Monday, January 14, 2013

Hamadsha Information and Jilala Tunes

The most popular post on this blog to date is my post from February 2012 about the Hamadsha and Lalla Aisha, featuring the music of Abderrahim Amrani. I was delighted to receive this message last week from Chris Witulski, an ethnomusicologist currently doing research in Fez. Mr. Amrani saw my blog post and wanted to share some information about Lalla Aisha for the followers of this blog! Many thanks to Chris and to Si Abderrahim for their interest and generosity!



I am a researcher working with the Gnawa, Hamadsha, and Aissawa here in Fez. Amrani has been a good friend of mine for a few years from now, and he just sent me a link to this page with a request. First, I appreciate the recording. Even he has trouble finding some of these older tapes of himself now. He did not realize that you posted a link to his own opinions about Aisha, but he asked that I translate a part of a recent conversation between us regarding who Aisha is into English for your page. He cites four Aishas, three of whom were different living figures that should not be compounded or confused. This, of course, runs counter to many contemporary opinions about the mysterious Aisha that is so present in Moroccan life.

So please pardon the long comment that is to follow. Hopefully you or your readers find it to be an interesting perspective. We were speaking of Sidi Dghughi's trip to see Sultan Bil-Khir at the request of Sidi Ali Bin Hamdush, during which the king gave Dghughi Aisha as a gift for Sidi Ali. According to Amrani, we do not know if his intention was that Aisha be Sidi Ali's wife or servant.

"For six months, Sidi Ahmed traveled to return to Sidi Ali with Ayisha. When he arrived to the place where Sidi Ali had been sitting, he found his master dead under the tree. Sidi Ahmed began to strike his head. In the poem "Al-Warshan" (the carrier pigeon) we hear the story. Then this Aisha, now without Sidi Ali there to marry or serve, began to do miracles of healing. She healed those who would come from afar: the desert, Algeria, Tunisia, and other cities across Morocco. (In Tunisia, there is still an active hamadsha zawiya that celebrates the hamadsha mussem in the city of Um Al-'Arais with Moroccan clothing. She saw many people before suddenly disappearing. No one knew what happened to her or where she was. Her cave, however, remained and became a pilgrimage site just downhill from the zawiya of Sidi Ali Bin Hamdush. Despite the fact that she was no longer there, her cavern became a place where one could bring a sacrifice, light candles, and be healed. This practice entered the tradition, as people would continue to visit and live within the proximity of her past and continuing miracles. This is Aisha Sudaniyya. She was the one who came from the Sudan, from King Bil-Khir, to Sidi Ali Bin Hamdush.

There is a second Aisha: Aisha Bahariyya (of the ocean). She came to Azemmour from Baghdad. Now people go to Azemmour (near El-Jadida) to see her and visit her qubba. Mulay Bu Sha'i al Rddad is the wali of Azemmour, just as we have Moulay Idriss here in Fez. He studied in Baghdad, where she saw him, fell in love, and followed him here (to Morocco). But he was like Sidi Ali, tsawwuf. She came to the edge of the ocean and slept there. The women from here came to know her after hearing her story, that she followed him here out of love. [He did not bring her. She came on her own.] She asked about him when she arrived to learn that he had given up women, cigarettes, alcohol, etc (لقاتو زهد). She had no house, no friends or family. All the woman knew of the story of her love for him. The waves took her [she was sleeping on the beach] and killed her. They buried her body near the coast and now people in love [especially women] visit her marabout in order to write their names and those of their beloved on the walls of the building in henna. She blesses them with requited love. There is a well nearby with very cold water. She is not a jinn, but was a woman.

The third Aisha was Aisha Qadissa from Portugal (not Qandisha, a mispronunciation of her Portugese name). She was a beautiful woman. The Portuguese colonizers killed her husband. She would make herself available to any man who wanted her [Portuguese soldiers], and over the course of an evening, she would kill him, avenging her husband's death. She killed 500 soldiers. ("She was like Zorro.") She was not a jinn.

But those here, the Gnawa, Jbaliyya... shame on them [hashuma alihum]. They create the atmosphere that she is a jinn. Aisha was one of Mohammed's women, how could there be a jinn with the same name? The first two of these examples were holy [ربنية, Sudaniyya and Bahriyya] and the third is powerful [قوية, Qadissa].

There is a fourth Aisha. That's the life that we live, you and me and everyone."

Thank you for reading, and allowing him to speak to his music a bit more directly (albeit translated).

 Christopher Witulski


Unfortunately I have no more Hamadsha tapes in my stash (that I can share, at least...). I was going to share an Aissawa tape that has some Gnawa songs on it (to further exemplify the borrowing and sharing of songs between the Moroccan trance music repertoires. But then when googling around to find more information about the performer, Al-Hajj Said Al-Guissi I found that the tape has been issued on CD and is available on iTunes as "L'Art Aïssawa, Vol. 2". (Though the cassette j-card pictured here is much more glorious!)

So instead, here's a vintage Jilala cassette on Tichkaphone. I'm pretty sure I bought this one sealed, but the lyrics (what I can make out of them) don't seem to have any relationship to the song titles on the j-card. Unusual that one of the vocalists is female!

Track 2 (of 4)

Get it all here.


  1. Hello, Tim. Interesting endeavour into the world/s of Lalla Aishas, really. It's a bit lacking on the tinier details of how were those four separate individuals created from mere folklore trivium and became legends into the realm of 'real' life as the expositions ends.

    I enjoyed it and with that the two cassette drops.

    Note: I'm planning a near-future trip to Morocco with my wife (we still didn't marry but on our way, 'nshAllah). Staying there for a good year could be a possible option for both of us. Who knows.



  2. hello mr. tim......thank you very much for your great blog.....i don't know if you read my comment ( 9 months late ) to a february 2012 aissaoua post about the oulad miliana....i was hoping that you might ask Chris Witulski if there is a zaouia or group in Fes. Here i've pasted what i originally wrote (in part):

    .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

  3. @Hammer - wow, Morocco-bound, incha'Llah? Hope things work out great for you - and congrats!

    @Anonymous - sorry I didn't get back to you earlier - my head was out of the blogosphere for a while. I've never heard the group you mentioned - I didn't spend a lot of time in Fez, though. I will forward your inquiry to Chris. Perhaps he has some information.

  4. thanks a lot......they come from douwwawar along the sebou river near bel ksiri but i thought with rural migration and all they might be active in fes.....the meknes zaouia has been closed for years........thank you


    i've never been able to find the ulad malyana playing the lira on youtube and believe me i've looked
    this is a very brief example of their hadra with ghayta