A Sufi Ceremony in Fez, Morocco

A Moroccan Sufi Night in Fez at Riad Zany 

The activity started at ten in the morning for an event that was not scheduled to begin until eight at night. All day things were being delivered, food, tables, incense burners and then a surprise - at three in the afternoon several of the musician who had to travel from out in the countryside, arrived early and took up residence in the courtyard.

Carpets were spread out, chairs arranged, tables set up and a bottomless lake of mint tea was served.

Meanwhile in the kitchen a mountain of couscous was being prepared.

Inside the salon, the phone kept ringing with people asking if we could fit them in and on the email the news that some people could not attend because of the strike on Alitalia airlines. Others, fresh in from the USA, phoned to say they had arrived.

Still the numbers expected to attend were increasing and so more food and plates were ordered.
Soon it begins. The rain that was predicted has thankfully stayed away and so it will be a good night, inshallah!

The Hamadcha Brotherhood Sufi night at Riad Zany was attended by around fifty invited guests - which meant a lot of preparations. A team of workers spent the day preparing a mountain of coucscous, salads, deserts and tagines.

Mint was collected for tea, incense was specially selected and tables and chairs laid out. Special orange blossom water dispensers were filled ready to sprinkle on arriving guests.

In the kitchen, Thami, from Thami's Restaurant, led the cooking preparations from ten in the morning.

Plates of nuts, cakes and dates were set out an a special bowl of milk set aside for the welcoming ceremony.

At around 8 pm the first of the guests started to arrive in the courtyard... The Hamadcha are very much respected by the local people and in the streets outside there were many people gathering to see the Brotherhood or at least hear the music.

Just after 9pm the musicians had been fed and they headed out to assemble in the small square at the end of our derb (street). Many of our neighbours had been invited but scores of others hung off trees, perched on shoulders and craned necks to get a glimpse of the proceedings.

Then the drumming started on the hourglass shaped gwal, followed by chanting and blasts from the small but powerful trumpet like instruments (ghita) carried by two of the twelve musicians.

One of the gwal players
In one departure from the usual custom the Hamadcha had invited Fred Calmes from Riad Zany to perform with them and as he donned the red cloak and accepted a drum (gwal) his face was a picture of concentration.

The procession - musicians and guests - made there way slowly up the derb to Riad Zany, proceeded by the ceremonial welcoming bowl of milk. Inside, even more guests were arriving...

By ten pm the welcoming chants and prayers had been performed and it was time to get into the various stages of the hadra (ecstatic dance). The musicians stood in a line and urged on by their leader (muqaddim) began to sway and then bob up and down as they chanted. A Hamadcha ceremony has some parts which are described as cold hadra - others as hot hadra all of which are intended to lead the performers and others who decide to dance into a state of altered consciousness or trance.

The endless energy of the musicians is infectious as while at first it was mainly Moroccans who got to their feet, during the first hot hadra section almost all the foreign guests joined in. The special incense was put on a burner placed in front of the musicians.

Because of the large number of people in the courtyard, dancing space was at a premium, but later, when everyone became involved, the space was fine.

At around eleven, a few of the older people, plus some jet-lagged guests who had flown in, departed during a break - which was probably just as well, as the next section of hot hadra was to prove very exciting. At this stage the guests, which to our surprise included all of Fez's Purple Circle, now numbered about forty - with local Moroccans outnumbering the expats. And it was the local Moroccans who were going to lead the way in the hot hadra...

Hot Hadra.
By half past eleven, the crowd had climbed to their feet and started swaying to the music. The effect of the music on European and Moroccan alike is difficult to describe and even more difficult to photograph. It really is a case of "you had to be there".

Bopping Blogger?

Soon the dancers included a special guest - a fellow blogger - from the Morocco Report, who had made the journey to Fez with a Canadian friend. It was a pleasure to have them attend.

The View from Canada?

As mentioned, photography of hadra dancing is difficult - worse because of the extreme low light. There is also a haze of incense in the air and the fact that the music itself seems to take hold of you..

However, we have included a number of photographs below which we hope at least convey the feeling of what took place. The word "intense" springs to mind! There are two types of trance state recognised by the Hamadcha.The first is called hal and seems to be a non-violent trance, usually attributed to the Brotherhood's saint Sidi 'Ali ben Hamdush. The second is jidba, which is much more frenetic and which often occurs as an abrupt and dramatic transition from the hal. This state is often attributed to the jinniyya (female djinn) 'Aisha Qandisha.

Dancing in the hal and cloud of incense
The dancer in white becomes a blur during hal

One of the surprises was the reaction of Moroccans to the dancers who go into jidba. Very aware of what is happening, they quietly move into position around the dancer and restrain any violent movements and protect them from falling when overwhelmed by the trance. In the series of photographs below, a young woman is relatively easy to photograph at first - her movements being slower in the hal - but then as she enters jidba her dancing becomes wilder, her brother and one woman and then another move to support her before (in the final shot) she begins to collapse to the ground.

After the dancer collapsed, she was sat down, given water and after about twenty minutes made a full recovery, but like most of the dancers, had no recollection of what had happened.

Meanwhile on the other side of the courtyard, four women begin to go into trance at the same time. They had moved quietly and gracefully, almost floating, through the crowd to be right in front of the musicians where there the transition from hal to jidba was rapid and dramatic, with one woman repeatedly thrashing her head against the ground. All the women came out of the jidba without any injury and within half an hour were sitting quietly with smiles on their faces - but again, no memory of what had taken place.

At this point taking photographs was too difficult as there was an overwhelming urge to dance...

The final thirty minutes or so are very much of a gentle wind down. Those who have gone into a trance have been revived, the musicians start a final section of the hadra - and then the atmosphere changed from the electricity charged previous hour to something more mellow and restful. The Musicians dance barefoot on the cold tiles, stamping out a hypnotic beat, but the urge now is to rest, not to dance.

Then it is over - the guests discover that a series of four different deserts have been served and are suddenly awake and hungry - that is except for some of those who have been working all day to make the marvelous evening happen.

Riad Zany would like to thank the following: Yousef for his very generous gift of the Hamadcha ceremony. The Hamadcha Brotherhood who gave us more than just a perfomance. Mouaniss Mohammed for being such a great organiser and also repeatedly telling me that it would not rain despite the forecast ( he was right ), Sanae for cooking fabulous deserts as always, Thami for the energy friendship and fine food - a true brother. Karima for making sure the logistics and protocol problems were sorted and for hurrying back from Rabat to meet and greet the Purple Circle members. The evening was not just for Riad Zany but also especially for Suzanna who could not attend, but without whom Riad Zany would be a dream rather than a reality.

And finally our fine Fassi friends and the expat community (French and English speaking) who turned out in such numbers to give us the critical mass needed for the event to really take off. Thank you.

Photo credit: All photographs Sandy McCutcheon


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1 comment:

Discovery Journeys India said...

Awesome I feel like being there for the occasion. Great write-up and nostalgic pictures.

Thanks for sharing.

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