Friday, May 13, 2016

Fez Festival Sufi Night #6 - Bouchichiya - Review

Thursday night’s Sufi Nights performance was given by the national firqa (musical group) of the Boutchichiyya tariqa, a brotherhood which has been at the forefront of the revival of Sufism in Morocco. By the entrance to Dar Tazi there was a table with books on Sufism, Islam, and the relationship between science and religion. Followers of the Boutchichiyya tariqa tend to be educated, actively pursuing greater understanding of Islam and spirituality, and they are linked to and supported by the monarchy.

The Boutchichiyya produced a wall of sound

The Boutchichiyya have a living master, Sidi Hamza al-Qadiri al-Boutchichi. His role is to act as a spiritual guide and instructor to his followers, helping them move through the different stages of mystic understanding. This is different from brotherhoods like the Hamadcha or Issawa, where the tradition is based around the founding saint who died centuries ago, and the annual visits to his tomb. The Boutchichiyya are also linked to the establishment: the minister of religious affairs has been a member of the Boutchichi order.

Musically, the group stood out from the other brotherhoods who have performed this week because they use no musical instruments or percussion. The courtyard of Dar Tazi was filled with the sounds of their intertwining voices. The lack of percussion didn’t matter because their chanting created its own rhythms, and they staggered their breathing so each piece was a continuous thread of sound, a rich tapestry where individual voices came into focus and then blended in again. There were hints of polyphony, and sections where one main voice took the lead and the others accompanied him in an undertone.

The poetry used by the Boutchichiyya in their dhikr also seems different, to use more classical Arabic and less of the colloquial Arabic of the malhoun poets that other brotherhoods sing. However, it is distinctly Moroccan: a helpful audience member told me at one point that they were singing a tune called the naghma zariga, a spiritual tune or mode specific to Morocco and said to have been originally sung by a Moroccan sheikh. “The story goes,” he told me, “that years later the sheikh’s son heard someone else singing the tune, and without knowing his father had created it he felt a connection to it.”

It was a small but discerning audience

The audience was quite small, but those who were there appreciated the wall of sound produced by the collective worship of the Boutchichiyya. If the rain holds off we can expect more celestial samaa from the Darqouia tonight, and on Saturday the grand finale from Fez Festival favourites the Hamadcha tariqa.

Review and photographs: Faith Barker


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