spirits. Hakmoun witnessed his first trance ceremony at the young age of four. He proceeded to study Gnawa music after a musical ceremony that healed his sister Mina Hakmoun.[citation needed]

He eventually chose the sintir as his main instrument, a three-stringed lute with a body made of camel skin stretched over nutwood. The strings of the sintir are pitched low, enabling the instrument to serve as the bass foundation much like the Western string bass, while its tone is sweet, making it well-suited to carry the melodic line of a composition. By drumming on the body of the instrument, Hakmoun added his own percussion while contributing vocals, thereby creating a unique foundation for his musical explorations and growth. By the age of fourteen, he was an established musician performing at Gnawa lila ceremonies with his own ensemble. Today, Hakmoun is known as the godfather of Gnawa music.[citation needed]


Later career[edit]

Hakmoun made his U.S. debut in 1987 at Lincoln Center in New York City with Etian and Blanca Lee'’s Trio Gna & Nomadas dance group. He subsequently relocated to New York where he was received by artists such as composer and producer Richard Horowitz and Peter Gabriel. He became a fixture in New York’s rock, jazz and fusion scenes, spanning multiple genres.

In 1989 Hakmoun became part of the group Magmouat Hakmoun with his brother Said and relatives Mohammed Bechar and Abdel Hok Dahmad. Later that year, with help from Robert Browning and the World Music Institute, Hakmoun produced and released his debut album Fire Within. He recorded his second album, "Gift of the Gnawa" with Adam Rudolph and jazz trumpeter Don Cherry in 1991.

Hakmoun began to expand his musical range, adding American sounds to the Moroccan form. This led him to form the group Zahar, meaning ‘luck’, whose music fused elements of rock and jazz with African styles. With the ensemble, Hakmoun recorded his first album featuring electric instruments and continued to perform around New York City. One such instance occurred during a performance at the Knitting Factory, whose audience members included Miles Davis, and Daniel Lanois, who proceeded to introduce Hakmoun to an important future collaborator, pop musician Peter Gabriel.

In 1992 Hakmoun joined Gabriel’s WOMAD, founded in 1980. Hakmoun released another album, Trance, at Gabriel's Real World Studios in Bath, England. From Bath, Hakmoun toured Europe, the Middle East and the U.S. along with other WOMAD artists, including performing under the group's auspices at the Woodstock 94 festival in 1994.

His albums Fire Within, Gift of the Gnawa and Trance topped the charts for World Music Albums, World Music Charts Europe, New World and CMJ’s Radio Top 150 and were selected by Rolling Stone as one of the "Hot Picks of ’94. His powerful performances and sounds also resulted in letters of admiration from former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, television host Jay Leno and saxophonist David Sanborn, as well as from executives at the New York Times and the British Broadcasting Corporation.

2002 - present[edit]

In 2002 Hakmoun teamed up with American-born producer Fabian Alsultany to record a new album, The Gift. The album included the release of the single, "This Gift," a duet with Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Paula Cole. In 2003 The Gift received an INDIE award for "Best Contemporary World Music Recording" from the Association for Independent Music (AFIM).

In addition to producing his own albums, Hakmoun has contributed to other artist’s recordings, adding to such projects as "Caravan" for Dee Dee Bridgewater’s album Prelude To A Kiss, Ozomatli’s Street Sings, which won the award for "Best Alternative Music Album" at the Latin Grammy Awards in 2005 and "Lovelight" for Paula Cole’s Courage in 2007.

Hakmoun has also composed and recorded for several films such as Rendezvous in Samarkand directed by Tim Bridwell, The Past and the Present of Djemma El Fna by Steve Montgomery and the documentary Footsteps in Africa. Hakmoun appeared in several movies as an actor, dancer and musician, including Disney’s Jungle 2 Jungle in 1997 and Rollerball by John McTiernan in 2002.

Today Hakmoun continues to record and perform in major festivals and venues around the globe, as well as give master workshops in universities. Hakmoun subsequently began a project in collaboration with other percussive dancers to create a new style of Gnawa dance.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Hakmoun was married to Lynne Francisco in 1987. They had a son. In June 2002, Hakmoun married fellow musician Paula Cole. They had a daughter. Hakmoun met Cole on the Peter Gabriel "Secret World Live" tour in 1994.[3] The couple divorced in 2007.[4]



  1. ^ The gnawa-globetrotter - culturebase.net
  2. ^ "Hassan Hakmoun: Biography". World Music Central. 2003. Archived from the original on November 29, 2003.
  3. ^ Sisario, Ben (August 11, 2002). "Marrying a Moroccan sound to the worlds music". The New York Times. Retrieved August 30, 2021.
  4. ^ "Paula Cole Looks Back". Associated Press. January 19, 2018. Retrieved August 30, 2021 – via Billboard.

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