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GNAWA RHYTHMIC ANALYSIS 

As seen in​ Everlasting Motion (feat. Hamid El Kasri) ​by ​ Jacob Collier​(Djesse, Vol. 2) 
Analysis by ​Andrew Alvarado 
 

 
 
I have recently been studying examples of what is known as Gnawa music, a repertoire of ancient 
African Islamic song and rhythm currently popularized within Indian music - also strongly seen within 
Everlasting Motion by Jacob Collier. It is mainly distinguished by the instrumentation of a three-string 
lute known as a hajhuj, as well as iron castanets known as a qraqeb, which I am mainly focusing on to 
deconstruct the rhythmic elements Jacob uses throughout the song. 
 

Rhythm A = dotted quarter @ 76    3 note groupings  


(00:09) 

Rhythm B = dotted quarter @ 152  5 note groupings (3+2) 


(2x A) (03:10) 

Rhythm C = dotted quarter @ 152   3 note grouping 


(2x A) (04:06) 

Rhythm D = dotted quarter @ 129  3 note grouping 


(1.697368421052632x A) (04:46) 
 
Everlasting Motion can be separated into 3 different rhythmic variations of the gnawa qraqab - 
referred to as Rhythms A, B, C (or B prime), and D. The table specifies the bpm of each rhythm, 
where it’s found within the song, and its relationship to Rhythm A.  

   
The strongest aspect of gnawa music, along with the main reason it’s so complex and grooves so hard is 
its use of micro-time. This functions the same way that negative harmony works, where instead of 
having microtonal pitches in between two ‘set’ tones, you slightly morph the place of each note within 
the rhythm while staying consistent to its two parent rhythms - an example being the image at left 
where the rhythm played at 100% phrasing is perceived as an eighth note followed by two sixteenth 
notes, morphing until reaching 0% phrasing where the original rhythm fully alters into three evenly 
distributed eighth notes - or one triplet. This concept can easily be displayed in a rhythm circle 
diagram as seen with multiple examples at right. 
 
Some terminology used within this mini-dissertation that may be confusing may be words like 
“partial”, which in this context represents the individual notes of a full rhythm. For example, the full 
rhythm of a triplet contains three partials, clearly seen when sounding out its name in a triplet rhythm 
(​tri-pl-et, tri-pl-et​ and so on). You can then reference the first partial when sounding out the triplet t​ ri-​, 
the second partial as ​-pl​, and the third as ​-et​. Another method of visualizing partials would be in the 
notation of a triplet where three eighth notes are seen beamed together with a ​3​ above them. In this 
context, the first partial is the first eighth note, the second partial is the second eighth note, and the 
third partial is the third eighth note. It is important to note that the use of the term ​partial​ is not 
exclusive to understanding triplets alone, but may also be used with other groups of rhythms. For 
example, a quintuplet would contain five partials, a septuplet would contain seven partials, an eighth 
note followed by two sixteenth notes would contain three partials, and so on and so forth. As will be 
seen in the images throughout this analysis, the large black lines represent the “downbeat” of each 
rhythmic phrase (​and​ the first partial of said rhythm), whereas the small black lines represent the 
remaining notes of the suggested rhythm.  
 
The explanations of the rhythms and their partials suggested in this paper will require some use of your 
imagination to visualize how they appear when notated on paper. It may help to write these rhythms 
out as they are brought up to use as an aid when referencing their respective partials and their 
relationship to one another (I understand how trying to see some rhythms through the use of 
soundwaves as well as large and small black lines may make the concepts difficult to understand). 
 

 
 
Rhythm A is most commonly felt in 9/4 with an eighth note subdivided qraqeb that pulls between 
equally divided eighths, and an eighth note followed by two sixteenth note rhythm. The space 
between the downbeat (full black line) and first partial (first small black line) marked by A anticipates 
the following two sixteenth notes between A and B which are marked by the small black lines. The 
space between these two lines (represented in the next phrase by C) slightly rushes in comparison to 
the previously determined pulse set the space at A, which then emphasizes the following space at B - 
which is the largest amount of time heard between pulses, further delaying the next downbeat, only to 
repeat the tension and release cycle again and again. This lopsided rhythm continues to create and 
slightly ease the 25% eighth and two sixteenth note pattern, adding a shit ton of gravity to the groove, 
making it extremely uneasy, yet appealing to the ear. 
 
