I can give you no imformation about this music, but below is an extract from Vincent Crapanzano's 1973 book, The Hamadsha: A Study in Moroccan Ethnopsychiatry:
A square in front of the tomb of Sheikh al-Karnal in Meknes was just beginning to fill up with townsmen, families from the nearby shantytowns, and a few Berber and Arab tribesmen when we arrived at 2:45 on a Friday afternoon in January. We were immediately surrounded by children - whom we had to fend off, sometimes violently, as they gaped and grabbed with curiosity at us. In one corner of the square a line of beggar women, huddled together, were blankly watching a woman prance around to the wailing of four or five singers, hawking blessings for a few francs. Near them, a tiny, wizened old man, dressed in a white tunic, was neatly laying out a plastic tablecloth. He sat down on it, held up his staff between his legs, and wept. He was generally ignored. A circle of children had formed around another man who bandied a stick and shouted at them, and occassionally pulled open his shirt and puffed out his lungs through a round hole in his chest. Here and there crowds were starting to press around candy and orange vendors, con men and tricksters, story tellers and preachers, dancers and fortune-tellers. In the corner closest to the tomb of their saint, Sheikh al-Karnal, the founder of the famed brotherhood of the Isawiyya and the patron of Meknes, a group of adepts began their dance. As we moved through the crowd to watch them, we were suddenly attracted by the sound of the oboe known as the ghita and were told that the Hamadsha, whom we had come to see, were about to start their performance.
We were greeted warmly by Ali, a denizen of the nearby shantytown whom we had met earlier in the day when he chased children from our car with a big stick. He shook our hands over and oevr again while the rest of the Hamadsha prepared their instruments. There were nine in all: three guwwala who played a large pottery drum shaped like and hourglass; one tabbal who played a snare drum, two ghiyyata who played the oboe; two money collectors, Ali and another man who reminded me of a New England church usher; and a dance leader, or muqaddim. The drummers were tightening their drums over a paper and cardboard fire as the ghiyyata tuned their instruments. Ali began to recite a prayer, or fatha, and to ask for money from the spectators who had gathered in a circle around the Hamadsha. He had a showman's sense of gesture and timing.
Suddenly the ghiyyata began to play. It was 3:11 pm. The crowd of men, women and children pressedinward and were violently pushed back by Ali and the "usher" until a semi-circle was formed, with the musicians at one end, against the wall of the square, and a group of ten or eleven men standing shoulder to shoulder opposite them. The men raised themselves up on their toes and pounded down hard on their heels to the rhythm of the drums. At the same time, they raised and lowered their shoulders in a sort of ongoing shrug and hissed out air, occassionally chanting "Allah! Allah! Allah te eternal! Allah the adorable!" The muqaddim, a yellow-faced man dressed in a bright green acetate robe, danced directly in front of them, encouraging those who had fallen out of rhythm, Sometimes he would jump in the air, spin around, and land hard on his heels. At other times he would leap into the air and, as he landed, bring his outstretched fists in against his chest as though he were lancing himself. And at still other times he would pound his chest with his fists in a sort of breast-stroke motion.
Almost immediately after the line of male dancers had formed, two women, one in a pale blue jallaba and the other in a black one, pushed their way through the crowd and began to dance directly in front of the ghiyyata. They did not move their feet as the men did, but instead bobbed up and down from the waist, their heads nearly hitting the ground, or swayed their bodies back and forth in much the motion that Arab women use to wash their floors. Their hair had come loose and was flying in all directions. They reminded me of ancient maenads. Two other women joined them: all the women seemed to fall into trance much more quickly, and easily, than the men.
By 3:30 there were four women dancing and the line of men had grown to 21. There must have been between 200 and 300 spectators standing in the circle and perched on the walls of the square. Ali and the "usher" made the rounds, collecting - almost extracting - a few francs from each of the spectators. The drumming remained constant, or so it seemed to me; it was the ghita which was producing the variations in sound. The drumming, by this time, had begun to have a dulling effect on me, and the music of the ghita an irritating one. I noticed that many of the spectators, especially those nearest the ghiyyata, were in a light trance or at least dazed. Their eyes seemed glazed, fixed on the musicians or the dancers. The smell of all the hot, close, sweating bodies was stifling.
The performance went on, without much variation, until a few minutes after 4. Occasionally one of the male dancers would leave the line and dance in the center space, alone or with the muqaddim. Usually such dancers were in an entranced frenzy and were not able to follow the rhythm of the dance very well. One of the female dancers was led by a fat man, who participated only peripherally in the dance and seemed to be a sort of helper to the performers, over to the line of male dancers and made to dance with them. This seemed to relax her, to "bring her down."
At 4:15 there was a hush in the crowd as an extremely tall man in white robes, with a gold scarf around his neck, entered the dance area. A woman poked me and told me that he was a seer and a true Hamdushi. A man signaled that he was a homosexual who played the passive role. His costume was, in fact, effeminate, his breasts well developed, his hair long and curly, and his neck so swollen that I suspected some sort of glandular disorder. In a few minutes he was deep in a "chattering" trance: his mouth was opening and closing at a rate well out of the range of voluntary behaviour. His head was thrust far back, his eyes were popping. He wandered, disoriented, around the center of the circle. Then the ghiyyata changed their tune slightly, and he was immediately "drawn" to them. He danced before them, his back to the audience, in a way which was closer to the women's dance to the men's. He seemed more closed in upon himself than the othe dancers, more separated from the audience and the other performers. Suddenly he began to beat his head with what appeared to be his fists but were in facttwo pocket knives, one in each hand. The woman next to me whispered, "Aisha, Aisha Qandisha." Faster and faster he slashed at his head (the music too seemed faster), until his long curls were matted down with blood and his back and face were streaked with it.
Many of the men and women looked on dispassionately, but the children in the audience grew restive and excited. More than one mother raised her baby high in her arms to see the slashing. The muqaddim began to dash frenetically around the perimeter of the circle. His eyes bulging, he asked for a knife, but the "helper" refused and, pulling the muqaddim toward him, took the leader's head under his arm and scratched it. When the muqaddim finally regained his senses, the helper kissed him on the cheek and released him. By this time the head-slasher had stopped and was seated in a corner near some women, a very pained expression on his face. The musicians continued to play the same tune and in a minute or two he was up again, dancing and slashing with even more abandon than before. Then suddenly, unexpectedly, he sat down again among the women. One of them began to bind his scalp with a pale blue scarf, another kissed his bloody hands and licked the blood that had stained her veil. A baby was lifted over the crowd and handed to the slasher, who kissed him. A third woman smeared a little blood on the baby's stomach. The slasher no longer looked pained; his expression was now radiant.
It was now 4:35. The musicians had changed their tune, and the dance seemed calmer to me. Twenty men were still pounding and hissing in their line. Several women had danced though the head-slashing scene, quite oblivious to it; one of them, a woman in black, had been bobbing up and down since the beginning of the performance, and hour and a half before. The rest of the dance seemed very unreal to me. I felt very distant, very removed from what was going on in front of me.
At 4:55 the ghiyyata blew two or three long, wailing blasts, and the performance was over. A few of the performers shook hands while the crowd dispersed. Several women came up to the slasher to ask his blessing. The 'Isawa, the followers of Sheikh al-Kamal were still dancing in their corner, but they had drawn a much smaller crowd than the Hamadsha. We were told that the Miliana, the followers of an Algerian saint who specialize in playing with and eating fire, had also performed, as well as a branch of the 'Isawiyya that charm snakes.
Friday, January 12, 1968
Sheikh al-Kamal, Meknes
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