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One of contemporary Moroccan music's most notable figures, New York-based Hassan Hakmoun was born in Marrakesh in 1963. At age seven he began to study tagnawit, the traditional arts, folklore, and rituals of the Gnawa tribes, former slaves originating from the Sudan whose arrival in Morocco was marked by their conversion to Islam. The Gnawa people act as intermediaries in the spirit world and also as entertainers; Hakmoun initially studied their dances and songs, later graduating to drumming, litanies, and chants. He left school at the age of 14 to travel in the pursuit of other Gnawa masters, eventually ending up in France; upon returning to Marrakesh, Hakmoun's repertoire continued to grow — later including songs of Arab and Berber descent — and he performed as a m'allem, or master musician of the derdeba, a trance ritual held to placate the spirits. In 1987 he made his U.S. debut, and remained in New York, absorbing the sounds of the city's urban music into his own style; Hakmoun later joined several WOMAD tours, and worked with Peter Gabriel in addition to recording with his own fusion band, Zahar. From the mid-'90s to the end of the decade, he concentrated on solo efforts like 1995's Fire Within and 1999's Life Around the World. He continued his work into the next century, releasing The Gift in 2002.