Traditional Sufi female musicians (Meddahates) performing the ecstatic Zaar ritual in North Africa.


Out in the countryside there's something else which we haven't encountered much elsewhere : women performing music.

These Jilala musicians are renowned for their spiritual healing abilities.

They believe that a disease which has its roots in an affliction of the spirit can be cured by the power of Sufi music.

It's done by putting people - particularly women - into a trance.

Rokia Riman :

"The band leader and musicians recognise a person's temperament."

"They know the mood a person needs and play accordingly."

It might look a little freaky; even alarming at first but it's a way of easing pent-up anxieties in a way that's acceptable in a deeply conservative society.

It's a sort-of safety valve - something like a rave only with better, less monotonous music.

Rokia Riman :

"As soon as they hear the right music they have to do the trance dance."

"Even if you bound them with chains they would have to dance."


Sufi Trance Music From Morocco
الموسيقى الصوفية المغربية

The Jilala, like other religious brotherhoods of Morocco, is probably rooted in pre-Islamic ritual and celebration, but it is at the same time definitely a part of the great Sufi tradition of the Middle East.

They are called upon to exorcise evil spirits and to purify the heart.

The Jilala are particularly useful in curing cases of epilepsy and hysteria, controlling the spirits or demons in possession of the subject though their music and the ritualized gestures of the dance.

But mainly the dances are dances of exaltation.

The dancers come as they are called by the music; and their number varies with the size of the gathering and the place, including both men and women, the very old and the very young.

Incense is burned throughout the evening; and the smell of black jowee or benzoin heightens the trance state and it's often used to revive a dancer who has passed out.

The women characteristically weave and bob back and forth to the music, spreading their arms and then crossing them over their breasts.

As the tempo increases they throw their heads back, their faces showing mingled ecstasy and pain, harder and faster, their long blue-black hair unloosened and flying across their faces


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