Saturday, February 25, 2012

Hamadsha Tunes from Fez - Lalla Aisha in Full Jarring Effect

Continuing with my recent set of trance brotherhood music tapes from the Meknes area (after Aissawa and Gnawa), here's a tape of Hamadsha tunes. The performer is from Fez, but I picked up the tape in Meknes in '99.

The Hamadsha are followers of Sidi Ali ben Hamdush, a saint whose shrine is in the Jbel Zerhun mountainous area north of Fez and Meknes. They specialize in working with people possessed by the notorious jinniya Lalla Aisha. The Gnawa also perform music for Aisha's trances, and it is derived from the 5/4 melodies heard here. (Gnawa versions of these tunes, which they call "Hamdushiya", can be heard elsewhere on this blog.) Lalla Aisha is usually identified as Aisha Qandisha, but this is contested by some, including the performer featured on this tape.

The performer, Abderrahim Amrani, is the muqaddem of a Fez branch of the brotherhood as well as a versatile musician proficient in a number of genres. See for his biography (and some questionable pop versions of Moroccan trance tunes.) Or check out more tunes and video on the Fez Hamadsha website or on their MySpace page!

The music on this tape features the guinbri (not the large guinbri used by the Gnawa, but a smaller variety) and the large clay goblet drum known as gwal, along with clapping and singing. Not heard here is the ghaita oboe, which the Hamadsha use in some parts of their ceremony.

Get it here.

BTW - thanks for all your comments recently - I haven't had a chance to reply to all, but hope to do so soon. I do appreciate the feedback and the conversation!


UPDATE - JAN 14, 2013 - Happy to say that Mr. Abderrahim Amrani has seen this blog post and shared more information about Lalla Aisha with followers of the blog! Please see here.


  1. Thanks Tim. This tape's another great addition to your wonderful collection of Moroccan music.

    On the subject of Aisha Qandisha:
    Aisha Qandisha (Arabic: عايشة قنديشة/ عيشة قنطيشة / عيشة قنديشة), has many names to begin with, and here I shall mention but a few. Aisha Qadessa ('Saint Aisha'), La'Mima Aisha/ Aisha Mamma ('Mother Aisha', or 'Aisha The Mother' as a dear-ism), Lalla Aisha (Lalla is a cutism for any female in Morocco), Aisha Countess-a ('The Countess Aisha', which is where Gandisha came from; a 'Moroccanization' of that European title), Aisha Muwlat El-Marjah ('Aisha The Governess of The Meadow'), Aisha Essoudaniyah ('Aisha The Sudanese'), Aisha Kenya (erm, 'Kenyan Aisha'), Aisha L'Knawiyah ('Aisha The Gnawaist'), etc...
    Aisha Qandisha was a fighter woman whose husband got killed at the times of the Portuguese invasion of Morocco (1415-1521 C.E..), where her husband’s body was deformed badly by the invading soldiers as a revenge because all her family joined the fight against them. It's said that when she saw him as such, she lost her mind and fled to the wilderness (there's no specific place where she came from, or died at).
    She continued her fighting against the invaders there on her own, and was said to having been a good swimmer, raiding a bunch of these soldiers, only to disappear so fast and swam in some swamp nearby where she couldn’t be found. That’s where the myth took place that she might be a Djinyaa (female Djin, or evil spirit), or say, a ‘silkie’. The Portuguese nicknamed her The Countess in admiration for her incessant fighting spirit.
    Many in Morocco don't believe this, as Moroccans have a steeped culture of Djin beliefs, especially of that of Muluk (Djin kings), and Sidis (The human-form djin they beseech and call upon for help on a daily basis). There is a dire mixup between the demonic and the angelic here, and one should realize this thin separating line that most can never be aware of. In Egypt, there’s the same ‘mytheological’ belief of a female entity called ‘Ennadaha’: a succubus that ‘calls’ men to lure them to their final fate. In the Arabian Peninsula, there’s an Umm Eduwais, and in the Levant some entity called El-Gohla. Actually, it’s everywhere in the Mid-east region, and beyond (there are similar entities in Japanese culture and Chinese ones, too). Also, some women talk about her in the same vein as a gargoyle only, for their children to go early to bed, so that they can ahem… Have sex with their husbands while the children are deep in slumber because it’s part of the ‘shame culture’ that abides all through the Arab world not to permit the children to hear any ‘copulating voices’ in the night especially back at times when there were no electricity, or modern ‘noisy’ distractions such as the dreary television. Finnish anthropologist Edvard Westermarck has written extensively about this ‘myth’ aligning her to Mesopotamian Goddess Ishtar which is completely wrong. Some say that she has camel hooves, and droopy breasts, and others swear that they saw her as a she-donkey (or, Baghlat Irrawdah, 'The Meadow's She-donkey' in Moroccan Arabic, and at other worse times Baghlat El-Maghbarah, 'The Cenetry's She-donkey' believing that she was a woman who's got mutated into this because she had sex after her husband's death during the period where a woman isn't allowed to have sex within!). This is all a load of old pants. Some Bedouins even say that her feet are goats' feet, and that one can only ward off her strong spell by burning his turban because she fears fire.

