Looking at Hakmoun’s upbringing, he seems to have been destined for a life as a performer. Born into a family of musicians, his family is well known throughout his hometown of Marrakech, Morocco. Hakmoun’s mother was even looked up to by many in the city as a mystic healer. As a young boy, he would sing and dance alongside his family amidst street performers such as fire dancers and snake charmers. By his teens, he had decided to dedicate his life to learning to play, compose, and perform gnawa music, a genre rooted in Moroccan tradition that combines African rhythms and religious songs with a type of acrobatic dancing. He quickly became a master of the sintir, a type of African three-stringed lute that is played similarly to a bass guitar. This instrument serves as the rhythmic backbone of much of Hakmoun’s music.
In 1987, Hakmoun began performing in the United States. His lively, inspired concerts gathered him a slow buildup of critical acclaim and the attention of many established musicians. The most important connection Hakmoun made was with the iconic Peter Gabriel, who brought Hakmoun to his first record deal. In 1993, Hakmoun released Trance, an album that became highly regarded among world music listeners for its fusion of gnawa with American jazz, reggae and psychedelic music. He has released four albums since, including collaborations with artists such as Peter Gabriel and Paula Cole.
Despite his success as a recording artist, Hakmoun’s true passion rests in live performance. In addition to his masterful command over his own instrument and supporting musicians, Hakmoun is able to fuel the energy of the crowd with a mix of African foot stomping and complex, rapid steps and spins. The marriage of the chants and rhythms of the music with the mesmerizing footwork make Hakmoun’s live performances intensely spiritual and reflective experiences for the audience. Some of his most notable appearances include his set at 1994’s Woodstock and the World of Music, Arts and Dance Festival.
Just as Hakmoun strives to build a spiritual connection between audience members with his performances, he has also made a point to use his gifts as an outlet for charity, compassion, and tolerance. Most recently, he has contributed to the High Atlas Foundation’s Moroccan Film Festival, an effort in support of impoverished rural families from Hakmoun’s native Morocco. In addition, he has stepped forward to perform in numerous benefit concerts in support of a wide array of causes – from social and economic issues affecting African communities to preserving the Islamic arts in America to supporting disaster victims such as those displaced by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
It is no wonder that Hakmoun’s music has found popularity among the yoga community. His performances continue to inspire and spiritually transport audiences all over the world.