Simo Lagnawi's making inspiring music out of slavery's terrible history

Local arts and music collective, The People's Lounge, has teamed up with ArtReach to bring a slice of African culture to the city as part of this year's Portsmouth Festivities.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 14th June 2018, 9:35 pm
Updated Tuesday, 19th June 2018, 4:49 pm
Simo Lagnawi performing live.
Simo Lagnawi performing live.

ArtReach is behind Journeys Festival International, a 10-day arts festival which will celebrate the work of exceptional refugee and asylum seeker artists for its third year in Portsmouth this October.

They are working together to bring world-class artists here this month as part of Refugee Week.

And the first fruit of this union is a concert by internationally acclaimed musician, Simo Lagnawi. Simo's music is the traditional music of black slaves who were taken from countries such as Guinea and Sudan to work in North African countries. It is characterised by the playing of the guembri, a camel-skinned three-stringed bass, played by the lead vocalist of the troupe. The other musicians chant, play krakebs '“  metal castanets that represent the handcuffs of the slaves '“ and drums. The music is highly spiritual, ritualised and ceremonial. Combined with incense and colour it is traditionally performed at Lila healing ceremonies that evoke Muslim saints and animistic spirits to induce a state of trance.

Simo has performed across the world and in the UK at Glastonbury, the V&A Museum and Secret Garden Party, as well as on 6Music, BBC Radio 3 and at The British Museum. Support comes from local band Omar Baba, with their mix of reggae, hip-hop and jazz rap.

Claire Woollard, producer of the JFI, says: '˜We live in turbulent times, there is an innate fear of the term 'refugee' and the artists and people who are labelled with that term. At ArtReach we're aiming to explore and celebrate the best of the arts and performances that arrive on our shores from around the world and Simo's gig is just the start of a whole series of events we'll be working on with different partners around Portsmouth as we build up to our main festival this October.'

Moses Milner from The People's Lounge adds: '˜Simo's rapidly establishing himself as the UK's leading ambassador for Gnawa music and is, without a doubt, the UK's leading guembri player and Gnawa master.

'˜The gig is very special as Omar Baba get to play alongside an African master, but, more importantly, we're breaking down barriers, encouraging debate, and trying to give people a wider perspective to today's refugee crisis and issues.

'˜Let's not forget the music though, Simo's gigs are lively, fast paced and spiritually inspiring.'

Simo arrived here from Rabat, in Morocco, almost 10 years ago and has made it his mission to spread the sound of Gnawa music.

The Edge of The Wedge, Southsea

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