Thursday, May 12, 2016

Fes Festival Sufi Night #5 - Mashishiyya Tariqa - Review

The drizzle last night let off enough to allow the Al Houda ensemble, from the Mashishiyya tariqa (brotherhood) in Tangier, to take to the stage. The audience was very sparse at first, probably because of last night’s cancellation of the Issawa concert, but filled out by around half an hour in, with families coming and going throughout the evening

The ensemble plays an updated version of traditional Sufi music, taking it out of the zawiya and onto the stage. They use melodies and instruments from Andalusi music – last night there was a kanun, a violin, a ney, an oud, as well as percussion from a derbouka, a def and a tambourine. The musicians, dressed in black, were marked out as different from the singers, who wore white djellabas. They are clearly a professional ensemble: in the room where they gathered before going on stage they were rehearsing classical Middle Eastern songs (sharqi), and have recently released an album of traditional music from the mountains of northern Morocco.

 The Mqaddem of the Mashishiyya tariqa

The men began with a recitation of the Salat al-Mashishiya, a prayer said throughout the Muslim world and written by the founder of the tariqa. Abd al-Salam ibn Mashish al-Alami was a Sufi saint who lived during the Almohad dynasty from the late 12th to early 13th century. Born in Tangier, he withdrew to the mountains near Larache to lead a life of prayer, where he is now buried. He was the spiritual guide to al-Shadhili, founder of the Shadhili tariqa which gave rise to many of the Sufi brotherhoods in Morocco today.

The type of Sufi music they performed is in a very different style to the rowdy Ahl Touat performance on Monday – it relies on these Andalusi instruments and a more virtuosic, polished style of singing than would have been present when men used to just get together in a zawiya. Several of the singers demonstrated impressive vocal range, and the modes occasionally recalled those of flamenco. However, if you are going to rely on classical-style singing then all the singers need to be accomplished. A few of last night’s voices were too tentative or unstable, and the balance between solo voice and instruments was off.

The best of the Sufi nights are when the performance comes closer to a collective spiritual experience than a concert. Unfortunately this was more of a concert, with a clear divide between performance and audience. The spirit of the evening came through better in the sections where the men sang as a group, and by the end of the evening they had the crowd singing along.

Review and photographs: Faith Barker


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