Last night’s performance at Dar Tazi was a melhoun-infused evening of music from the Darqaouia tariqa from Casablanca, led by the elderly and extremely knowledgeable Abdelmjid Sweri - Review by Faith Barker
As on other nights, the organisers were inexplicably playing pop music before the Sufis took to the stage. Tonight the contrast was even more bizarre as Bruno Mars was still blasting through the speakers when the Darqaouia began their chanting from the back of the courtyard. It was hastily turned off and the men climbed onto the stage to assemble in a line. It was a fairly ramshackle beginning but this was endearing after the slick professionalism of some of the other groups, and they chanted loudly and with conviction, the audience already clapping along right from the start.
The men were accompanied by an oud player, who began with a great solo, and a single tambourine player. The first hour of music used melodies and rhythms of malhoun, a form of music which originated in Morocco and borrows some of its modes from Andalusi music. Melhoun is are very closely linked to the brotherhoods anyway; both are urban, sung poetry that traditionally come from the working-class environment of craftsmen, and the poetry in qasidas (songs) performed by brotherhoods are often written by melhoun poets.
The melhoun influence meant that the music was lively; the mqaddem led the group by beating the rhythm on his knee and occasionally turning to them, either encouraging them on or admonishing them with a stern look. A member of the group would sing a solo and then be joined on the refrain by the other men. They seemed to play for nearly an hour until stopping and moving into mawwal, a style of singing where a soloist draws out the vocal line. There were a variety of voices: a younger singer with a smooth, creamy voice contrasted with an older one whose voice was more smoky and lived-in. The soloists were spurred on to greater vocal pyrotechnics by the audience; many people arrived after the concert in Boujloud finished, including younger boys who cheered and clapped the soloists.
Eventually the tambourine player picked up the large tbbal drum and the mqaddem himself began singing. His voice has probably seen better days but he had a commanding presence and led the group, silencing the musicians and getting the audience to sing along. They broke into a song known as “Ya Sheikh al-Hadra” – the hadra is the section of the practice where people stand up, chanting the name of God and swaying back and forth, and may trance under the influence of the hal , a feeling of being close to God. The whole audience got to its feet and a line of men at the front joined hands and rocked back and forth. The security guards looked nervous but did not intervene as one man from the crowd stepped closer to the stage, singing along with the musicians.
It came to a somewhat abrupt end – gone are the days when the Sufi nights at the festival would continue long past one o’clock – and the crowd dispersed rapidly.
Tonight is the final Sufi nights performance. Those closest to the front of the stage at the Derqaouia were already eagerly talking about the Hamadcha performance. If you haven’t caught a Sufi nights performance yet, this is well worth staying up for.
Review and photographs: Faith Barker