Executed with exquisite virtuosity and attention to detail, the present work depicts a Gnaoua musician performing in front of one of the gates of the Medina in Tangier. Observed by a group of men and armed guards, the Gnaoua dances energetically to the rhythm of the qarqaba, clutching metal castanets in his hands. On his left shoulder he carries a wooden drum known as a tabal.
Originally from sub-Saharan African regions, the Gnaouas (or Gnawas) are an ethnic group from North Africa, specifically Morocco and Algeria. Like Sufis, Gnaouas are thought to have particular healing powers and their music is, to this day, performed in rituals that combine energetic dancing, instruments and perfumes.
Born in Spain, Clément Pujol de Guastavino moved to Paris in 1876 where he studied under Jean-Léon Gérôme and specialised in orientalist subjects. He exhibited regularly at the Salon and his painting Danse mauresque won him a medal of honour at the 1889 Exposition Universelle.