Middletown (Connecticut), USA – In the new book Traveling Spirit Masters, Deborah Kapchan explores how a group of Moroccan ritual musicians from the sub-Saharan Africa diaspora have come to participate in the world music market. These musicians are known as the Gnawa, and their traditional belief is that they can heal those afflicted with possession and other ills. It is thought that the Gnawa placate offending spirits with music, incense, colors, and animal sacrifice.
The regular rhythms of the Gnawa’s heavy metal castanets and the bass melodies provided by the hajhuj (a three-stringed instrument, which is also called sintir and guimbri) induce a trance in the listener. These trance-inducing rhythms have found their way into music outside of the Moroccan Gnawa community, such as American jazz, popular French music and world beat.Kapchan examines the transformative effects of this cross-cultural participation on racial and musical identities and looks at the changing meanings of trance in different cultural settings. Originating as a form of religious or spiritual healing, trance has become, in some venues, a type of theater or performance, and in others, a vehicle for cultural and political expression.
Kapchan’s work is full of first hand observations from her travels in north Africa and France, including conversations with Gnawa musicians and those influenced by their music. Traveling Spirit Masters is a captivating and illuminating demonstration of how and why trance<and indeed all sacred musicis becoming a transnational sensation.
Deborah Kapchan is an associate professor of performance studies at New York University. She is the author of Gender on the Market: Moroccan Women and the Revoicing of Tradition (1996).