Moroccan singer/composer Hassan Hakmoun and his band Zahar released their first album for the Real World label in August 1993. Trance, produced by Simon Emmerson, consists of nine songs, eight of which were recorded at Real World Studios in August 1992 during one of the storied Real World Recording Weeks. Soutanbi, a live track, was recorded at World In The Park in nearby Bath that same month. It was Hassan Hakmoun and Zahar's first appearance at a WOMAD Festival in that city and the group created a spellbinding, psychedelic dance trance, inspired by Hassan's high leaps and crazed Moroccan jazz steps.
Hakmoun and his band take an ancient Moroccan musical tradition and celebrate it with an upfront vitality that is entirely contemporary. The songs on Trance are part of the story of a music which spread from West Africa, the Sudan and the Southern Sahara through centuries of migration until it reached Morocco. There it fused with the power of the master musicians of the Gnawa, a word which refers to both the music and those who play it.
Hassan's music is rooted in his playing of the sintir, the Moroccan three-stringed bass, and many of his songs have the Gnawa's timeless, nomadic quality. They start with slow, passionate invocations of love, unity and inner strength, along with cries of desire, joy and anguish. As the groove takes hold, the songs' spirit comes spiralling out at fever pitch, mediated by Anthony Michael Peterson's sheets of harmelodic guitar textures and bold. thrash-like strokes, and underpinned by the drum and percussion alliance of Bill McClellan and Kweyao Agyapon.
One of the songs, Soudan Minitara, remixed by Ron Aslan and Jules Brooks of Raw Stylus, is a collision of New York freestyle jazz and a massive London drum and bass axis. Hassan Hakmoun has resided in New York since 1987 when he first arrived with a group of Gnawa musicians, The Trio Gna & Nomadas Dance Troupe. In his early twenties, he was wild about New York, fascinated by the Latin rhythms coming from beatboxes and car radios, by the life and the colours in the street, by the beauty of the women and the way they moved, by the whole urban sprawl.
The line-up on Trance - which took only four days to record and mix - is Kweyao Agyapon on percussion, Bill McClellan on drums, Anthony Michael Peterson on guitar, Hossam Ramzy on Egyptian percussion, Sabir Rizaev on soprano sax, Sonia Slany on violin, and Carole Rowley on vocals for the song The Sun Is Gone.
Trance is a prime introduction to Hassan Hakmoun and Zahar's Moroccan musical mysticism.