    The truth is that she was a Mujahida (Islamic fighter-ess?), whose good deeds, bravery and valor in the Portuguese-Moroccan war set her as a legend.



  2. Hey Hammer - thanks for the extensive notes about Lalla Aisha. I've also heard the legend of Aisha's resistance against the Portuguese. (Though I had never heard "Contessa" presented as the origin of "Qandisha" - fascinating!) Check out Amrani Abderrahim's posting about Lalla Aisha (linked above). He notes the same story about Aisha Qandisha as a fighter and distinguishes her from Aisha Soudaniya. The latter, he says, was a woman brought from the Soudan by Sidi Ahmed Dghoughi as a gift from the Sultan Belkhir in the 17th century.

    As you note, despite these accounts of both Aishas as HUMANS, she exists in popular culture as a jinniya. The songs of Gnawa and Hamadsha about Lalla Aisha are certainly sung for people who trance with the IDEA of Lalla Aisha. What exactly is that idea? It is surely different for each person. I would say it is some combination of the different stories about Lalla Aisha (historical, mythological, legendary) as well as the controversies, fears, symbols and desires that surround those stories. Lalla Aisha, at least among the Gnawa, remains a compelling figure, dwelling in the ambiguous spaces surrounding that idea.

    Best wishes
    -Tim Abdellah

  3. Same wishes to you, too Tim. Your wonderful blog is all-enlightening.

    The likeness of the non-human form of Aisha Qandisha and that of the spiritual one harks back to what I've mentioned in my comment. There's an old, indelible tradition of magic in Morocco. Magic is usually done by metamorphosing human body into a friendly host-body where the jin could be able to manifest itself through the element of fire inside the human body. Many magicians know this fact, and it's like the ABCs of starting the first baby-steps into that very dangerous road, which leads to the awful death of its practitioner at most times.
    One has to also know, that the jin can easily access the female body more than the male one. It's a bit overtaxing to try to explain here, but that's why most apparitions of jins seen by human beings take shape in a female figure.
    Aisha Qandisha was probably just a woman, but average bucolic people like to align legends to her name so that she can live in the general psyche of the mind-set of one generation after another. Moroccans share this with many eastern cultures by the way. But, as I've said before, their roots in magic and the belief in salvation of the 'wali', or the seer (usually, a magician himself/herself), is so steep... nothing would revert their states of mind back to normality at all.
    Also to be stated here is the fact that the number of people who still believe in these incantations and otherworldly apparitions are dwindling with the advent of technology and modernity seen now in Morocco and elsewhere in the Arabic Maghbreb.
    I don't want to theosophize here, good sir. But, trust me... it's far worse than just transcendental states of trance-like ecstasy one can read in say, a C.G. Jung book. It's part of an ongoing heritage of falsehoods and lies told by those who practiced magic (learned from Sudan and African olden kingdoms).
    Lastly, I know I might sound here, the ever-cynicist, mind you... but, truth is a rare coin that's hard to find these days.

    Music is what matters.


  4. Hi all,

    Thanks as usual for all of the beautiful music you keep bringing Tim. Sorry if I'm about to seriously lower the tone here, but I'm loving the cover of this tape - the way Abderrahim's spectacular winter jumper clashes with the equally spectacular zellige tile work is quite amazing!

  5. Hello Tim,

    Just left a longish comment, which Blogspot didn't accept for whatever connectivity unreason. The gist being, it would be, well, curious to get you and Gary from Bodega Pop together, say next fall, under the aegis of the Poetry Center.

    There could be a conversation on public access to cultural memory, and also some kind of program bringing together music (you) and poetry (him), not necessarily as a single performance, but side-by-side, as it were. I knew Gary here, years ago, when he lived in SF; subsequently likewise in Minneapolis before he moved to New York. Would be an intriguing connection, anyway. Something to think about.

    (I doubt I'm the only individual who knows both of you, but there has to be some human thread.)

    I left a PS in the comment zone to your early Mahmoud Guinia post, asking about Josh Hayes, whether anyone has seen the boy. Wondering what became of him, these many years down the wire....


  6. @Hammer - Thanks again for your comment! Perhaps the belief in dark magic is dwindling, and perhaps that's a good thing. On the other hand, the space opened by music for radical, transformative expression is a precious resource for many people struggling to feel at home in this dunya.

    Like with many forms of medicine, trancing with Lalla Aisha (or any of the mlouk) offers the possibility of relief as well as the possiblility of addiction and misuse. There is certainly much misinformation and misunderstanding around what happens on the Gnawa trance floor. Let's hope that the best meanings and understandings of the music remain resilient and a source of light rather than darkness.

    @Mr. Tear - Oh yes! A mega-angular delight!

  7. DEAR GOD THIS IS FANTASTIC. Thank you, thank you, thank you.