Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Tariqa Boutchichiyya and Tariqa Siqilliyya at the Fes Festival of Sufi Culture 2014

Tariqa Boutchichiyya
Sunday night's offering at the Batha Museum was by Tariqa Boutchichiyya and Tariqa Siqilliyya. They are two distinctly different groups in origin and in style, but they delivered a true Sufi experience for yet another enthusiastic audience

Preparing the incense
The Tariqa Boutchichiyya presented a younger generation
Festival Director Faouzi Skali was enthralled

The evening opened with the Boutchichiyya Brotherhood who came on stage with a surprisingly young generation of singers.  While they didn't have the strength and depth of the more experienced members of the Brotherhood, there were some superb singers who will no doubt have a strong part to play in the continuing growth of this Brotherhood. And, as the evening progressed, the energy level grew and mesmerised the audience.

Tariqa Siqilliyya

Suitably warmed up by the Bioutchichiyya, the crowd were ready for the "wall of sound" that the twenty strong Siqilliya produced. Dressed in white robes, and either white caps or red fez, the Siqilliyya gave a generous and “participative samaà ”. Though they had no drums, a strong rhythm was kept throughout, the sheikh, Mohamed Bennis, directing from the centre with a subtle nod here, a hand gesture there.

The style was much more melodic and they gave new energy to the oft-repeated  “la illaha il Allah”.

The Tariqa Siqilliyya were not only intense and moving to listen to, but their invitation to the audience to participate was taken up with enthusiasm. Their music, with its hints of polyphony, soared and swooped around the venue and, judging by the response from the audience their style is extremely popular.

Haj Mohamed Bennis 
“Allah, Allah, Allah Allah ya Mawlana Allah, Allah, Allah  Bifadlika Kuli.”
The tempo grew and grew with the audience clapping and swaying, awash with the rapture. It was a fine night to be in Fez.

Older members of the Brotherhood giving their all

Some Background on Tariqa Boutchichiyya and Tariqa Siqilliyya

The Siqilliyya brotherhood
The origin of the Siqiliyya seems to be shrouded in mystery. The book, Confreries Musuleman au Maghreb (Muslim Orders of the Arab West), which is s good source of background information on the different orders, is silent on the Siqilliyya. Festival Director Faouzi Skali says that they are a Moroccan offshoot of the whirling dervish group the Turkish Khalwatiyya,

A particularly interesting theory suggested by The View From Fez suggests 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. It is an interesting and plausible theory, which might explain why the songs of the Siqilliyya are so different from almost every other Sufi group.

Whilst their twirling Turkish Khalwati cousins provided the greatest spectacle, these brothers involve the audience most fully of all the orders, and it is usual for a large part of the audience to accept the sheikh’s active to request to join in the chanting of “Allah” and “La illaha il Allah”. You will hear the cry of  “na’m” or “aywa” (both “Yes!) at breaks in the singing, and regular bursts of spontaneous, uncontrolled applause after a solo.

The Batha Museum packed to capacity

The Boutchichiyya Brotherhood
The Boutchichiyya Brotherhood are from the small town of Mardagh, near Berkane, in north-eastern Morocco and has become an important pilgrimage destination. The sheikh is Sidi Hamza el Qadiri el Boutchichi and the brotherhood is active in many countries, particularly in the UK.

The Boutchichiyya are an offshoot of the Qadiriyya tariqa, one of the oldest Sufi orders, which was brought to Morocco (initially to Fez) by the descendants of the two sons of ‘Abd al-Qadir from the 16th Century. The Boutchichiyya take their name from the 18th Century sheikh Sidi Ali al-Boutchichi, a Qadiri who was given the title “al-boutchichi” because he used to serve “cracked wheat” (bou tchich) to the poor who came to his zawiya.

The Brotherhood of the Samaa Qadirya Boutchichiya performs a sacred music, and produces a spiritual state "where celestial music becomes audible," says Moroccan musicologist Abdelfettah Benmoussa. "It combines the primordial sound and the absolute divine word. Through the practice of Samaa, it becomes possible to experience the depths of being in universal harmony".

The Tariqa Boutchichiya have been at the forefront of a genuine revival of Sufism. Sidi Hamza Qadiri Boutchich, descendant of Moulay Abdelqader Aj Jilani, is a "Living Master" of the contemporary teachings of Sufism. The Brotherhood produced this revival under the leadership of Sheikh Al Haj Al Sid 'Abbas, then his son and successor Sidi Hamza. This renewal is distinguished by its ability to adapt to the changing socio-cultural contexts of our time.

The word tariqa in the name of a group, such as Tariqa Qadiriyyaq Boutchichiyya, literally means ‘the way’. In this context it means the Sufi way, literally a path, a road, which, when applied to Sufism will relate to a specific order, but they think of it as the way to God. A lot of Sufis will say there are many paths, and this is our path.

Much of what is performed is known as samaà - a form of Sufi music, and the literal translation from Arabic is "audition", to listen or to hear, but with spiritual connotations. It also refers to a ritual taking place in the zawiya, Arabic for the corner of a Sufi house or meeting place, which could be attached to a Mosque, and which would indicate that the original samaà used to meet in a corner.

Samaà is something that happens in the zawiya but is now becoming part of these cultural festivals. As Faouzi Skali says, rituals like this are an evening of community prayer, not a performance. This is what adds intensity to the experience as it is never really a performance for outsiders, more for the Sufi’s themselves, but has now become a staged thing that has entered the world music market and festival circuits. It seems that it is a very personal celebration between the group themselves but it has also taken on the modern role as a public performance of what they do. There are some differences, for example with the Moroccan-Andalusian style there will usually be some kind of orchestra, but in the zawiya the typical way of doing it is without instruments, so it’s often just vocalising.

The samaâ isn’t really considered singing, it’s more melodic vocalising. It has been called chant, but it can be translated in different ways. The word is inshad in Arabic, which can be translated as chant or melodic vocalising, it’s distinct from singing, which has other connotations. To our ears it’s very melodic and the melodic rules, the ways that you develop melody, are similar for both, but it has to do with place, time and the role of music, it’s so very difficult to give an exact definition.

Extra notes from Philip Murphy and Fitzroy Morrissey

Looking for Muhyiddin

Tomorrow night (9pm) at the Batha Museum - a film evening. Nacer Khemir's "Looking for Muhyiddin" A man returns home to bury his mother. In order to keep a promise he made to his father, he starts following the traces of Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi

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