 
 
Rhythm B (seen above as R ​ hythm C​) works with groupings of 5 felt as 3+2. This is most reasonably 
notates as two sixteenth notes followed by an eighth, and two eighth notes leading to the next 
downbeat. The method of tension and release used in Rhythm A is the same here, but on a much more 
complex scale because of the mathematical relationships between pulses within space A, the space 
between the second partial of A and the first partial of B, and the entirety of space B. Starting with A, 
the smallest space seen between the first downbeat and second partial of A is almost exactly half of the 
space seen from the second partial of A to the third partial (much as a sixteenth note takes half the 
space of an eighth note). Following that, the space from A’s second partial to B’s first partial is exactly 
the same size as all of space B. Lastly, the space from B’s second partial to the next downbeat is exactly 
two times the size of the first downbeat to A’s second partial.  

 
All this becomes increasingly more interesting when gnawa rhythms create patterns that are, in a way, 
designed to satisfy the brain. As uneasy as it may feel, this particular gnawa rhythm creates a lot of 
symmetry in places you may not even focus on. In the same way that you’re brain evaluates this image 
and gains satisfaction from filling in the blanks to form a shape you are familiar with (hopefully a 
triangle), Rhythm B proposes a similar problem in its complexity from a surface, but even though 
there are no perfect quantized eighth notes, you’re brain fills in the blanks and subdivides on its own 
using the patterns it finds. The brain also gains more enjoyment solving this itself, rather than the 
music giving it even subdivisions, making a very unstable rhythm pleasing to listen to. Even though 
I'm going much deeper into physiological aspect, the same tension and release effects from Rhythm A 
are present in Rhythm B.  
 

 
 
Rhythm C is approached from the previous Rhythm B by leaving out the last two eighth notes to 
return to a 3 note grouping over what could be considered a 4/4 time signature if seen as a triplet 
(Jacob plays with the meter as the accented bass, vocal and orchestral attacks vary through the end of 
the song). Although it naturally feels like a triplet grouping, microtime is still being used as the rhythm 
lies about 40% between an eighth followed by two sixteenths and a perfect triplet. The eighth & 
sixteenths rhythm is re-enforced by keeping a large space between the downbeat and the second partial 
of A, followed by smaller space between A’s second and third partial, as also seen in B. The triplet 
however is reinforced by the slight increase in length between A’s last partial and B’s first partial in the 
hidden triplet found from the second partial of A to B’s first (seen again from B’s second partial to the 
downbeat of the next phrase). These two intertwined rhythms justify the morphed 40% pattern to 
allow the listener to latch on to whichever they choose without affecting the overall momentum of the 
groove (see West African or Afro-cuban triplet circle diagram). 
 
At first glance, the rhythms used within Everlasting Motion seem familiar, yet just complex enough to 
spark interest in the listeners ear. Gnawa music proposes a slightly altered image of traditional western 
music by incorporating the concept of micro time to give greater depth to what was previously known 
as somewhat simple and rudimentary rhythms. Jacob Collier, being the musical and rhythmic genius 
that he is, takes advantage of the subtleties of micro time found within gnawa rhythms by 
orchestrating a multitude of other instruments that highlight components of the parent rhythms of 
each gnawa pattern. This adds to the complexity of the groove while still reinforcing the satisfaction it 
brings to the listener’s ear. From the semi-walking bass line, to the punches of vocals and orchestral 
attacks, he presents a work that effortlessly displays the broad spectrum of intricacy this style of music 
is capable of, leaving both myself and the world in complete and utter astonishment of his abilities.  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
REFERENCES  

Braff, Malcolm. “Basic Principles.” ​General Theory Of Rhythm​, WordPress, 5 July 2015, 
general-theory-of-rhythm.org/basic-principles/. 

Braff, Malcolm. “Diversity of Grooves: It's All about Da Weight !” G


​ eneral Theory Of Rhythm​, 
WordPress, 23 July 2015, general-theory-of-rhythm.org/diversity-of-grooves-its-all-about-da-weight/. 

Roos, Dave. “Why Do We Get So Much Pleasure From Symmetry?” H ​ owStuffWorks Science​, 
HowStuffWorks, 8 Mar. 2018, 
science.howstuffworks.com/why-do-get-so-much-pleasure-from-symmetry.htm. 

Author, Unknown. “The Kanizsa Triangle.” W ​ hat Is Psychology?​, Cognitive Psychology, 1 May 2012, 
www.whatispsychology.biz/kanizsa-triangle-illusion-explanation.