Saturday, February 18, 2012

Post-Miloud Moussem Mayhem Music from Meknes - Aissawa!

In the weeks following the Eid al Miloud, pilgrimage celebrations (moussem-s) are held all over Morocco at the shrines of local awliya saints. Possibly the biggest of these celebrations is the moussem in Meknes for L-Hadi ben Aissa, eponym of the Aissawa brotherhood. Pilgrims from across the region and across the country descend on Meknes for a 2 weeks of devotion and renewal, and nights of trance music.

Here are 2 tapes of Aissawa music I picked up in Meknes ca. '99. Unlike the released CDs of Aissawa music available in da West (featuring groups from Meknes, Marrakech, and Fes), these tapes make no pretense of presenting a balanced overview of the Aissawa ritual. That is, they don't include any of the lovely sung poetry in honor of the Hadi ben Aissa that would typically open a ritual performance. They cut straight to the chase, hitting the ground running with with blaring ghaita oboes and pounding tbel drums!

I'm not familiar enough with Aissawa music to know if these tunes are from the trance repertoire or from the street/processional repertoire. Whichever it is, these are some serious long jams - the group riffs it non-stop for 3+ sides of these 2 volumes:

Most of Vol 2 side 2 is taken up with a suite of melodies in 5/4 - it sounds like the rhythm used by the Hamadsha brotherhood.

If anyone can identify any of the melodies or the context of these recordings, please let me know!

At any rate, this is definitely a live performance - either the musicians, the microphone, or all of them are in motion - the oboes and drums change places in the mix constantly during the recording. Add to that some weird phasing that carries on through most of the tape, just the right amount of crowd noise, chattering and occasional chanting, and you've got an unintentionally awesome Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka vibe!

Get it here and here.


  1. nice to have a little pick-me-up... thanks for posting some cool tunes...

  2. Hi! Thanks for posting. The 1st piece is definitely Jajouka music; I've hung out with those guys enough times to instantly recognize their sound. Beautiful.

    The second I'm not familiar with, but I hope someone can identify it. Very curious.

    Sincerely grateful, Pol

  3. Aïssaoua music by Al-Mkadem* Ben Hamou is my best guess.
    It's not Hamadsha as this is a rival sect in Morocco (in addition to L'Knawa, or Gnawa musicians).

    The Aïssaoua sect was called so from its roots in a Moroccan city named Wezra, where the founding Shiek Mohammed Ben Issa died in 1178 C.E..
    Usually, the celebration takes place twice a year accompanied by Darb Sheesh (hitting of knives), zars (exorcism sessions), and the usual amdah (idolatry provisional poetry, or anasheed), for the Propeht Mohammed and his Al-Bayt (The House's Member of the Prophet).

    *Also spelled as muqaddem which means 'the lead-voice'.



  4. Thanks for all your music. I can't offer info, only appreciation:-)

  5. @Pol - thanks for the note! But this isn't Jajouka music. The Jajoukans use the same ghaita oboes that are heard in different styles of Moroccan music. The Aissawa use the ghaitas in their processional repertoire and their trance repertoire. And a good ghaita and tbel band is typical for an outdoor wedding procession all over Morocco, with a similar musical texture to what's heard in the first clip here. Some of the oboe phrasing in this clip sounds similar to what I've heard from the Jajoukans. But I don't believe the Jajoukans use the big bendirs with jingles/cymbals, typical of the Aissawa, which you can hear in this excerpt.

    @Hammer - thanks for that best guess! I know it's not a Hamadsha group here, but that rhythm in the second clip sounds like a Hamdushi rhythm - I didn't know that the Aissawa use it too.

    I shouldn't be surprised though. I have noticed that many of the Moroccan trance groups play songs for mlouk of the other groups - like the Gnawa have their Hamdushiya songs, and the Jilala and the Aissawa have their Gnawiya songs as well.

    Best wishes,
    -Tim Abdellah

  6. salaam....hello....i've only just today discovered this blog.....thank you....the mokhtari branch of the aissaoua use the 5/4 rhythm almost exclusively, whereas in fes and meknes in their street processions 4/4 is mostly used.....can i ask you a question?......have you ever found a cassette or cd of the oulad miliana ( followers of the great saint of khemis miliana sidi ahmed ben youssef )? when i was recording 25 years ago near meknes i never managed to get recordings of their 7adra with lirat because they always had their tent at the edge of things next to a loudspeaker of a cheikhat tent and i always thought "some day", a day which may never come, as it now appears.........djibli

  7. @Djibli - Thanks for the note - very interesting about the different rhythms used by different Aissawa branches! Where are the Mokhtaris found?

  8. A copy of what looks like Vol. 2 is being sold here: