Chris Witulski, our music correspondant, interviews the leader of the Aissawa Sufi Brotherhood in Fez (pictured below). This group will be performing at Bab Boujloud tonight, as part of the Fes Festival in the City.
Last night I had the opportunity to speak with Abdullah Yaqoubi, an Aissawa maqaddam who will be performing tonight at Boujloud. This is going to be a party, perhaps the after-party from the Makina concert, and will absolutely be worth stopping by. Like last night's performance by Fatima Zahra La'aroussi, Aissawa music is best known by many Fessis as wedding music. The group's distinctive long trumpets (nfar) and oboes (ghaita) can be heard before weddings, naming ceremonies, or circumcisions as the musicians process through the streets of Fez. But the music is, at its heart, Sufi dhikr, the remembrance of and communion with Allah.
The brotherhood stems from the work of its namesake, Mohammed Bin 'Aissa (d. 1526) of Meknes. He is now known as Shaykh al-Kamil, the complete, or perfect, shiekh. The Aissawa path and ritual, unlike some others in the area, includes sung poems (qasida, pl. qasa'id) on topics relating to their Shaykh, the Prophet, and Allah. These typically have simple percussion accompaniments. But it is the outrageous dakhla (literally, entrance) and hadra (trance portion) of the rituals for which the brotherhood is known. The high-energy and complex upbeat rhythmic patterns support the recitation of the dhikr phrases, which are shorter and more repetitive than the poems. Trumpets, an army of hand percussion, excruciatingly loud oboes, and (occasionally, when things get going) screamed lyrics animate the atmosphere, first opening the space, charging it with spiritual blessing, and later inviting participants into higher states or possession trances.
A number of teams of Aissawi musicians work in each city in Morocco, but the sound especially permeates Fez and Meknes. Each group is led by a muqaddam, literally a presenter or leader. Abdullah is one such muqaddam, one that is known throughout the country. His father and grandfather were both Aissawa muqaddams, it runs in his family. He lamented that he has no son to continue the family business and, although he has two daughters who are well steeped in the style, he is concerned about the future. He and another prominent figure from Fez's Sufi community, Abd ar-Rahim Amrani, will be joined onstage by maqaddams from Rabat, Fez, and Meknes, giving tonight's performance an all-star cast. Amrani, an orchestrater of this week's events, will bring elements of his own Hamadcha Brotherhood to the stage, insha'allah (God willing). These two are revered outside of Morocco as well - they just returned from a short stay in California where they performed and gave workshops to students at UCLA.
While we have listened to a number of things this week that fall under the term "Sufi," it is the Aissawa music that captures so many Moroccan ears. When you descend Tala'a Saghira and pass the small carts of CDs, it is often the sound of the Aissawa and Hamadcha that blares from their ear-splitting stereos. This, unlike the quiet and retrospective sounds that we hear at Dar Tazi, is Moroccan party Sufism.