Friday, April 22, 2011

The Moroccan Siqilliyya Brotherhood - a review

The View from Fez is in debt to Fitz Morrissey for the following review. Fitz was a recent visitor to Fez and wrote about the Sufi Festival on his blog: Fez Festival of Sufi Culture

Sama’ concerts end in style with the Siqilliyya

Review by Fitzroy Morrissey, student in Arabic and Islamic studies at Oxford University.

I should probably have learnt by now to expect the unexpected, when it comes to the sama’ ceremonies of the various Sufi orders. Last night we were privileged by the company of the Moroccan Siqilliyya brotherhood, who had been chosen as the last order to perform at this year’s festival. Like the Wazzaniyya the evening before, they began with a procession to the stage, to the sound of “la illaha il Allah”, and remained seated there for most of the evening. It is about here, however, that the similarities end.

The origin of the Siqiliyya seems to be shrouded in mystery. A book that I purchased at the beginning of the Festival, Confreries Musuleman au Maghreb (Muslim Orders of the Arab West, which has become s good source of background information on the different orders, is silent on the Siqilliyya. Faouzi told us that they are a Moroccan offshoot of the Turkish Khalwatiyya, the same brothers who so enraptured us on Monday.

Most interesting of all, however, is the theory of Helen Ranger and Sandy McCutcheon on The View From Fez. They suggest that there is a strong Sicilian influence upon the order, hence the name Siqilliyya, from the time when Muslims first ruled, and then lived largely peacefully under Christian rule in Sicily, in the mid-10th to mid-13th Centuries.

This is an interesting and plausible theory, which might explain why the songs of the Siqilliyya were so different from those we had heard on the previous nights. Once again, the diversity of origin and expression of the different orders was truly striking. For me and seemingly for most of the packed out audience, this foreign influence produced the most complete, most melodious performance of all the nights.

Whilst their Turkish Khalwati cousins provided the greatest spectacle, these brothers involved the audience most fully of all the orders. Where the previous evening some who were familiar with the words sang along, whilst others remained overly self-conscious, here a large part of the audience accepted the sheikh’s active to request to join in the chanting of “Allah” and “La illaha il Allah”. Some cried “na’m” or “aywa” (both “Yes!) at breaks in the singing, and regularly bursted into spontaneous, uncontrolled applause after a solo. This reached a frenzy at the end, when hundreds, now standing, crammed together at the front of the stage, rocking and bouncing to the beat, led by Faouzi himself at the front.

Dressed in white robes, and either white caps or red fez, hinting at their Turkish origin, the Siqilliyya certainly responded to Skali’s description his introduction that theirs was a “participative sama’”. Though they had no drums, a strong rhythm was kept throughout, the sheikh directing thongs from the centre with a subtle nod here, a hand gesture there.

Phrases that I picked out as most striking included yet another new take on “la illaha il Allah”, and my favourite of all, the chant:

“Allah, Allah, Allah
Allah ya Mawlana
Allah, Allah, Allah
Bifadlika Kuli.”

~ “God, God, God
God our lord,
God, God, God
Through your grace is everything.”

As the pace to the latter chant grew, the atmosphere grew more
manic, the audience clapping along until the pace slowed considerably right at the moment of climax, as if the brothers were reining in the rapture.

The Siqilliyya brotherhood succeeded in creating by far the most dynamic of the sung-only performances so far. They displayed a complete mastery of their form, at times wild and threatening (particularly when evoking the Khalwatiyya’s guttural “Hu!”), at others peaceful and harmonious. The power of their music seemed to lie as much in the gaps, the moments of silence, as in the moments of greatest noise. What’s more, they made many of us in the audience feel as if we were Sufis for one night only.

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