The processions occurring in Moroccan pilgrimages--such as those in Sidi Ali, a small town situated in the mountains outside of Meknes and Fez--are important sites that instigate an aesthetic negotiation within nearby possession ceremonies. The many musical groups that punctuate the cacophonous atmosphere during the annual pilgrimage are affiliated with a many of the country’s diverse mystical brotherhoods, including the gnawa, ḥamadsha, and ʿīsāwa. Through a detailed ethnographic description of processions and rituals from two of these groups, this article outlines ways in which musical tastes flow between the different events, informing the aesthetics of both outdoor (public) expressions of piety and the indoor possession healing rituals. By focusing on the exchange of music and spiritual figures between the ḥamadsha and gnawa, a back and forth borne out of audience requests and attempts to appease clients as well as possessing spirits, these pages illuminate the powerful importance of navigating both supernatural forces and aesthetic ones. Songs, styles, and spirits bleed between what are often imagined as strict ideological boundaries, showing the playfulness and creativity that animates heavily sacred moments.

Author Biography

Christopher Witulski (PhD University of Florida, 2014) is a Specialized Teaching Faculty in musicology at Florida State University’s College of Music. His research focuses on changes in sacred performance practices in contemporary Morocco.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



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